[Smt-talk] Forward and backward root movements

Walt Everett weverett at umich.edu
Sun May 6 08:56:06 PDT 2012

Dear list,

As to the following interesting argument from Paul Siskind, I would say "yes and no."  The commonly noted fact that IV often follows V in the blues style does not repudiate normative usages of IV versus V, but exemplifies at least two stylistic nuances based on relationships between multiple structural levels:  In the 12-bar blues model (bear with me), four bars of I (often embellished) are followed by two of IV and two of I.  This IV may be heard as a large-scale V-preparation that initially falls back to a surface I as an instance of reculer pour mieux sauter.  Secondly, the thus-prepared V in the 9th bar leads, as usual, to the I that appears in the 11th bar, as an authentic cadence (in the absence of the half-cadential V turnaround that may inhabit antecedent expressions of bar 12).  The IV that often intervenes in bar 10 serves two normative functions: it resolves to I as a plagal neighbor sonority (softening the landing from V) and it triadically reinforces a passing 7th coming from the cadential dominant.  Such triadic doubling is a style marker in blues, particularly in blues rock.  So I would agree that specific cultural contexts and stylistic behaviors may inform our understanding of usage, but would argue that deeper, more universal understandings are not necessarily violated, and that this case does not constitute an "exception" to normative absolutes.  best, walt everett

On May 6, 2012, at 8:56 AM, Paul Siskind wrote:
> In other words, I believe that understanding and explicating (i.e.
> analysis) the syntax of chord progressions is analogous to the syntaxes
> spoken languages, in that they vary from culture to culture and therefore
> must be understood within a specific cultural context.

> [snip]
> Similarly, in musical syntax, IV "normally comes before V" only in certain
> musical styles, e.g. common-practice tonality.  But in the blues style,
> the normative syntax is reversed, and "V usually comes before IV."
> Thus, there is no singularly "correct" or even "normative" usage of IV
> versus V (just as there is no universally correct linguistic grammar); the
> normative usage is defined by the stylistic context. 


> Thus, the whole point of defining a "normative" usage of chords is really
> to understand how the exceptions to those expectations create the
> particular affect of a specific passage, or how they create the different
> styles of different composers, or how we define the different styles that
> evolved over time.  But again, the whole wonderfully complex and messy
> situation can only be understood by defining "normative" within a certain
> stylistic context, rather than as a singular absolute truth or standard.

Walter Everett
Professor of Music
Department of Music Theory
The University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance
1100 Baits Dr.
Ann Arbor, MI  48109-2085

weverett at umich.edu
voice: 734-763-2039
fax: 734-763-5097

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