Richard Nelson rxn12 at cim.edu
Wed Apr 17 19:38:06 PDT 2013


You raise an important point, namely, the need for students to be able to
identify correctly the name and function of chords before the interpretive
process begins.  Although we don't use lead-sheet notation at the Cleveland
Institute, we use something similar.  For decades (generations?), the
chord-labeling process here has included four bits of information for each
chord: root, type, Roman number, and figured bass.  Thus, in B-flat major,
the second inversion dominant seventh chord is labeled:

F dom7
V 4/3

To be sure, this system is bulky, and some faculty and students would
prefer to streamline it.  But for most students, this approach serves as
"insurance" against errors in chord labeling, and if used consistently,
they generally don't have problems in this area.  So we continue to use
this today.  It's not found in a textbook, but rather in our own internal

Naturally, we realize that this system favors the vertical dimension, so we
also have to shore up linear aspects of voice leading.

I'm curious to know if anyone else uses such a system?

Rick Nelson
Cleveland Institute of Music

On Wed, Apr 17, 2013 at 4:47 PM, Stephen Jablonsky <jablonsky at optimum.net>wrote:

> Esteemed Colleagues,
> As someone who has taught music theory for almost half a century I am
> wondering about your feelings in regard to including lead sheet notation in
> our instructional practice. A quick survey of the best-selling theory
> textbooks reveals that, almost to a man, none of these authors ever
> identifies a chord progression by chord name and function. The myriad
> musical fragments that litter these texts only contain figured bass or
> chord numbers, never chord names. The students who come to our school have
> a great deal of difficulty naming chords, especially in treble/bass piano
> notation; orchestral scores are usually beyond their capabilities.
> I am always amused when I ask my upper level students to analyze a
> composition in class (I only do complete pieces because analyzing fragments
> is worthless in my opinion) and they immediately begin to write chord
> numbers. Of course I stop them immediately and ask them to tell me how many
> measures there are in the piece to give them a sense of proportion. I then
> ask them to identify cadences so we know where the points of arrival are
> located and how they affect the ongoing flow of the music. After that, they
> need to name the chords and identify to non-harmonic tones. Finally, we get
> to chord function. I have always felt it was better to measure the canvas
> before getting lost in the details.
> Those of you who have struggled to teach theory know how difficult it is
> for beginners to separate the chord and non-chord tones in a wide variety
> of textures, and to discern the true harmonic rhythm. Students who were
> taught using only chorales think that every piece ever written changes
> chords every quarter note (OY!).
> The craft of musical analysis consists of two activities: labeling and
> interpretation. If the labeling component does not include the correct
> naming of chords then everything else sits on a weak foundation. Is it
> possible that because lead sheet is associated with popular music and jazz
> that it is excluded from “classical” textbooks because of some
> ill-conceived prejudice or foolish tradition?
> Before I retire, I would love to see one textbook tell me the names of the
> chords in Chopin’s E minor Prelude before attempting reduce it to some
> fancy chart or graph.
> *Dr. Stephen Jablonsky, Ph.D.*
> *Music Department Chair*
> *The City College of New York*
> *Shepard Hall Room 72*
> *New York NY 10031*
> *(212) 650-7663*
> *music at ccny.cuny.edu*
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Richard B. Nelson, PhD
Professor and Head of Music Theory
Cleveland Institute of Music | 11021 East Boulevard, Cleveland, OH 44106
P: 216.791.5000 | F: 216.791.3063

SAGES Fellow
Case Western Reserve University
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