[Smt-talk] Chords in Tonality versus Chords in a Scale

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Thu Jan 23 13:55:52 PST 2014

Dear Donna,

Generally, I agree with you, and the only reason I did not include the melodic scales was to promote Rimsky’s approach as an initial step to begin the study of tonality with its main functions T, S and D (Rimsky uses I, IV and V) – this book was written around 130 years ago and that approach to both natural and harmonic major and minor scales is impressive.

What came first – the egg or the chicken? I will not take such a huge responsibility to utter an opinion on that. But I am convinced in the commonplace belief that linear tendencies create vertical implications and vice versa – vertical structures imply linear contours.

Not only does melodic minor yield nice chords such as IV7, VIm7-5, and IIm7 but those chords are also available on the degrees of melodic major (bVII7, IIm7-5, and Vm7), and today one overused “back door dominant” in jazz and popular music, such as bVII9+11 (which typically resolves directly into the major tonic or deceptively into IIIm) may be justified in major mode as VII in melodic major. In other words, one may use the harmonic, melodic and double harmonic modes to provide another, different angle of harmonic analysis, regardless of how a certain chord has emerged in practice. 

For instance, the Subdominant German and French chords are found on degrees #IV and II in double harmonic minor, and the dominant German and French chords are found on degrees VII and V in double harmonic major. A neat and exciting approach which adds a different angle of looking into chromatic harmony. Of course, none of these justifications negates other logical approaches. For instance, whether you say that V in minor is a fruit of harmonic minor, or it is borrowed from the opposite mode, both statements will be true, for harmonic minor is already a result of modal interaction – of the attempt to apply similar effects into new environment.

Best regards,


Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
School of Music
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, Texas 78666

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