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HARMONIC PROGRESSIONS

AND PATTERNS

COLOURLESS GREEN IDEAS SLEEP FURIOUSLY


The above sentence is grammatically correct it sounds like a good English
sentence.
But what does it mean?
Just because each word seems to be of the right kind for the moment in the
sentence doesnt mean that the combination of words will be meaningful.
Likewise, just because each musical chord is consonant with the note that it
harmonises doesnt mean that the combination of chords makes sense.

GIVEN THE MELODY

THIS HARMONISATION MAKES NO SENSE


Even though each chord can
support the given melody note,
and the voice-leading is correct,
this is not a good harmonisation.
Root motion is mostly backwards
Sevenths add no value
Inversions add no value

THIS HARMONISATION IS MUCH BETTER


Chords move forward, through
T-PD-D-T phrase model.

7th contributes to the melody


and intensifies forward motion.
Inversions smooth out the bass
line and encourage more
variety and motion in inner
voices.
Familiar patterns are used.

DIRECTION OF MOTION
Intermediate Harmonies

Predominants

IV
iii

vi

ii

Generally, move to the right, one step at a time.


Skip to the dominant at any time.
From the tonic, restart anywhere.

Dominants Tonic

viio
V

CONTRAPUNTAL PATTERNS
Chord motions that do not move this way are usually not harmonic progressions
at all, they are simple coincidences of contrapuntal motion.
We usually think of these are part of the EXPANSION of a harmony.
They tend to follow specific, familiar patterns.

The following examples fill the space between two existing outer chords with a
new inner chord.

X X6 (X+4th)
Examples:

I I^ -IV

V V^ -I

ii -ii^ -V

[ IV IV^ -V% ]

Reversible.
Good candidate for voice exchange

X (X-2nd)6 - X6
Examples

I viio^ -I^

ii I^ -ii^

IV iii^ -IV^

V-IV^ -V^

vi V^ -vi^

VII VI^ -VII^

Reversible. Fills gap between root position and first inversion of a single chord type (as in previous
examples) with the first inversion of the chord rooted a second lower. (Used when First Inversion is
above root, to make stepwise bass).
Excellent candidate for voice exchange.

X (X-4th)6 - (X-3rd)
Examples

I V^ -vi

IV I^ -ii

Similar to the reverse form of the previous example (same bass line), except that the higher
bass note is a root position chord, rather than first inversion.
Compare:

ii^ -I^ -ii


Occasionally used ascending, especially in minor:

iVII^ -III

IV I^ -ii

X (X-3rd) - X6
Examples

I vi I^

IV ii IV^

Alternative way to fill the space between root position and first inversion (as in
previous examples) when the first inversion bass is expressed as a sixth below
the root position, to subdivide the leap of a sixth into a third and a fourth.

ARPEGGIATION
I I^ -V

or occasionally

I iii V

Ascending, quite common for connecting the tonic to the dominant, with bass
notes on the three chord tones of the tonic chord. Rare on other chords
because the harmonic motion is backwards.
Descending is more flexible, and can extend much farther down through thirds:

[ I vi IV ii V^ -V ] -I

X (X-3RD) (X+2ND) & 5-6 TECHNIQUE


Examples

I vi ii

IV ii V

Middle chord is added to prevent parallel fifths when moving up by step


between first and last chord in an otherwise parallel way.
If the middle chord is in first inversion, it becomes the familiar 5-6 technique:

IV ii^ -V

=====

IV) pp ^ -V

SEQUENCES
Sequences are long-term chord patterns in which a cell of two chords related in a
specified way are repeated successively (usually) one step higher or one step lower.

Example:

[ iV ] - [ ii -VI ] - [ III VII ] - [iv i] -V I

This allows long-term parallel ascents and descents without parallel voice-leading.
In the example above, the chords seem to move in the wrong direction (the second
chord in each unit is called a back-related dominant), but this is okay because the
real motion is between the units, not within them.

FAUXBOURDON
You can also ascend or descend stepwise for long periods of time in parallel first
inversion chords:

i - [ VII^ -i^ -iio^ -III^ - iv^] -V


We usually call this Fauxbourdon, because of its similarity to the medieval
technique by that name.
Be careful: although the chords are parallel, we still have to avoid parallel fifths
and octaves.
If the chordal fifth is below the lowest root, then there will be no intervallic
fifths it will be a fourth instead and so, no parallel fifths. To prevent parallel
octaves, one voice will have to bounce back and forth like a sequence.

INVERSIONS OF V7
Each inversion of V7 has its own particular tendencies, and usually extends the
tonic is particular ways:

V%:

I V% -I

V#:

I V# -I^

I V# -I

V@:

I V@ -I^

V V@ -I^

I^ -V# -I^

RULE OF THE OCTAVE


A traditional harmonisation of a scale in the bass part.
Each scale degree in the bass has its own triad.
Each scale degree in the bass that does not belong to the tonic triad has a seventh
chord that can be used when the bass steps upward, and one that can be used when
the bass steps downward.
Segments of the Rule of the Octave are almost always excellent ways to harmonise a
melody

Most of the chord patterns in the Rule can be recognised from the preceding
discussion.

RULE OF THE OCTAVE

Ascending

1
I

2
viio^
V#

3
I^

4
ii^
II%

IV^

4
ii^
V@

7
V^
V%

2
viio^
V#

Descending

V^

6
IV^
II#

5
V

I^

GENERAL ADVICE
Second-inversion triads ( ) are far less common than root or first inversion. Until

you study the very specific and unforgiving ways they can be used, you should only
use them as double suspensions leading to the chord whose root shares the same
bass note.
First inversion triads can be used more freely, but are still usually used to make the
bass line smoother. If the bass line does not leave the first-inversion triad by step
(except

I^ -V and a few other special cases), ask yourself why you chose the first

inversion.

GENERAL ADVICE
Seventh chords and their inversions are used to intensify the drive towards the next chord in
the circle of fifths:
i.e.

I& -IV& -viiO& -iii& -vi& -ii& -V& -I

In practice, several of these are usually replaced by applied dominants.


It is best not to use sevenths unless you are resolving in this direction.
The seventh must resolve down. This means that the bass of the third inversion (
resolve down, generally to the first-inversion triad.
Avoid using the dominant seventh at a Half Cadence

@ ) must