Meeting 1. Interactions between Harmony and Melody

Three big ideas: Harmonic Progression, Counterpoint, and Compound Melody

I. Harmonic Progression: The Phrase Model.  This is a model of syntax for harmonic progressions in tonal, common-practice music: T-Pd-D-T.  There are basic harmonic functions, basic roles that chords can play: tonic (T), dominant (D), and pre-dominant (Pd).  Each one is associated with particular scale degrees: tonic with 1 and 3, dominant with 7 and also with 2, and pre-dominant with 6, and also with 4.  There are also embellishing functions (passing, neighboring, incomplete neighboring, etc.) and plagal function (a non-dominant chord, typically IV, that leads to tonic).

Harmony and scale degrees within individual melodic lines work together to determine harmonic function.  Scale degrees and their resolutions affect harmonic motion, but the effect of a scale degree depends on its status within a chord, whether it be the root, third, or fifth of the chord.  The leading tone, with its pull to the tonic, has a greater influence when it is the chordal third in a dominant V chord than when it is the chordal fifth in a iii chord.  Thus, the iii chord can serve as a tonic-function chord, a substitute for I6, as well as a dominant-function chord.   The leading-tone’s effect is muted when it is the chordal fifth but determines the function of the chord when it is the chordal third.

Harmonic Functions: Roles Chords Play within Chord Progressions

Melody, especially the melodies in the outer parts, influence the way we hear chords.  For instance, when the bass line moves by step from scale degree 1 to 7 and back to 1 for the chords i-V6-i, that dominant is an embellishing chord.  We call the V6 a “neighbor chord” (N) because of the bass motion.  It embellishes and thus prolongs the tonic function.  By contrast, when the bass line moves by a leap from a root-position V to a root position i at the end of the series of chords iio6-V-i, this sounds like a progresssion from pre-dominant (Pd) to dominant (D) to tonic (T).  Each new chord represents a significant change of function.  The stable, root-position V asserts its own identity and so the sense of harmonic change and arrival on the tonic is more significant.

Here is discussion of progression (Pd-D-T) and prolongation (of tonic by a neighboring chord) in the opening phrase of Haydn’s String Quartet in F minor, Op. 20, No. 5, Allegro moderato (mm. 1-5):

Harmonic Function (Including an Embellishing Function) in a Haydn String Quartet


II. Counterpoint: Suspensions and Retardations.  These are two situations when melodies do not change notes simultaneously with the bass line.  The melody resists the change of chord; its resolution into the new chord is delayed.  It resolves by moving down by step in the case of a suspension, and up by step in the case of a retardation.

Indicate a suspension or retardation by providing its interval from the bass note.  Next indicate the interval of the resolution note from the bass note.  Write these intervals below the bass with a dash between them to show that the first interval resolves to the second interval.  Use just one Roman numeral for the chord, and determine the identity of that chord by the resolution note and the notes that accompany it–get past the suspension or retardation.  We write the Roman numeral under the suspension to show that the chord has arrived, even though one or more melodies are slow in complying with that change of chord.

  Counterpoint: Suspensions & Retardations in Mozart’s Piano Sonata, K. 280

III. Compound Melody.  A single melody can imply multiple melodic lines, or “voices.”  A melody may wend its way through chords, moving between notes of each chord and drawing upon several voice-leading strands.  Here harmony and chorale-like voice-leading are viewed as basic resources from which melodies may be drawn.

Compound Melody in Bach’s Partita in B minor, BWV 1002

Demonstration:  Harmonic Progression, Counterpoint, and Compound Melody in Beethoven’s Song, “Ich liebe dich”

(Again, the videos only capture some of the presentation.  Application of the phrase model to the song is missing.)

Initial Observations: Getting to know Beethoven’s “Ich liebe dich”

Counterpoint: Suspensions and Retardations in “Ich liebe dich”

Compound Melody in “Ich liebe dich”


III. Application

In the videos below, the concepts presented above are applied to three excerpts: the phrase model to ,  countrapuntal thinking regarding suspensions and retardations to Mozart’s Piano Sonata in F major, K. 280, movement 2 (mm. 43-46), and compound melody to the Allemanda and its Double from J.S. Bach’s Partita for Solo Violin in B minor, BWV 1002.

The Phrase Model Applied to Haydn’s String Quartet in F minor

Counterpoint: Suspensions & Retardations in Mozart’s Piano Sonata, K. 280


3 thoughts on “Meeting 1. Interactions between Harmony and Melody

  1. Hi Austin,
    Why is the V6/5 in the second bar of the Hayden example still considered to be tonic sound in the phrase model? How do you differentiate between non dominant dominants and phrase model functioning dominants?
    Thanks for such a wealth of great information.

    • Hi Stephan.

      One of the main reasons that this V6/5 prolongs the tonic function is the embellishing motion, particularly in the outer parts. The bass line in measures 1-3 exhibits neighboring motion: F-E-F. The main notes of the melody (found on the downbeats of measures 1, 2, and 3) exhibit passing motion: F-G-Ab. Since the outer-voice notes of the V6/5 chord arise from passing and neighboring motion, the V6/5 embellishes the flanking i chords and elaborates the opening tonic function in this phrase.

      Another important factor is the fact that the V6/5 is an inversion of V7. The V7 found in measure 4, in contrast, gains stability from being in root position. Because it forcefully asserts the dominant function, the sense of departure and return to tonic is greater in measures 4-5 than in measures 2-3. The instability of the inverted V6/5 makes it more dependent on the flanking tonic chords. The harmonic motion it creates is like the spinning wheels of a vehicle when they can’t get traction with the road surface, whereas the harmonic motion to the pre-dominant, dominant, and tonic in measures 4-5 is more substantial, like the motion of the vehicle itself when its wheels do gain traction.

      Thanks for the question!

  2. Hi Austin, Thanks for your previous response. May I ask another question?In regards to the Bach Allemande and “Double”, why is the implied chord in the last 2 semiquavers of bar two chosen to be a vii dim in first inversion rather than what I wrote before watching the video, which was a V7 chord (i guess in 2nd inversion). Does this have to do with the power of the 3rd in a chord being the most powerful element (or choice) when faced with an ambiguous situation such as this…Thanks in advance.

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