Unit 2.1: Embellishing Chords and Pre-dominant Harmonies

Embellishing Chords

Not all resolutions from dominant to tonic have the same weight.  The resolution of some dominant chords is very conclusive and can end a phrase; others do not call as much attention to the tonic that follows and, instead, serve to embellish a preceding tonic chord.

Embellishing chord—a chord made of notes that result from embellishing motion in individual parts (usually passing or neighboring motion).

 Embellishing Chords: Tonic Expansions

We name embellishing chords according to their bass motion.  Passing motion in the bass produces a passing (P) chord.  Neighboring motion produces a neighbor (N) chord.  Embellishing chords do not represent a fundamental change in function; they embellish other chords and their functions.

Three principles that help determine whether a chord is embellishing:

1.    Inversion creates instability and undermines potential closure.

2.    Chords that result from embellishing motion (such as passing or neighboring motion) do not represent fundamental changes in harmonic function.  They are embellishing chords.

3.    Metrical placement: When a chord is in a weak beat it is more likely to be embellishing.

 How to Recognize and Describe Embellishing Chords in Analysis



Harmonic Functions & Pre-Dominant Chords

A Model of Harmonic Progression

The symbols T, Pd, and D found within the model of harmonic progression shown above stand for particular harmonic functions.

Harmonic function — the role played by a chord within a phrase

Like actors on a stage or players in a game, multiple chords have the potential to serve the same function.  Just as several people might be ready to play the role of King Lear or serve in the quarterback position in a football game, so various chords can serve the functions of tonic, pre-dominant, and dominant.  For instance, V and viio7 chords can both lead a progression to tonic.  They each can be dominant in function.

The functions of opening tonic, dominant, and closing tonic are familiar from the basic phrase model.  The pre-dominant function is a new element.

Pre-dominant (Pd) chord – a non-tonic chord that leads into a dominant-function chord.

Pre-dominant chords usually contain ^4 and ^6.  The main pre-dominant triads are IV and ii in major, or iv and iio in minor.  In much the same way as ^7 and ^2 relate to the tonic scale degree, ^6 and ^4 relate to the dominant scale degree.  Scale degree 6 in minor is a tendency tone with a strong pull to move by half-step down to ^5.

(Note that the pre-dominant function can be omitted entirely, as the arrow at the top of the model of harmonic progression indicates.  That arrow moves directly from the opening tonic to the dominant.)


Tips for Writing and Resolving Pre-Dominant Chords

1. Use contrary motion with the bass.

Beware of parallel P5ths and P8ves when a step occurs between roots (I-ii or IV-V).

2. Resolve the lowered (minor key) version of ^6 to ^5.

This will help you avoid the A2nd from flat ^6 to the leading tone.

Do not double flat ^6.  It is a tendency tone.


 Pre-Dominant Harmonies

 More on Pre-dominant Harmonies

 Analysis of Pre-Dominant Harmonies


Harmonic Functions and Embellishing Chords

As noted above, chords can also have an embellishing function such as passing or neighboring.  Why then are embellishing functions absent in the model above?  That is because embellish chords do not create harmonic progression and this is a model of harmonic progression.  Embellishing chords extend, or prolong, the function of the chords they embellish, or they pass between chords of two different functions.  Embellishing harmonic motion is like the spinning wheels of a car before it accelerates.  Until the wheels get traction, the vehicle does not move much.  Similarly, embellishing chords represent harmonic activity, but they do not advance the harmonic progression.


Six-Four Chords

Six-four chords are always embellishing in function because they are highly unstable.  As mentioned, inversion is an important factor in a chord’s designation as embellishing.  Second-inversion chords are particularly unstable.  There is a fourth, a dissonance, above the bass, as well as a sixth, an imperfect consonance.

There are four kinds of six-four chords, all of which are defined, as are all embellishing chords, by the bass motion associated with them:

  1. Passing          Passing motion occurs in bass.
  2. Cadential       A bass note is sustained for multiple chords, and the six-four occurs at the very beginning of the sustained bass note.
  3. Pedal              A bass note is sustained for multiple chords, and the six-four is sandwiched between two chords that share the same bass note.
  4. Arpeggiating The bass moves between members of a single triad; the six-four occurs when the chordal fifth occurs in the bass.

 Six-Four Chords



Music Writing

I. Realizing Roman Numerals

II. Composition from a Recipe


I. Beethoven, Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 10, No. 1, i

II. Hymn. We Praise Thee O God

III. Beethoven, Sonata for Violin and Piano in Eb major, Op. 12, No. 3, ii

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