• Post author:
  • Post category:Chords / Harmony
  • Reading time:16 mins read

NON-DIATONIC CHORDS ON THE II SCALE DEGREE

Hello reader and welcome to beethoman.com. In the last article, I’ve talked about diatonic chords that can be established on the II scale degree. In case you missed that, click here. Now, I am going to talk about the other, non-diatonic chords that can be built on the II scale degree. There’s quite a few of them, so sit and (hopefully) enjoy the following lines. 😊

What are the Non-Diatonic chords anyway?

The non-diatonic chords are the chords that do not appear in one particular key naturally. For example – in C Major you cannot find a chord which is built from notes D-F#-A, strictly using the notes of the C Major. However, this chord can appear in C Major if composer decides to use alteration of the particular scale degree. Alteration is a change of a regular note of the key. Every scale degree can be altered, both flat or sharp. With only one exception; the I scale degree cannot be altered flat.

Are they important in course of the II scale degree?

Long story short – yes. These non-diatonic chords on the II scale degree are quite important for the overall musical expression. While the diatonic chords on the II scale degree are mainly used in the cadential process and do not require any special treatments, non-diatonic chords have multiple special resolutions, critical notes, and sometimes, special semantic meanings. They can lead into a modulation or confirm the already established key. Also, they are harder to master than their diatonic counterparts, but rewards are greater as well. As you shall see, some of them can appear only in Major keys and some of them are more characteristic for minor keys.

Non-diatonic chords on the II scale degree – Secondary dominant

The first one to be examined will be the chord which has a #IV in it. Its structure is dominant seventh chord (Example 1). And this is very important to remember. This particular chord has one altered note in Major keys – #IV. In minor, it also has #VI scale degree, as does the melodic minor. The rest are plain diatonic notes. Its function is secondary dominant (V/V).

Example 1

What is special about this chord is the fact that it can provoke us to hear its resolution as a new tonic, hence, modulation. You see, whenever a dominant seventh chord is used, it creates a quasi-dominant function. We were taught to recognize dominant seventh chord in regular dominant (V7) as a chord that leads to the tonic function. The same principle, or should I say algorithm, is applied here. Sometimes it will be a real modulation to the dominant key, however, sometimes it will simple be a secondary dominant within one key. It depends on many factors and I do not want to go into that now, because it would take ages to inspect every example from the classical music. However, I will present to you a couple of different approaches in terms of the secondary dominants, so you can gain some insight and be prepared for your analysis.

Examples from the Literature

Now, the examples. By coincidence, both will be excerpts from Beethoven’s music. The first one is actually the beginning of the development section from Beethoven’s Fifth symphony Op. 67 in C minor (Example 2). Here, the secondary dominant chord (V6/5/V) is used in its first inversion and has incredible pivotal role when it comes to the confirmation of the new key.

Example 2

You see, at the very beginning of the development section, the musical flow is in F minor. However, soon after that, the musical flow modulates back to the original C minor. That modulation, marked as the diatonic modulation in the second measure of the Example 2 is not very convincing, since it occurred while dominant pedal note was still active from the previous F minor. Melodic line which begins in that second measure in the Violas and the Violoncellos certainly does a good job to enthrone the new key, but, the main role there is played by the V6/5/V. Chromatic movement F-#F-G clearly tells everyone: “Behold, the C minor has arrived!”.

The other one is from the main theme of the Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 27 Op. 90 First movement in E minor. Here, the secondary dominant was used as a vehicle to form a distinctive deceptive cadence. Afterwards, this chord will eventually become part of the perfect authentic cadence at the end of the first and the beginning of the second line (Example 3).

Example 3

Again, the chromatic movement in the bass has quite an important role, because it opens up the field of the dominant function in a serious, almost dramatic way.

One special secondary dominant chord structure

Besides the dominant seventh chord, secondary dominant on the II scale degree has one more remarkable structure to offer to the world. It is the French sixth chord (Fr4/3) in which the 5th of the dominant seventh chord is flat. This type of the chord, when used as the secondary dominant that resolves to the V scale degree, is always used as second inversion. The flattened note must be in the bass, so it can be properly emphasized. An extraordinary example of its usage can be noticed in Stevan Stojanović Mokranjac’s Second Garland, written in 1884 (Example 4). Mokranjac was a Serbian composer of great, if not the greatest importance in the history of Serbian music. I might write a whole article about him soon, we’ll see.

In the 4th measure of the composition, the French chord (Fr4/3) appears (Example 4). With its unique color and structure, it plays a major role in the cadential process. That flat 5th of the chord in the bass really neatly resolves to the dominant (V5/3), which creates a distinctive half-cadence on the dominant chord. For example, this is the case where one might get confused with whether last chord is dominant or tonic. It is the dominant of course. Also, this particular chord is one of Mokranjac’s favorite ones when it comes to the cadence forming.

Example 4

Non-diatonic chords on the II scale degree – Neapolitan sixth chord

The second chord is Neapolitan sixth chord. Its structure is a major triad. As a matter of fact, it is the first inversion of the Phrygian chord, which is built on the flat II scale degree. Their designations are:

  • Phrygian chord > F5/3, F6/4
  • Neapolitan chord > N6/3

This chord has two alterations in Major keys – ♭II and ♭VI. In minor keys, it has one alteration only – ♭II (Example 5). On the other hand, Neapolitan sixth chord is quite popular and one can find it very often. One might ask themselves, why is the first inversion of the Phrygian chord more frequent then its root position? Well, it’s because of the critical notes and their resolutions. You see, in Neapolitan sixth chord it is very advisable to double the bass note, which is the 3rd of the Phrygian chord. Neapolitan sixth chord has very strict rules when it comes to the resolution of its notes and having this on mind will be of the greatest importance later.

Example 5

Resolution of the chord

Firstly, and most importantly, flat II scale degree has to go down to the leading tone. Secondly, the bass note has to go up to the dominant, or may stay the same if the dominant chord is in its 3rd inversion (V2). Thirdly, the root note which was doubled in the upper voice usually descends, but it can stay the same if the resolution is V7. Finally, 5th of the chord descends to the V scale degree (Example 6).

  • Phrygian chord > F5/3, F6/4
  • Neapolitan chord > N6/3

Example 6

Now, the fact that the flat II scale degree must go to the leading tone of the key is the main reason why Neapolitan sixth has the advantage over the Phrygian chord (F5/3). The resolution of the Phrygian to the dominant and subsequently to the tonic chord would not be anywhere near as striking as the resolution of the Neapolitan chord (Example 6).

Tragic connotation

In the 4th measure of the composition, the French chord (Fr4/3) appears (Example 4). With its unique color and structure, it plays a major role in the cadential process. That flat 5th of the chord in the bass really neatly resolves to the dominant (V5/3), which creates a distinctive half-cadence on the dominant chord. For example, this is the case where one might get confused with whether last chord is dominant or tonic. It is the dominant of course. Also, this particular chord is one of Mokranjac’s favorite ones when it comes to the cadence forming.

Examples from the Literature

Since I’ve said that Neapolitan chord follows the death, Mozart’s Requiem in D minor sounds like a decent example of the Neapolitan sixth chord use. Right at the beginning of the First movement, in the orchestral introduction, Neapolitan sixth chord appears, as a Grim Reaper. Its appearance is not very clear though. It is covered by the short modulation to the A minor. However, an experienced listener will catch it right away (Example 7).

Example 7

Another example of the Neapolitan sixth chord can be noticed in the First movement of Beethoven’s famous Moonlight sonata Op. 27 No. 2. Here, the Phrygian inflexion stands for the melancholy, and quite possibly the invocation of the death of the main protagonist as the only solution for their pain (Example 8).

Example 8

Here’s one task for you. Analyze these two previous examples and investigate the resolutions of these Neapolitan sixth chords. Also, try to play it and listen to the voices. Feel the harmony!

Non-diatonic chords on the II scale degree – Diminished #II scale degree chords

One quite special chord that can be built on the II scale degree is a diminished seventh chord on the altered, #II scale degree. What is interesting about this chord is the fact that it can appear only in Major keys. The reason for that is very simple. In minor keys #II scale degree already exists as a diatonic III scale degree. Because of that, the resolution of the chord would not be possible. Its designations are:

  • In Major keys > #iio7, #iio6/5, #iio4/3, #iio2

Speaking of resolution, #iio7 and all its inversions are resolving to the tonic function. For example, #iio7 resolves to the I6, #iio6/5 and #iio4/3 to the I6/4 and #iio2 to the I5/3 (Example 9). In classical music, this chord is most frequently used as #iio7 or #iio6/5. The main reason for this is the fact that this chord enharmonically sounds exactly as a #IV diminished seventh chord. His root position and first inversion are the best representation of its function. It can appear in any position though. It is often used in modulations because of its enharmonic potential.

Example 10

Now, the voice leading. In regard to its resolution to the tonic chord, there is one note that is common for both chords. That is 7th of the #iio7 – the tonic itself. The rest of the notes have to resolve to the nearest notes of the tonic chord. Firstly, #II has to go up to the 3rd of the tonic chord. Secondly, 3rd of the seventh chord also goes up to the 5th of the tonic chord. Finally, 5th of the seventh chord has to go down also to the 5th of the tonic chord. That being said, in the tonic chord, the 5th will be doubled (Example 9). Let’s take a look at the example from the literature.

  • In Major keys > #iio7, #iio6/5, #iio4/3, #iio2

Example from the Literature

In Chopin’s Ballade Op. 47 in Ab Major there’s a wonderful example of this chord. In two positions actually. Firstly, it appears as #iio7 over the dominant pedal tone. Then, it appears as #iio4/3 which resolves to the I6/4. Pay attention on the resolutions in both cases. Chopin was the real master of voice leading and there’s no mistake (Example 10).

Example 8

The final words

Well, we came to the end of this article. I really hope that you find it interesting as much as I do, because the II scale degree offers so many phenomenal possibilities for musical expression. I tried to pack as much information as possible in one article, so please keep looking on your own with this knowledge and you’ll find extraordinary things!

If you want to stay tuned, follow Beethoman on FacebookInstagram and/or Reddit so you don’t miss the next article. If you like what you’ve just read, please consider sharing it with your friends and colleagues. Until the next reading, stay safe and enjoy music.

Subscribe to receive new posts once per month. It is completely free!

Leave a Reply

4 × one =