A Structural Examination of Tonality, Vocabulary, Texture,
Sonorities, and Time Organization in Western Art Music



Chapter 15. Connections

Chapter 16. Second Inversion Triads
Chapter 17. Phrase Design


On occasion, composers add a harmony that is neither part of the prolongation nor part of the cadence, but provides a transition from the prolongation to the cadence. These harmonies (supertonic and subdominant) are called CONNECTIONS. They are also known as PRE-DOMINANCE since they move so logically to the dominances found in cadences.

These harmonic areas move strongly towards dominances, but they are extremely ineffective to move FROM dominances. A strong sense of harmonic action is called PROGRESSION; moving from dominances to connections creates RETROGRESSION and should be avoided.

Note that the horizontal line of the prolongation does not continue into the connection.

In major keys, the supertonic is minor and in minor keys it can be either diminished or minor (depending on which form of ^6 is being used). The subdominant is major in major keys, and in minor keys it can be either minor or major (also depending on ^6). Regardless of quality, they function exactly the same way in both major and minor keys.


The supertonic works as a connection in either root position or 1st inversion, with ^4 in the bass.

The supertonic can also be expanded into a tetrad by adding ^1. As with other 7th chords, this note must resolve down to ^7.

The most commonly found positions of the supertonic connections are the root position and 1st inversion. The 2nd and 3rd inversions of supertonic 7 also serve as connections but can have other functions as well.

The supertonic 7 in 2nd inversion has ^6 in the bass, and can serve as a passing chord (^5 - ^6 - ^7) within a dominant prolongation, or as a neighbor chord (^5 - ^6 - ^5), also within a dominant prolongation.

The 3rd inversion of supertonic 7 has ^1 in the bass, and can be used to prolong ^1, as a pedal chord within a tonic prolongation. It can also be used in a dominant prolongation as a N or IN chord.


The subdominant works as a connection in either root position or 1st inversion, with ^6 in the bass.

The subdominant in major keys does not work as a tetrad easily, since it creates the interval of a M7. The top note of a 7th chord must resolve down, but a M7 sounds as if it needs to resolve up. It is possible to find a subdominant 7 in certain special contexts (explained in Chapter 30), but as a clear and separate harmonic area, it is virtually non-existent.

In minor keys, however, the subdominant can easily be expanded into a tetrad since the top note forms the interval of a m7.

The first inversion of subdominant (^6 in the bass) works the same as the 2nd inversion of supertonic 7, serving as a passing or neighboring chord within a dominant prolongation (see 15.3 above).

It is possible to alternate the tonic and subdominant triads in root position, as seen in Chapter 14) [section 4] with the alternation of tonic and dominant triads in root position. When this occurs, tonic is prolonged, but the subdominant (only when in root position) requires no explanation, since there is no clear linear action created in the bass.


The progression of I - IV - V - I is a COMPLETE HARMONIC MOTION, and can be an excellent way to prolong tonic since it begins and ends with tonic. When this progression is used within a tonic prolongation it is a SUBORDINATE PROGRESSION (SOP). The function of the supertonic/subdominant within a SOP is still a connective pre-dominance, but at a less important structural level:

Tonic area ---> Connective area---> Dominant area---> Tonic area
Tonic in any position or any substitute for tonic (Chapter 18) Supertonic or subdominant in any position, with or without 7ths, or any substitute Dominant or leading tone in any position, with or without 7ths, or any substitute Tonic in any position or any substitute for tonic (Chapter 18)

As seen in the example below, the initial tonic and concluding tonic need further explanation in terms of the prolongation.

Occasionally, a subordinate progression may have the initial tonic area only implied. The implied tonic can take the place of a true tonic.


In the long tradition of liturgical singing, a choir and congregation would sing multiple verses of a hymn, each containing multiple phrases and cadences, and each of these would involve dominances, either in authentic or half cadences. To signal the end of a hymn, which can be quite lengthy, the word "amen" was added, supported by completely different harmonic action: the subdominant to tonic motion. Some musicians have labelled this a PLAGAL CADENCE, and it soon became intrinsically associated with sacred music.

The point of a cadence is to create a sense of tonic through leading tone (Ti), but the so-called plagal cadence lacks this important scale degree. A better explanation would be to call it a PLAGAL TAG, which enhances an authentic cadence. This tag prolongs the final tonic of a phrase, since both areas contain Do (^1).


Tonic, dominant (7), supertonic (7), and subdominant in several positions, and leading tone first inversion [new items in red]

Major keys

Minor keys



Provide a Roman numeral and structural analysis, and circle and label all non-chord tones, for the following pieces in Music for Analysis:

  1. Scheidt: Bergamasca [#26, CD track #4]
  2. Mozart: Abendempfindung, K.523 [#43] Listen to a performance
  3. Anon.: Dir, dir, Jehovah, will ich singen [#50, CD track #7]
  4. Chopin: Mazurka, op.33, no.2 [#57, CD track #7] Listen to a performance


Add soprano, alto, and tenor lines to this figured bass, then provide a Roman numeral and structural analysis. FERMATAS in homophonic chorales are used to indicate cadences rather than to actually sustain a note.

To prepare this writing assignment properly, use the notation guidelines appendix, located at Basic Principles of Music Notation, Semester II.

Links to chapters in this unit:
Chapter 16. Second Inversion Triads
Chapter 17. Phrase Design

Link to previous unit: DIATONIC PROCEDURES I: Harmonic Dimensions

Link to next unit: DIATONIC PROCEDURES III: Substitutions

Copyright 2008-2009 by Phillip Magnuson.

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