Music analysis, even when covering something so established as tonal harmony, follows different approaches. Here you can find a quick presentation of the methodology and conventions used on this blog.

My approach to tonal harmonic analysis borrows mainly from the ideas of Richard F. Goldman, Leonard B. Meyer and of course the extraordinary work of Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff, in addition of course to the seminal (but already old) work of Schoenberg, Riemann and Schenker. But closer to me here in Montreal, I am greatly indebted to the passionate teaching of Luce Beaudet at the University of Montreal, who has developed an original and highly coherent harmonic theory – and whose ideas unfortunately do not get the broad diffusion they deserve. For a detailed description of her analytical model, which is mainly used here, please visit her tonal harmony website L’Oeil qui entend, l’oreille qui voit, created in collaboration with the illustrator Zviane.

One of the core ideas is that I am doing functional harmonic analysis: the roman numerals are there to indicate the chord’s role in the harmonic structure, which is distinct from its actual composition. A common example is second-inversion tonic chords which most often have a dominant function. Two important conventions result from this:

  • I am not using lowercase and uppercase letters to distinguish minor and major chords as it is frequently done in many English-language harmony manuals. While there is a pedagogic interest in helping beginner, students get aware of chords quality relative to scale degrees, this notation approach confuses chord composition and function. In a minor key, whether a IV is minor or major usually does not change anything to its IV function.
  • Chords built on the leading tone and functioning as a dominant are analyzed as a dominant with an implied root, whether primary or secondary. Progressions whose chord composition appears as VII – I or VII/V – V are notated as V – I and V/V – V when they play a dominant role.

The cycle of fifths is considered as the basic structure governing tonal progressions, with the addition of idiomatic formulas imposed by common usage. Progressions that diverge from the fundamental tonal structures are the result of deviation or borrowing procedures and are analyzed a such: for example, VI – III – II – V – I is notated as IV/III – III – II – V – I, illustrating the plagal nature of the VI – III movement.

The Neapolitan chord is notated as N. Borrowed chord due to modal interchanges are identified as such with a mm (mixed mode) suffix.

Inversions are notated using the standard English figured bass abbreviations: 6 and 6/4 for first and second inversions of triads, 7, 6/5, 4/3 and 4/2 for seventh chords. Diminished 7th dominants (minor V9s without root) are notated as Vo7, half-diminished (major V9s without root) as Vø7.

Cadences are notated as PAC (Perfect Authentic Cadence), HC (Half Cadence), DC (Deceptive Cadence), PC (Plagal Cadence) and IAC (Imperfect Authentic Cadence). Cadences are also notated at the point where they structurally happen.

Keys identified only with their capital letter are major, a m suffix indicates minor. As per the analytical model, the tonality of a musical event is determined by its destination, thus modulations happen as soon as possible. Preference rules also suggest to avoid modulations in the middle of structural harmonic units whenever possible.

Methodology and conventions for non-tonal analysis will be added here when required.