V. Chromaticism

Neapolitan 6th (♭II6)

Brian Jarvis

Key Takeaways

  • Chromatic predominant chord
  • A major triad built on ra [latex](\downarrow\hat{2})[/latex]
  • Typically found in first inversion
  • Ra [latex](\downarrow\hat{2})[/latex] resolves down to ti [latex](\hat7)[/latex]

Chapter Playlist

The Neapolitan sixth [latex](\flat\mathrm{II}^{6})[/latex] is a chromatic predominant chord. It is a major triad built on ra [latex](\downarrow\hat{2})[/latex] and is typically found in first inversion.


The Neapolitan sixth is essentially a chromatic version of a [latex]\mathrm{ii^{o6}}[/latex] chord. It functions the same and can be used in the same context but it has a more dramatic effect because of its chromatic root, ra [latex](\downarrow\hat{2})[/latex]. Like [latex]\mathrm{ii^{o6}}[/latex], it is typically used in a cadential context. [latex]\mathrm{\flat II^6}[/latex] can be found in major and minor keys but is more common in minor keys. Listen to the example below to compare a simple cadential progression with [latex]\mathrm{ii^{o6}}[/latex] and then with [latex]\mathrm{\flat II^6}[/latex].

Example 1. To change from [latex]\mathit{ii^{o6}}[/latex] to [latex]\mathit{\flat II^6}[/latex], lower [latex]\mathit{\hat{2}}[/latex] (re to ra).

While the name “Neapolitan” is a reference to the Italian city of Naples (Napoli), the historical connection is quite shallow as the chord was used in many other European cities in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Voice Leading

There is a standard voice leading associated with [latex]\mathrm{\flat II^6}[/latex]. In general, the chromatic tones follow standard altered-tone practice, the altered notes continue to move in the direction in which they were altered. In this case, [latex]\hat{2}[/latex] (re) has been lowered to ra [latex](\downarrow\hat{2})[/latex] so its tendency is to continue downward. Because [latex]\mathrm{\flat II^6}[/latex] resolves to a [latex]\mathrm{V}[/latex] chord, ultimately ra [latex](\downarrow\hat{2})[/latex] will resolve down to the closest member of the dominant triad, which is ti [(latex]\uparrow\hat{7})[/latex]. Of course, the true dominant chord is often delayed by a [latex]\mathrm{cad.^6_4}[/latex] chord, and so that voice will typically have do [latex](\hat{1})[/latex] between the two: ra–do–ti [latex](\downarrow\hat{2}-\hat{1}-\uparrow\hat{7})[/latex]. Notice also, that the le [latex](\downarrow\hat{6})[/latex] tends to resolve down to sol [latex](\hat{5})[/latex]. The example below illustrates the standard voice leading (see the red and blue notes in particular).

Example 2. Standard voice-leading paradigms when [latex]\mathit{\flat II^6}[/latex] resolves to [latex]\mathit{V}[/latex].

Associated Progressions

Common progressions

  • [latex]\mathrm{\flat II^6-V}[/latex]
  • [latex]\mathrm{\flat II^6-vii^{o7}/V - V}[/latex]

While [latex]\mathrm{\flat II^6}[/latex] often goes directly to [latex]\mathrm{V}[/latex] (with or without a [latex]\mathrm{cad.^6_4}[/latex]), the applied chord [latex]\mathrm{vii^{o7}/V}[/latex] commonly occurs between [latex]\mathrm{\flat II^6}[/latex] and [latex]\mathrm{V}[/latex], creating the progression [latex]\mathrm{\flat II^6-vii^{o7}/V-V}[/latex]. The added diminished chord intensifies the push toward the expected dominant.

Example 3. Using [latex]\mathit{vii^{o7}/V}[/latex] between [latex]\mathit{\flat II^6}[/latex] and [latex]\mathit{V}[/latex].

Due to [latex]\mathrm{\flat II^6}[/latex]’s similarity with [latex]\mathrm{ii^{o6}}[/latex], it is approached harmonically in the same way.

Less Common Uses


As mentioend above, the Neapolitan mostly appears in a small number of stock harmonic progressions. Less often, however, the Neapolitan can be found in root position [latex](\flat\mathrm{II})[/latex] and it may lead to an inverted dominant instead of the root-position version [latex](\mathrm{V^4_2}[/latex] in particular).

Key area

While the Neapolitan is most often used as a single chord within a cadential progression, it—like any other chord—can be prolonged through an extended toncization or even used as a key area.

Musical Example

Example 4 shows a relatively straight-forward example of a [latex]\mathrm{\flat II^6}[/latex] chord occuring in the context of a cadential progression. Note that the harmoic rhythm is a half-note long, so think of beats 3 and 4 in measure 6 as part of a single harmony.

Example 4. Frederic Chopin, Nocturne in F minor, Op. 55, No. 1. Neapolitan sixth as part of a cadential progression.

  1. Neapolitan 6ths (.pdf, .docx). Asks students to spell [latex]\textrm{\flat II^6}[/latex], realize figured bass, write 4-part voice-leading with Roman numerals, and analyze a musical excerpt.

Media Attributions

  • chopin-nocturne-f-minor-op-55-no-1


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