IV. Diatonic Harmony, Tonicization, and Modulation

Performing Harmonic Analysis Using the Phrase Model

John Peterson

Key Takeaways

This chapter provides a strategy for harmonic analysis, in which we use the bass line to make an educated guess about what harmonic progression is active in a phrase:

  1. Identify phrase endings by listening.
  2. Provide a harmonic analysis of each phrase ending’s cadence.
  3. Identify the strong predominant that leads to the cadence.
  4. Back up the the beginning of the phrase and analyze toward the cadence.


So far, we’ve mostly been looking at short segments of music, focusing on how composers create a sense of beginning and ending in a phrase. In this chapter, we consider a longer phrase of music that employs some of the harmony we’ve learned so far, with the goal of learning how to perform a harmonic analysis quickly and how to identify the phrase model at work in our analysis. The video lesson below (Example 1) walks through the process and is followed by an outline of the steps (along with some guidance).

Example 1. Video lesson on harmonic analysis.

Performing a Harmonic Analysis

  1. Identify phrase endings.
    • It’s often helpful to listen for:
      • A new phrase beginning or a repetition of a previous phrase beginning. This tells you an “old” phrase must have just ended.
      • A sense of goal, often marked by a cadence.
  2. Analyze the phrase ending.
    • Listen, and label the cadence if present (it often is).
    • Provide a harmonic analysis of the ending:
      • You know that if there’s a half cadence, the phrase ends on V, and if there’s an authentic cadence, the phrase ends with V(7)-I. Look for sol [latex](\hat{5})[/latex] in the bass at a HC or soldo [latex](\hat5-\hat1)[/latex] in the bass at an AC.
        • Be careful to look for [latex](\mathrm{cad.^6_4})[/latex], which is often present at a cadence.
  3. Look for a strong predominant.
    • Back up from the cadence to look for a strong predominant. Remember that usually fa [latex](\hat{4})[/latex] is in the bass for the strong predominant, though re [latex](\hat{2})[/latex] is also possible.
  4. Analyze from the beginning.
    • Use your knowledge of tonic prolongations and take a look at the bass line to make an educated guess about what you think is happening to prolong tonic. Verify your guess to make sure it’s accurate by taking stock of the notes in the chord above each bass note.

Identifying the Phrase Model in Harmonic Analysis

To identify how the phrase model operates in a given phrase, we can apply the harmonic function labels we learned in Introduction to Harmony, Cadences, and Phrase Endings. For each phrase, we get one (and only one!) set of the labels Tb–PD–D–Te: Tonic beginning, Predominant, Dominant, and Tonic ending. To apply them, do the following:

  1. Locate the phrase ending.
    1. Apply the D label to the cadential dominant.
    2. If the phrase ends with an authentic cadence, apply the Te label to the tonic of the cadence. If it ends with a half cadence, you can omit this label.
  2. Locate the strong predominant.
    1. The PD label goes on the first strong predominant (reading left to right) that comes immediately before the cadential dominant.
  3. Label the opening tonic.
    1. The Tb label goes on the tonic that starts the phrase. Rarely, a phrase may delay this tonic or may omit it altogether. This kind of delay or omission is more common in Romantic music.
  1. Performing Harmonic Analysis Using the Phrase Model (.pdf, .docx). Asks students to analyze three short excerpts.


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