V. Chromaticism

This section includes commonly discussed topics in chromatic harmony, including modal mixture, Neapolitan and augmented sixth chords, and common-tone chords. The remaining chapters go into depth on more niche topics that might be included in more advanced courses dedicated to chromatic harmony and 19th- and early 20th-century music.


This section assumes a familiarity with the topics covered in Fundamentals as well as the chapters in the Diatonic Harmony, Tonicization, and Modulation section.


The first chapter, Modal Mixture, introduces students to the notion of borrowed scale degrees and chords from the parallel mode. This chapter should be considered fundamental to the chapters that follow in this section.

Next, students learn about the chromatic predominant chords most common in Western European common-practice music: the Neapolitan and augmented sixth chords, and how those chords behave idiomatically in this repertoire. This is followed by a discussion of non-functional diminished seventh and augmented sixth chords that builds upon students’ knowledge of these chords in a functional context, which they learned in previous chapters.

Harmonic Elision teaches students about how to resolve dominant and diminished seventh chords such that its resolution suppresses or removes an expected chord for one that is similar but functionally distinct from the chord it replaced. This chapter could immediately follow the chapters on tonicization and is a particularly useful primer for the Chromatic Sequences chapter later in this section.

The chapters on reinterpretation of augmented sixth chords and diminished seventh chords serve as an entry point into the discussion of modulation into distant keys, and to harmonic ambiguity in music. These chapters require a firm understanding of the introductory chapters that discuss these chords. Given its inherent ambiguity, the chapter on the augmented triad follows nicely and also serves as a transition into discussions of equal divisions of the octave.

The chapters on chromatic sequences, parallel chromatic sequences, and the omnibus progression work well together as a mini-unit on harmonic pattern repetition in chromatic music, and cycle back on earlier knowledge of diatonic sequences. Preceding these chapters with a discussion of equal division of the octave can provide more context to the overall sound of these progressions.

The chapter on altered and extended dominant chords introduces students to chords that are “taller” than seventh chords and to the notion of altering chord members, for example with a flattened or raised fifth. This chapter can be spun into a discussion of jazz harmony, covered elsewhere in this textbook, and provides an opportunity for an interesting discussion surrounding the use of these chords in these two distinctly different repertoires.

The chapter on Neo-Riemannian triadic progressions gives students the tools necessary to begin to analyze chromatic music that features non-functional triadic progressions, and to compose interesting chromatic progressions that don’t follow the norms of functional tonality. This chapter is equally useful as a capstone to a unit or course on chromatic harmony or as part of a course on 20th- and 21st-century music. The Mediants chapter elaborates further on chords whose roots are related by third.



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OPEN MUSIC THEORY Copyright © 2023 by Mark Gotham; Kyle Gullings; Chelsey Hamm; Bryn Hughes; Brian Jarvis; Megan Lavengood; and John Peterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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