I was reviewing tonal harmony basic guidelines when I came across the article Keyboard-style voice-leading schemata and it had notation like this:

notation example

I haven't seen syntax like this before, what's it called, and what does it stand for?

3 Answers 3


The notation used in this example is explained in the same textbook http://openmusictheory.com/harmonicFunctions.html and http://openmusictheory.com/harmonicSyntax2.html

In this example T(1 D2p 3):

  • T stands for tonic chord
  • parentheses mean the whole sequence is what they call a prolongation of the tonic chord
  • T1 stands for tonic built on 1st degree of the scale
  • D2p stands for passing dominant chord built on the second degree of the scale
  • 3 stands for T3, or a tonic chord built on the third degree

You may also notice numbers above the bass notes. This is basso continuo notation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basso_continuo)

  • In which case, the word 'prolongation' appears to be a misnomer. The tonic does not continue - there's a different chord following.
    – Tim
    Jul 20, 2020 at 16:49
  • 3
    My understanding is that they emphasize the dominant is a passing chord, and the whole sequence can be treated as embellishment of the tonic. Jul 20, 2020 at 17:46

Guess they refer to:

  • Tonic (root)
  • Subdominant (4th degree)
  • Dominant (5th degree)

T, S and D represent Tonic, Subdominant and Dominant respectively. I = tonic, IV = subdominant, and V = dominant. As in key C, T=I=C. S=IV=F. D=V=G.

The numbers show what the lowest note is - often called its 'inversion'. 1 is root, with the root note (the letter name of the chord) at the bottom. 2 moves everything up, so the third of the chord is at the bottom. 3 moves again, so the 5th is under, and there can be a 3rd inversion, where the 7th of a chord is at the bottom. the order of the other notes isn't reflected in that number.

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