In the tune called Whispering we find C-B7-C (I-VII7-I). The melody descends from C to B in bars 2 and 3. The chords also do this. B7 sounds a bit like a dominant chord to me but it uses non-scale tones. B7 is not even a part of the scale. I have been thinking if it is a bit modal but I hear the tune as tonal music. A lot of modal music never use non-scales tones anyway.


How does music theory explain I-VII7-I?

  • Mr. Sandman has the same first change, but then it goes into the circle of 4ths. We really have a whole bunch of questions which are asked on the premise that there's something wrong with using non-diatonic notes. Those notes B and A are both from B7. Nothing wrong there? – Tim Feb 22 at 11:08
  • I would say those answers do not sufficiently answer the question. – Neil Meyer Feb 22 at 11:58
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    @PiedPiper That other question doesn't have an accepted answer, so how could it answer this one. :) Actually, I have yet to really understand any of these "how does theory explain" questions. What is it that the posters want? Do they ever confirm that now something has been "explained"? What does it even mean to explain a chord sequence. How does one know that an explanation was sufficient. They get a feeling "ahh... theory... words... ", go away and forget the whole thing? Or does the explanation allow them to do something? What? – piiperi Reinstate Monica Feb 22 at 12:39
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    @piiperiReinstateMonica - I believe that "how does theory explain this chord progression" questions mainly ask for how these chord progressions can be interpreted, preferably with common practice period harmony. That way, the question asker can learn whether they can use that chord progression in a piece of classical music in the style of the 19th century or earlier without breaking genre or feeling like the chord progression doesn't fit. (For example, if all the answers explain the chords as a tritone substitution, the progression probably breaks 19th-century-or-earlier classical genre.) – Dekkadeci Feb 22 at 13:15
  • OP: you could ask, how is the usage or function or harmonic effect of the VII7 chord in Whispering different than the VII7 in Jobim's Meditation. If the answers to the Meditation question don't explain the issue to you, then I don't know what you could do about it. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Feb 22 at 16:33

With common practice period harmony, a C-B7-C chord progression interpreted as I-"VII7"-I can be interpreted as I-V7/iii-VI/iii instead, with the VI/iii simultaneously having a pivot chord interpretation of I.

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    This seems to be the theory, but what does one do with it? To me, V/x is trying to explain that the V part leads to the x, but it appears that it doesn't actually have to. So where does it go? Wherever the composer wants! So calling it V/x becomes pretty well meaningless. – Tim Feb 22 at 13:06
  • @Tim - The "wherever the composer wants" is covered by the VI/iii chord being interpreted as a I chord at the same time. The purpose of this answer is to provide an interpretation consistent with common practice period harmony instead of one that throws it out. – Dekkadeci Feb 22 at 13:09
  • I'm not knocking your answer, far from it. I'm questioning the point in theory calling something V/x, when not actually leading to x. But then again, in key C, we call G V, but it ofrten doesn't get followed by I (C). – Tim Feb 22 at 13:12
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    @Tim note 1. vi (or bVI) quite frequently substitutes I (or i) in deceptive resolution 2. another example (unrelated in this question): it's often very useful to consider pair of chords as ii-V, even if not followed by I – user1079505 Feb 22 at 16:53
  • One thing that I think strengthens this interpretation is that it's supported by voice leading, the double leading tone B-D# up to C-E is pretty clearly dominant-tonic motion. – Esther Feb 23 at 5:22

It is one of the standard passing-6/4-chord-progressions. Along with the cadential-6/4-chords and pedal 6/4-chords-progressions form the basis in standard harmony for how second inversion chords are used.

These passing chords would actually be either, I6 - vii 6/4 - I 5/3 or I 5/3 - vii 6/4 - I6 (If I remember correctly.). I did these chords extensively in my ABRSM grade 6 exam. They seemed to be a recurring theme in question 2 of that exam.

The basics of the passing 6/4 progressions can be seen in the following pictures. The I-IV-I and V - I -V are quite common. The one you mentioned is the slightly more advanced one. You learn in the first advanced grade of music-theory. For me that was ABRSM grade 6.

enter image description here

  • This seems to have little to do with the OP's question. Where's VII? – Tim Feb 22 at 12:34
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    Isn't your image showing pedal (or "neighbor") six-fours, not passing? – Richard Feb 22 at 12:42
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    Could it be a tritone sub for the IV? But why IV7? There is such a thing as a vii-->I cadence (leading tone cadence). But that would be a -7(b5) which is just an extension of the V7. Considering how the altered notes in the VII7 relate to the V7 may reveal that this is a type of altered V7 extension. Or so I speculate. – ggcg Feb 22 at 12:52