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I've been going through the ABRSM G7 papers and have encountered a question on chord progression which I hope someone could help answer. Please refer to the image below.

I've put in Roman numerals to indicate its progression. The music was written in C Harmonic Minor from Bars 1-3. Then, it modulated to Eb Major in Bar 4 before switching to C Harmonic Minor again in Bars 5-7. In Bar 8, it changed to C Natural Minor. The last chord (GBD) should be the dominant chord for C. The question I have is this - why did the composer sharpen the Bb & Ab for the dominant chord? Has the composer moved to its parallel major (ie C Major) in Bar 9?

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    It's written in C minor, all of it. Key signature three flats. Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 13:24
  • Harmonic and melodic minor are scales, not tonalities. If a piece is in C minor, it's in C minor, period. If it has a measure or two that sounds like the relative major, that's not a modulation; it's just part of the chord progression.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 20:36
  • This is probably a dupe, in different clothing. Aaron - do your bit!
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 9:11
  • Hello All, thank you very much for your feedback, comments and answers to my questions. Much appreciated!
    – user95334
    Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 11:57

2 Answers 2

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We get similar questions frequently. There's no such thing as 'written in X harmonic minor'. Simply it's 'written in X minor'. That means that the ^3 is flattened compared with the ^3 in the parallel major. Once we get to ^5, every note ascending, chromatically, can be, and is used in key X minor.

So, the question is based on inaccurate information.

Part of your question asks why it's B♮ rather than B♭. The reason is simple - a leading note is by definition one semitone beneath the root. So the B♭ is 99% of the time used in place of B♭. It sounds far more convincing! That's the 'harmonic' part of harmonic minor appearing.

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  • Hi Tim - thank you very much for your feedback! Could you elaborate on your sentence "Once we get to ^5, every note ascending, chromatically, can be, and is used in key X minor"? Does it mean the notes for a dominant chord in a minor scale can be altered chromatically so that it becomes a major chord just like the dominant chord in its parallel major? Does this also apply to descending notes in the dominant chord of a minor scale?
    – user95334
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 16:58
  • It means that in Cminor, the notes available anywhere in the piece are C, D Eflat;, F, G, Aflat;, Anatural;, Bflat;, Bnatural. In fact, as I keep saying to students - any note, anywhere in any key is available for use. But on this site, so many seem to believe that only notes from a particular scale may be used. Wrong!
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 17:38
  • Hi Tim, thank you for answering my questions and providing feedback. Much appreciated!
    – user95334
    Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 11:54
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Minor and major modes, which replaced in the 17th century all the older modes, do not share the same stability. Minor mode is much influenced by major mode on its ^6 and ^7 degrees. Major mode has imposed the leading note as 7th degree, so even in minor mode the 7th is most often the leading note, i.e. a semitone below tonic, not a full tone.

Now this unstability implies a similar unstability of the 6th degree, because when playing a melody with consecutive notes, it is "forbidden" (i.e. outside of western tonal style) to have an interval of 3 semitones, such as between Ab and B. So when descending from C to G, you are left with either doing C - B - A - G, or C - Bb - Ab - G. The later is more frequent than the former, and when ascending, it is the contrary: G - A - B - C is more frequent than G - Ab - Bb - C. This is the reason for the names "ascending melodic minor" and "descending melodic minor". But one can still use C - B - A - G or G - Ab - Bb - C, it depends upon context, especially chords. (And whether the notes are passing notes or not: some composers such as Bach and Mozart sometimes write a passing A above an F minor chord which contains an Ab...).

And then, some voices may still have to jump from Ab to B or B to Ab, for some chord progression. But this is usually hidden in intermediate parts, because it hurts the western tonal ear (due to the 3 semitones interval, and due to the fact that the leading note B is supposed to rise to C if C is in the next chord). Hence the name "harmonic minor" when Ab and B are being used consecutively.

So, to sum up, the C - B - A - G in C minor is perfectly correct in western tonal music, only less frequent than C - Bb - Ab - G.

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  • Hi Jean-Armand - thank you very much for your feedback! Do the notes always have to be in that order; ie like passing notes from C->B->A->G, then, it's possible not to write Bb and Ab for the dominant chord. What if the C in bar 8 is replaced with another note, can the last chord still be written as B-A-G? Thanks.
    – user95334
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 16:34
  • Hi @user95334. Of course one can write many things different from C - B - A - G or C - Bb - Ab - G. However the leading note, B, is nearly always used on the dominant chord, even in minor mode: the dominant chord is major or dominant 7th, not minor. Dominant chord with Bb sounds as a borrowed chord, or a modulation, or modal (not tonal). Take any score in a minor key from ~1650 to ~1880 and look. However in 20th century pop music, minor dominant chords become more and more frequent, influenced by jazz and as a reaction against leading notes that really sound too much "classical". Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 19:04
  • Hi Jean-Armand - thank you very much for your help in answering my questions. Much appreciated!
    – user95334
    Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 11:55

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