In relation to a question I asked earlier—What is a Neapolitan 6th chord—I have a follow up question.

A Neapolitan chord is pretty much a Major chord built on the lowered second scale degree; however, there are two modes that naturally have a minor 2nd (Phrygian and Locrian) and the naturally occurring chord built from the second scale degree is major and technically is identical to a Neapolitan chord built in other modes, but the second is not lowered.

Are the naturally occurring II chords in these modes considered Neapolitan chords and if not, can a Neapolitan chord be built in those modes?

3 Answers 3


The main reason you will not find this analysis/interpretation is that the N6 chord is a part of Functional Harmony, ie Major or Minor keys with Functional Dominant -> Tonic relationships. The N6 chord is part of the Classical world. You are trying to place a Functional Harmonic device in a Modal setting. While you may be able to make this work in a Modal setting in one way or another, it would still not be analyzed as an N6 because a Modal setting does not conform to the same rules.

Furthermore, as the N6 chord is a part of the Classical world, when similar things are found in other places, say Jazz (with Functional Hamony), they do not call it the same thing. In Jazz they may relate the ♭II triad to a Tri-Tone Substitution and describe its motion to the V7 to be an extension of the Dominant. On top of that, as Roland mentions in his answer, using the N6 with its Classical rules (going to V7) will detract from the feeling that you are in a Modal setting and will likely imply that you are in a Minor Tonality.

In Phrygian, the ♭II often acts as dominant, wanting to resolve to the tonic, so not only would the use of the V7 detract from the Modal feel, but the bII will not receive its normal treatment, potentially adding a feeling of 'stressing' the dominant. At best, utilizing the N6 in this way will create the effect of a piece being Modal at some times and Tonal at others.

  • 1
    Thanks! You put it way better than I did, and you provided a couple of interesting pointers to how it could be analyzed in a jazz harmony context. Thanks! Indeed, either it won't sound as a typical Neapolitan,or it won't sound as Locrian or Phrygian. Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 20:20
  • It could also be thought of as a dominant-functioning German augmented 6th.
    – Caleb
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 13:59
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    I have use a mixed function French sixth in Phrygian mode a number of times for final cadences, combining the bass of ♭vii6-I (essentially a plagal variant) with V-I in the upper voices. It works quite well; it doesn't detract from the mode. Augmented sixths are usually used as predominants now, much like ♭vii6-I is usually now used transposed in iv6-V-I. Still, the derivation from Phrygian is obvious. The Neapolitan sixth, though, acts like an altered subdominant. The characteristic ♭2-♮7 diminished 3rd in the voice leading isn't to be found in any Church mode.
    – user16935
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 1:13
  • @Patrx2 I guess I couldn't be 100% about this but my thought is that you are using Aug6 chord to describe a separate function. My interpretation of the example you give, if I'm following correctly, would be a tritone substitution with b5/#11 for a dominant chord. I'm definitely not sure that I'm following your example correctly though. Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 14:30
  • @Basstickler, in C Phrygian, the chord would be D♭ in the bass, with F, G, B above. You could describe it as a tritone substitution (the one you suggest), but that doesn't capture how it functions. The D♭ is acting as an upper leading tone - it goes to C. It is acting as if taken from ♭vii6, i.e., D♭, F, B♭ ("6" would usually be superscripted, but I can't do it here), which is a subdominant-side chord. F, G and B act (naturally enough) like G7, i.e., V7 in C.
    – user16935
    Commented Aug 11, 2015 at 14:50

Interesting question. I'd say no.

My argument is not very strong though because its not about the N2 chord itself but about the way it appears on stock progressions.

Typically a Neapolitan (rather, Neapolitan sixth) chord is heard as a subdominant that progresses to the dominant or dominant 7 chord. If you'd be in locrian or phrygian, and you would make that progression, you'd have to make a couple of alterations to make the dominant 7 chord. I think at that point it won't sound as locrian or phrygian anymore, but as melodic or harmonic minor.

To be clear, obviously your observation that locrian and phrygian have a major chord on the 2nd degree, and the 2nd degree is a semi-tone up from the tonic is completely correct. I'm just saying I doubt that would ever show up in formal analysis as a Neapolitan. At least, it won't unless it would be followed by a dominant major or dominant 7th chord, in which case I think it would be considered a change of mode.


@Dom's recent edit brought me here.

I'll just add this to @Basstickler's answer which I think gets to the point that Neapolitan chords are a concept within the major/minor system.

I think of Neapolitan - and augmented sixth - chords as first and foremost chromatically altered diatonic chords. The colorful effect of these chords is made apparent by their alteration from diatonic subdominants ii or iv.

You could make an analogy with language. A phrase like 'Trompe-l'œil' sounds very intellectual in English, but in French it just means 'trick the eye.' In the context of a borrowed, foreign word it sounds special, in the context of the native language it is just a few simple words.

Why use a borrowed French phrase in English to convey an idea about tricking the eye? Well, the borrowed phrase is used for a very specific kind of optical trick: when a painting is so realistic it tricks the viewer into believing they are seeing a real scene. We say 'trompe-l'œil' convey they specific meaning not just any optical illusion.

So, in Phrygian, a major triad build on the second degree of the mode - a half step above the tonic - is nothing more than the major triad on the second degree. That is the native root and chord quality in Phrygian.

But in a minor key a major chord on a lowered second degree is something special. Of the common chromatic chords - Neapolitan, augmented sixths, secondary dominants - it is the only one whose root is altered by lowering. It's so special we give it a special name to underscore its unique and foreign character: Neapolitan.

In a mode where the second degree was natively a minor second, I think the label Neapolitan isn't meaningful.

  • crudité is a better example, but I couldn't think of that yesterday. crudité sounds so much more elegant that 'raw vegetables' Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 16:47

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