Harmonically oriented neo-Schenkerian analysis and generative theories have in common the concept that a single chord can be "prolonged" over a given span of music, even if not every (or even any) note in the chord is playing at every moment during that span. When is it valid to say "chord x is prolonged throughout passage y?" As an answer, I could imagine either a general definition/theory, or a list of common prolongational patterns; either would be welcomed.

  • I think you just discovered the fundamental limitation of such "theories". They have no predictive value - they only describe - and of course their supporters only use them to describe situations that they can describe sensibly.
    – user19146
    Aug 4, 2018 at 16:14

1 Answer 1


Unfortunately, I don't believe there is any concise answer to your question. Schenkerian theory takes years of dedicated study to master, in part because there are so many different methods of prolongation, so many ways in which these methods can manifest themselves, and so much repertoire to study to see these concepts "in the flesh" and how they vary from composer to composer.

In short, the answer to your question—"when is it valid to say 'chord x is prolonged throughout passage y'" in Schenkerian and other generative theories—is when these theories say that they do.

If there were such concise answers to Schenkerian theory, or to Lerdahl and Jackendoff's generative theory, there wouldn't be articles and dissertations and books about them, nor would graduate musicians need entire semesters (sometimes two!) to learn the fundamentals of the approaches, nor would sixty-year-old professors who have spent their careers studying Schenker still open up Der freie Satz every day to learn something new.

  • I know it's not allowed to request resources in questions, but since this is in a comment - what resources would you look to for a beginner to get started on such analyses?
    – lightning
    Aug 5, 2018 at 19:38
  • In my opinion, the go-to book for learning Schenkerian analysis would be the text by Cadwallader and Gagnè. Unfortunately, Schenker's own writings are too polemical and haphazardly organized to be of hardly any pedagogical use.
    – Richard
    Aug 5, 2018 at 19:46

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