I'm reading a functional harmony textbook and found the notation in the following passage confusing:

Consecutive VI and VII degrees in melody are harmonised with chords IV-VII6 (in minor: IVm-VII6) and consecutive VII and VI degrees with chords III-IV (in minor: IIIn-IV). When the upper tetrachord before a cesura is harmonised with chords I IIIn IV Vv it is called a Phrygian cadence.

(The quote feels off because the textbook is not in English. Please excuse the awkward translation.)

What is the meaning of those superscripts in IVm, IIIn and Vv? I first saw IVm and assumed that the m just stresses that it is a minor chord. However, this textbook never used that notation before when dealing with II and VI chords which, in major key, are minor chords.

Then I saw IIIn and assumed that m and n stand for melodic and natural and indicate how the scale degrees have to be altered. I assumed that IVm indicates a major chord on IV degree (raise the VI degree) and IIIn indicates a major chord on III degree (do not raise the VII degree to avoid an augmented chord).

Then I saw Vv and was thoroughly confused. I don't have any guesses as to what this superscript might stand for.

And what does he mean by upper tetrachord being harmonised with I IIIn IV Vv? I know that the upper tetrachord consists of degrees V, VI, VII and I, but still have trouble understanding the meaning of the whole sentence.

  • Are there footnotes anywhere, especially ones labelled with the letters m, n, and/or v?
    – Dekkadeci
    Jul 10, 2019 at 8:03
  • No, there are no footnotes on that page or anywhere in the chapter.
    – Liisi
    Jul 10, 2019 at 8:25
  • It may help to cite the textbook. But, it really should provide an explanation somewhere, introduction, appendix, footnotes, etc. Jul 10, 2019 at 12:44
  • 1
    The author is Leo Semlek and the title is "Klassikalise harmoonia lühiõpik" ["A Short Textbook of Classical Harmony"]. I did not cite it in the post because I assume that, unless someone reading my post happens to live in Estonia, they are unlikely to have access to that book anyways.
    – Liisi
    Jul 10, 2019 at 13:04
  • About the explanation of notation - I've read from the beginning, trying to not skip any text, and I've found no definition of this notation, only another instance of its use. There's an exercise where VII_7^h is written under a chord. This seems to support my (uninformed) guess that n stands for natural, h for harmonic and m for melodic. That would still leave open what that v in V^v stands for. In abbreviation list, it's told that h=harmonic, m=melodic, n=natural, but that might refer to abbreviations in text?
    – Liisi
    Jul 10, 2019 at 13:10

2 Answers 2


And what does he mean by upper tetrachord being harmonised with I IIIn IV Vv? I know that the upper tetrachord consists of degrees V, VI, VII and I, but...

I will switch to using a circumflex ^ for scale degree instead of Roman numerals.

The upper tetrachord ascending is ^5 ^6 ^7 ^1, however Semlek apparently is not mentioning that a Phrygian cadence is a descending bass motion!

We really need the upper tetrachord descending as ^1 ^7 ^6 ^5.

There are apparently differences in Roman numeral analysis between the United State (where I am) and Estonia. So I explain what I think these symbols mean.

Semlek gives the harmonization for that descending tetrachord as I IIIn IV Vv. (The n and v are supposed to be superscript, but I don't know how to do it in this post, sorry.) Apparently the n mean 'natural minor' or in practical terms no accidentals altering tone from the key signature. Based on normal minor key harmonic practice I guess that v mean use the raised leading tone with the dominant chord, because normally a Phrygian cadence would end on a dominant with a raised leading tone. Semlek doesn't use figure bass numbers on his Roman numerals, because he provides a bass line which allows us to understand the chord intervals and what inversions are used.

In the Roman numeral system I'm used to Semlek's harmony would be this...

i III6/4 iv6 V

In notation...

enter image description here

I'm used to the ^7 being harmonized with a v6 minor dominant, like this...

enter image description here

...but that's only a stylistic detail.

I think the important things to understand are:

  • the Phrygian cadence would involve a descending bass line involving the upper tetrachord.
  • the bass line will be all unaltered tones of the key signature, in other words the lowered scale degrees ^6 and ^7.
  • the cesura on the dominant chord will use the raised leading tone.
  • the harmony highlights the flexible treatment of the ^7 scale degree, being lowered in one chord, but raised in another.
  • the defining character of a Phrygian cadence is the descending half step motion in the bass from the lowered ^6 degree to ^5 in minor mode which is analogous to ^2 ^1 in the Phrygian mode.
  • I tried adding superscripts to your post, but my trick of adding html tags doesn't work inside backquotes. :( Jul 10, 2019 at 22:26

I'll take a guess based on your explanations. I think that your comment is correct about h,m,n in that as a chord superscript, the author means the chord build on the Roman Numeraled degree using the h or m or n scale. (Any noun may be verbed.)

Next guess with no evidence, Vv may be the II chord; the major chord (or seventh) build on scale degree 2 and acting as secondary dominant to the V chord. (Of course, I may be wrong.)

[Editorial: I don't like this notation very much as it's easier, in my opinion, to treat the minor mode as a single entity. Composers (classical anyway) do that. Separating the melodic, harmonic, and natural minor scales, to me, is over analyzing (except in jazz where it's a compositional technique) as the same piece often has all three scale patterns used together. /RANT MODE/=OFF]

  • I agree with your rant about minor key harmony. I also don't like the mixture of Roman numerals for scale degrees and chords at the same time. A circumflex can be used for scale degrees like ^6 ^7. Jul 10, 2019 at 15:39
  • According to dictionary.onmusic.org/terms/2586-phrygian_cadence, a Phrygian cadence ends with the iv6-V chord progression, so your assumption that that the v superscript indicates a secondary dominant is likely wrong.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jul 10, 2019 at 16:26

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