I have been reading up on Galant schemata (stock melodic phrases) recently and have run into a question regarding their universality.

All of the various schemas (Prinner, Pastorale, Fenaroli, etc) that make up a classical sentence seem to accompany either tonic, subdominant, or dominant harmony. But, then, what schema's (if any) should be referred to when a ii, iii, or vi chord are involved?

I understand that perhaps these chords do fall under these three umbrellas (for example, the vi chord may be considered a prolongation of the tonic), though this seems to be controversial: Schenkerian analysts hold, for example, that the mediant scale degree is an expansion of the tonic because they have two common tones. Riemannian theory, on the other hand, considers the mediant the "dominant parallel".

Summing up, can we accompany the supertonic, mediant, and submediant harmonies with the various schemata of classical music by assuming their status as either tonic, subdominant, or dominant? Or, on the contrary, are these harmonies to be excluded when working on melodies based on the schemata?

2 Answers 2


There are several responses to this. One is (as ttw's answer notes) that other harmonies (such as ii, iii, and vi) can be interspersed among the primary notes of the schemata.

But I think there are several other answers, including:

  • The question seems to be only considering a subset of Gjerdigen's schemata. The very first schemata Gjerdingen discusses is the Romanesca, based around a descending thirds progression: I-V-vi-iii-IV-I. (Some people today would also think of that as the beginning of the Pachelbel canon progression.)
  • The question appears to miss some details of its listed schemata. For example, the stereotypical Prinner would often tend to include a ii7 harmony under its penultimate melody note.
  • Perhaps the most important point, however, is that Gjerdingen's schemata are primarily melodic formulas, not specific to particular harmonies or chords. The whole approach of Roman numerals is a bit foreign to what Gjerdigen is focusing on. And most of his schemata can incorporate various inner voices within the framework of the two-voice melody and bass line (which are generally the anchors). The Prinner might have a viio6 as its penultimate harmony, or it might instead do a ii7-V7 in the same place. Or it could have a completely different harmony with a varied bass line -- Gjerdingen has plenty of examples where only the melody or bass line are present for part of a schema, or the melody and bass line happen slightly "out of phase" over completely different harmonies.

One of the major points of Gjerdingen's schemata is to get away from harmonic thinking and to focus on melodic patterns. Focusing on verticalities alone can lead to many silly arguments (e.g., "is this a IV chord or a ii6? -- which note is the 'primary' note and which is the 'non-harmonic tone'?... or is it just some variety of ii7 chord...?"). Whether it's a ii chord or a IV chord or some variety of seventh chord or even a V/V chord, it probably has a scale degree 4 going to 5 happening somewhere -- that's what Gjerdingen is focusing on. Whether a chord is a V or a viio or some variety of seventh chord with dominant function, it will have a leading tone resolving somewhere going 7-1. Sometimes those motions tend to happen in the bass, sometimes they happen in the melody -- and Gjerdingen's schemata often pick up on those stereotypical locations too a bit.

But they aren't about chords or Roman numerals. He often lists the most common harmonies in terms of figured bass (e.g., 5/3 chord or 6/3 or whatever), but those are by no means meant to limit the schemata to those harmonizations alone.

Which means that all sorts of harmonies beyond I, IV, and V can often happen. Not just things like ii, iii, and vi, but sometimes chromatic chords like secondary dominants, etc. Gjerdingen was trying to get away from the anachronistic way of looking at 18th-century harmony, where Roman numerals hadn't been invented yet and thinking about "triads" and "seventh chords" as we do today was a very new-fangled thing that a lot of composers and teachers didn't even agree with.

  • "Which means that all sorts of harmonies beyond I, IV, and V can often happen. Not just things like ii, iii, and vi, but sometimes chromatic chords like secondary dominants, etc." Can you please suggest a method for choosing which scale degree to select for melodies to accompany these harmonies (ii, iii, vi, V/V, etc.?)
    – 286642
    Jan 30, 2020 at 3:39

Gjerdingen's work on schemata does show some use with secondary chords. (ii and vi and iii) The point is that the schemata are not complete; there may be notes (and chords) between elements of these schemata. A simple V-I may become a ii6-V-I or ii6-F6-V-I or the like. Similarly for schemata. The actual chemata need not occur contiguously but only need to be in their indicated order. (Different orders give different schemata.)

The schemata are outlines that may be filled in rather than melodic or harmonic patterns.

  • "secondary chords"! That's what they're called. Thank you for your answer--I appreciate it.
    – 286642
    Jan 15, 2020 at 0:03

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