I’m composing a funeral march and I have noticed that just from looking at the bass, the C chord is ambiguous. The piece is in the key of F minor. That doesn’t really help because both C minor and C major are used in the key of F minor. Here is the entire first theme of my funeral march:

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First 4 bars have this ambiguity with the C chord because there is no Eb or E natural. Next 4 bars are basically E dim7 with an F pedal. And the last 4 bars clearly state C major in every other bar.

So I’m really only asking about the first 4 bars here. Is the C chord in those bars(which is every other chord) C major or C minor? Or are there too few notes to tell?

  • A thought: Is it a chord on C or a suspension of the F minor harmony? – ahazybellcord Mar 16 '20 at 18:57
  • Well, when I was composing the first theme, I was thinking of it as a C chord and not as a suspension. – Caters Mar 16 '20 at 19:02
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    Or, an alternative analysis: the first four measures (at least) are all F minor, but the bass has neighbor-tone Gs on every other beat. – Richard Mar 16 '20 at 19:54
  • @Caters: why are the 4th notes before the triplets double dotted in the 2nd line? Don't you think this is an error? and in the left hand the 2nd fourth note should be under the 8th note triplets. – Albrecht Hügli Mar 17 '20 at 21:22
  • @AlbrechtHügli I was wanting both the triplets and the double dotted quarter notes(or at least single dotted). I guess I will have to change the triplets to sixteenth note triplets to do that. – Caters Mar 17 '20 at 22:09

In the Key of F min C is the V. If you are trying to create a resolution (you'd be in harmonic or melodic at this point) then you'd want to use the C maj, or more appropriately C7. Otherwise moving to C minor in the key of F min is fine. You wrote it so you must make that decision. If you are avoiding the E, Eb in the first 4 bars I'd look at the melody. Is the melody in the first line hinting at melodic or harmonic minor? If not then the "ambiguity" may not be an issue. From a strict harmony point of view I am not used to this, I'd pick a 3rd and use it.

That being said, without the appearance of E in the melody and without the need for a true resolution in the first line it is fine to stick with natural minor, waiting for the next line or last line to create the tension of the V7. In line one you are not approaching the F from below so there may not be a strong feeling of resolution. I'd experiment with both Cmin and Cmaj and see what the difference is. Putting the C7 in the last measure of the first line would create the classic resolution and your melody is a G so it will work. You just need to decide whether you want that strong of a harmony there.

I would guess that the "classic" approach to harmonizing in a minor key would be to use melodic minor and that might push you into a C7 at the end of the melodic ideas (motifs).

  • In key Fm, C is V. True as far as V instead of v. But v exists in key Cm too. There is No compunction to use a third in any harmony. No rule says 'thou must...' So leaving it genderless isn't going to be problematic, surely. Why can't the listener fill in the gaps? – Tim Mar 16 '20 at 20:30
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    Every classic harmony test and workbook I've seen has a standard set of rules that can be considered best practices and yes, all notes of a chord are typically present (with the exception of the 5th of the V7). I don't now why that bothers you so much. In trying to help people understand these things it is not helpful to throw all rules and procedures away. We learn to appreciate the patterns in music by learning these rules. Then learn to break them. – ggcg Mar 16 '20 at 20:41
  • @ Tim: is gender the English term for major and minor? I've been always wondering about the translation of "Tongeschlecht" how we call in German these 2 genders – Albrecht Hügli Mar 17 '20 at 21:16

There are no C chords in the first four bars. What you have is a single F chord, plus some non-chord tones including the Gs in the left hand.

To repeat the old, old advice, stop looking at the notes on the staves and LISTEN to what you wrote! Your first four bars sound perfectly fine, but your analysis of them is misguided.

In fact when you do attempt to make C chords in bars 8 10 and 12, the result sounds clumsy because you have second inversion C chords (with G in the bass). Second inversion chords are not stable, and any harmony textbook should explain the limited number of ways they can be successfully used - but those ways don't include what you wrote.

  • Second inversion dominant triad though is no problem, right, since it can resolve in a similar way to an augmented sixth chord(Bar 12 has that augmented sixth like resolution going on, with both G and E moving to F in contrary motion, turning a sixth into an octave), just to the tonic instead of the dominant? If the tonic was also in second inversion, then it would be a problem, but the tonic is in root position, so I don’t see any problems with the second inversion dominant. – Caters Mar 17 '20 at 20:09
  • Six-four chords tend to fall into three categories: where the bass is a pedal point (the pedal six-four), the cadential six-four (a subset of the pedal six-four), and the passing six-four (where the bass pitch of the six-four functions as a passing tone). (Some include a fourth type, the arpeggiated six-four.) But since the bass here is a neighbor to the F, it's technically an "illegal" six-four. Hence my own reasoning, which aligns with guest's, that these Gs are just neighbor tones. – Richard Mar 17 '20 at 22:50
  • @Richard Just because most second inversion chords fall into those 3 categories doesn’t mean that a "Neighbor 6/4" is illegal. And I showed how such a chord can be convincing, resolve it like it’s an augmented sixth chord to a root position chord with the span of an octave. I do exactly that in bar 12 of the piece. The other neighbor chords are part of an alternating figuration. And would you consider the G to be a neighbor tone in the second line? I wouldn’t because of the tritone between G and Db, which form half of the vii dim7 of F minor. – Caters Mar 18 '20 at 2:31

As in the 3rd line in the repetition of phrase A the melodic motif is varied and contains a harmonic respectively melodic 7th of the scale (natural E = major 3rd in V 2nd inversion) - also in the final bar - I would use in all cases a C- chord.

  • So in every C chord except in the bars where I use an E natural, you would use C minor? Hmm, that might fit well with the mood I’m going for in the piece. – Caters Mar 18 '20 at 2:35

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