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I've noticed in ii-V-I that it is almost always ii6-V-I or ii6/5-V-I. Why is this the case? Should the descending fifth in the bass of ii-V be a very strong progression?

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    I have literally never seen this. How can you say "always" or "almost always"? Maybe it's just your books. But keep in mind that the 6 of ii is the 3 of V and that a ii6 or ii13 (with the -7) is almost identical to a V9 chord. On the guitar they are the same shape and almost interchangeable. – ggcg Mar 30 at 19:20
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    What genre are you referring to ? This would be different in different styles – Shevliaskovic Mar 30 at 21:40
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    @ggcg: so you and OP interpret the numbers as chord extensions and not inversion assignments. I think this is the root of misunderstanding the progression. – Albrecht Hügli Apr 2 at 4:41
  • An inversion should be subscript or superscript in size. It did not appear that way to me – ggcg Apr 2 at 10:27
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Outside of the V -> I cadence and the occasional Plagal motion from IV to I, leaps in the voice leading are generally in only 1 voice. Having a progression that is all root position triads and isn't planing or a simple IV -> V -> I is awkward, especially in the Classical Style that people like Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart wrote in. Even Chopin has some pieces written in the Classical Style.

So let's take your ii -> V -> I progression. And let's assume that the V -> I is a cadence. This means that we can concentrate on the ii -> V motion. In the Classical Style, because ii is predominant and V is dominant, it isn't viewed in the same way as the V -> I cadence where leaping is encouraged. Instead, it is treated like most chord combinations, smoothest voice leading possible. I'll use the key of C major as an example here.

So let's take the root position ii. If we want this to move smoothly to the dominant chord, we would need to do this:

A -> B

F -> G

D -> D

This leaves us with a second inversion dominant triad. Now, if we are wanting to say modulate to the dominant, this could work. If we are wanting to resolve to the tonic, we could take this second inversion dominant and resolve it sort of like a French Augmented Sixth, move the sixth to an octave and keep the middle note as a common tone. But this Augmented Sixth type of resolution is not commonly used with dominant triads, especially in the times of Mozart and Haydn.

So let's see what happens when we invert the ii to ii6. Here is the smoothest motion from ii6 that is diatonic(in other words, doesn't include chords with chromatically altered notes):

D -> D

A -> B

F -> G

Aha, we have a root position dominant triad here. Now we can move to the tonic like this:

D -> G

B -> E

G -> C

leaping down a fifth or up a fourth for an Authentic Cadence(V -> I) and we have a smooth motion to the dominant AND a strong cadence.

Now, in other genres like pop and jazz, all root position is a okay. But in Classical Music, especially that written in the Classical Style, the voice leading to the dominant matters.

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  • That's a lot of words in support of a completely false premise! – Laurence Payne Mar 30 at 21:25
  • I only said that this smoothest possible voice leading to the dominant matters in Classical music written in the Classical Style, not in other genres. How many times have you seen Mozart, Beethoven, or Haydn use all root position chords in a I -> V -> I progression? Very, very rarely if at all, right? – Caters Mar 30 at 21:31
  • Meant to type ii -> V -> I there, not sure how it went from that to I -> V -> I, must be something having to do with the tablet I used to type that comment – Caters Mar 30 at 22:41
  • @ Caters, sorry, I didn’t see that you are meaning to explain the same thought that I have! The arrows and the vertical chords have been confusing me ;) +1 – Albrecht Hügli Apr 2 at 4:33
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I think the confusion is that in English terminology ii6 means e.g. Dm6 (DFAH) while in classic harmony (German terminology) ii6 means FACD (Dm7) 1st. inversion.

Edit:

ii6 (= 1st inversion of ii) is FAD ... of course! While ii56 = FACD (Dm7 1. Inversion)

As you may know this is a substitution of the subdom. and we don’t hear the fifth fall but C F6 G C (I IV V I) = a perfect authentic Cadence

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    Um, ii6 does not mean Dm7 in first inversion in classical harmony. ii6 is Dm triad in first inversion. ii6/5 is Dm7 in first inversion. That's just the way it is after centuries of figured bass notation. – Caters Mar 31 at 18:31
  • @caters: thanks, you are right. I must have been sleeping ;) – Albrecht Hügli Mar 31 at 19:27
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There have been some good answers but since I didn't see it I'll add one more idea.

Function.

Since the lowest note of ii6 is the root of IV, it functions more like IV-V-I than ii-V-I.

Easily the most common progression especially until modern times is IV-V-I. ii-V-I is a very common alternative to that but it sounds different than IV-V-I. Making it ii6-V-I softens that difference.

ii-V is tricky because ii is the root of the dominant of V and in pieces that modulate you will often see ii turning major and becoming V/V. Also it goes into V strongly, almost like sol-do and that weakens the original function of resolving to I in IV-V-I.

Inverting ii to ii6 makes it sound more like IV, because the lowest note of ii in first inversion is F as in F-A-D, not D-F-A. It basically makes it sound a little more like IV and not resolve as strongly to V and make the whole IV-V-I thing still work normally by adding some minor color. The ultimate point is the function. Are we trying to focus on the tonic or the dominant?

So for the real test, play it. Play a normal root position ii-V-I and then a ii6-V-I and see if you can hear the difference. Then compare to IV-V-I and see if it really does work a little bit more like that.

By the way I'm totally assuming a major key for this discussion, C major. Also I 100% acknowledge that I'm making a very subtle point and coming from a very classical point of view.

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Bad data. Strong root position ii, V, I basslines are very common in many (I'd even say 'all') styles of music.

The only grain of truth in your question might be if you're talking exclusively about guitar voicings. But that's a limitation of the instrument, not a musical choice. I bet the bass player is playing those roots for you!

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