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Augmented 6th chords. Discuss and explain.

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by The_Orlonater, Mar 14, 2008.


  1. The_Orlonater

    The_Orlonater

    Jun 6, 2007
    I'm really having trouble trying to understand these chords and no matter what I read I'm not really getting it. Augmented just means sharp right? It's enharmonically equivalent to a flat 7th, right?
    I also know there's 3 types.

    Italian Augmented 6th
    German Augmented 6th
    French Augmented 6th.

    Help? :eyebrow:
     
  2. PocketGroove82

    PocketGroove82

    Oct 18, 2006
    Chicago
    I would repost this question on the double bass side, under classical technique or music theory. You'll probably get more responses there, but here is a text book explanation.

    Augmented Sixth Chords usually have these elements:
    1. The chord approaches a V Chord or a I6/4 moving to V
    2. The b6 of the key it's in is usually in the bass (so in Dmajor, it would be a Bb in the bass)
    3. The #4 (#11) of the key is in the top voice, creating an interval of an Augmented 6th (or b7 if you prefer) with the bass voice.

    The Aug 6th interval usually resolves outwardly by 1/2 step, where the bass voice moves down to the root of the V chord, and the top soprano moves up to double the root.
    If it's moving to a I6/4, the the bass voice steps down to the 5th of the I6/4 (being the bottom note of the inversion), and the soprano steps or leaps to the third of the I6/4. It can happen in either major or minor keys, and sounds really nice (which is the important thing). Think of it as approaching a chord by halfstep, from above and below. (and the chord it approaches is probably going to be at the end of a phrase, at or right before the cadence point)

    Italian Aug 6 chords are when you add the root of the chord (a Major 3rd above the bass voice) to the chord, so you get 3 voices in the chord instead of the 2 I discussed.
    French and German Aug 6 chords are like the Italian but you add yet another note, making it a 4 part texture. The French takes the Major 2nd with the root, and the German takes a minor 3rd with the root.
    Keep in mind that composers will double voices at the octave, so what may look like 8 pitches, could really just be a French or German Aug6, just "blown up".

    There are a couple other functions of the Aug6 chords in classical music, but the conventional way you see it is leading to a dominant or cadential six-four chord. And if you are in music theory 101, your teacher will probably not throw those other uses at you on a test, unless he/she is a pr!ck. If you need to analyze a piece and label one of these, work backwards from the cadence, and look for the b6 of the key in the bass voice. Then hunt down the #4(#11) of the key in the top voice, and see how they resolve, hopefully it will be stepwise and outward. Then look for any other pitches in that Aug6 chord, to see if it should be labeled italian, french, or german. Then label it. I find that working backwards from cadence points works equally well when asked to write out 4 part harmony, when given figured bass. Set up the cadence, and then work back from it.

    I hope that helps, and I'm sure that a couple other nerds will follow up on what I said, call me a moron, tell me I'm wrong...so if that happens. I would direct them to "Tonal Harmony" 5th Edition, since that's where I straight up plagiarized all that stuff!

    :)
     
  3. IconBasser

    IconBasser Scuba Viking Supporting Member

    Feb 28, 2007
    Fontana, California
    jeez... and here I thought I had a good grasp on theory...


    oh well, back to the woodshed!
     
  4. Correlli

    Correlli

    Apr 2, 2004
    New Zealand
    Augmented = Dissonance

    All is explained in theory of harmony.
     
  5. onlyclave

    onlyclave

    Oct 28, 2005
    Seattle
    The Reader's Digest explanation of augmented 6th chords:
    Subdominant function chords usually found in minor tonalities. These can resolve to another subdominant chord but mostly resolve to V7/viio7.

    Neopolitan 6th is a major triad built off of the lowered second scale degree, and in first inversion. In a minor it would be Bb/D -> E7 ->am

    Italian 6th is a dominant 7th chord built off of the lowered second scale degree and in first inversion. In a minor: Bb7/D -> E7 -> am

    French 6th is a full diminished 7th chord built off of the raised 4th scale step and in first inversion. In am: D#dim7/F# -> E7 ->am
     
  6. Jim Carr

    Jim Carr Dr. Jim Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2006
    Denton, TX or Kailua, HI
    fEARful Kool-Aid dispensing liberal academic card-carrying union member Musicians Local 72-147
    Just thought I should point out the N6 is NOT and Augmented 6th chord, it is simply a major chord, and though 1st inversion is common, so is root position.
     
  7. HaVIC5

    HaVIC5

    Aug 22, 2003
    Brooklyn, NYC
    Root position Neopolitan chords aren't really common at all - having it in root position makes it seem like a modulation has occurred, and that's not the effect that are most commonly used for (although its possible) The reason why its used in first inversion the most is to emphasize its subdominant function. Putting it in first inversion makes the bass note the fourth degree of the scale, or the subdominant degree.

    You can actually have augmented sixths for chords other than that of the V, even though thats by far the most common. This is actually where he concept of substituted dominants and sub V's came from. Before an explicit system of analysis came about for explaining tritone substitution in jazz and popular music, chords like Db7 in C major were analyzed as bII+6.
     
  8. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Cincinnati
    +1
    Understanding this paragraph, IME, is important for being able to use anything like an augmented 6th chord in your own music. Unless someone is currently teaching a university level music theory class they likely will have to do a little refresher to get the difference between a French and Italian Aug6 chord. In other words, it only really a big deal if you are working with older music.

    Like HaVIC5 said so well, it all has to do with tri-tone substitution, altered chord and stretching the harmonic language just a little.
     
  9. onlyclave

    onlyclave

    Oct 28, 2005
    Seattle
    Yeah you're right. My bad. I had forgotten about the German 6th and thought I remembered N6 was one of the big 3 A6 chords.

    That's what happens when you don't have to analyze anything like that in 10 years since college. I also can't read Gregorian chant anymore. ;)
     
  10. Jim Carr

    Jim Carr Dr. Jim Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 21, 2006
    Denton, TX or Kailua, HI
    fEARful Kool-Aid dispensing liberal academic card-carrying union member Musicians Local 72-147
    I agree with most of this, except that if you have played much Chopin or Beethoven, you will have encountered root position bII (flat II) chords with nearly the same frequency (in my experience) as 1st inversion.

    I used to think that root position was uncommon, as that what a lot of theory books say, but I didn't find that to be true in my many years of teaching theory in college...but in any case, it doesn't really matter. :D
     
  11. HaVIC5

    HaVIC5

    Aug 22, 2003
    Brooklyn, NYC
    Oh yeah, I know, Beethoven probably used a root position Neopolitan chord more than first inversion. I don't know about Chopin's use, but I do know from looking and listening at his preludes that his sense of chromatic harmony was unparalleled at the time, and he would definitely do some bizzare/interesting things. I'm just saying what those textbooks say, and to my ear, the bII sounds the least intense and least chromatic in 1st inversion.
     
  12. IconBasser

    IconBasser Scuba Viking Supporting Member

    Feb 28, 2007
    Fontana, California
    hm, sorry to detract from the conversation, but I think I would understand what you guys are saying a lot better if I knew what "subdominant" and "inversion" meant...

    anyone care to enlighten the lost high-school student?
     
  13. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Cincinnati
    The dominat chord is the chord built on the fifth scale degree. So... in the key of C, the dominat chord is G B D. The sub dominat chord is the chord built five scale steps below the tonic (hence the name SUBdominat) this works out to be the fourth scale step. So... in the key of C, the subdominat chord is F A C.

    In the key of C the tonic chord is C E G, with C the lowest pitch. This is said to be in root position or root inversion. If you take the lowest note and raise it an octave you have inverted it one time... this is called First Inversion, and the note order from lowest to highest would be E, G, C. If you invert this chord again the G is the lowest and that is Second Inversion. So Root Iversion has the root as the lowest pitch, First Inversion has the 3rd of the chord as its lowest pitch and Second Inversion has the 5th of the chord as its lowest pitch. To answer the next obvious question yes, there is a 3rd Inversion and that has the 7th as the lowest pitch and you could keep going and have a 4th inversion with the 9th on the bottom, but generally speaking a chord like that would be written as a 'slash' chord... C/D etc.
     
  14. PocketGroove82

    PocketGroove82

    Oct 18, 2006
    Chicago
    Hey IconBasser,
    It sounds to me like you are reading through some harmony books on your own. Just so you know, there isn't a modern musician in the world who really cares about Italian, German, and French +6 chords...it's merely something you are forced to memorize (then quickly forget) when you go to music school. (lol...I generalize.)

    There are a hundred rules pertaining to classical music from pre/post 1600, that have all gone out the window because our ears have evolved. I'm sure you have read, "AVOID PARALLEL 5THS!"...but guess what, every song you've ever heard has them in it...and it works, and the CDs sell, and it's modern music.

    Traditional Harmony should be treated like Latin...a dead language.
    Granted, if you know it...you can understand and decipher spanish, italian, english, french...etc...etc, and you are infinitely better off knowing it if you choose to be a linguist...but, guess what, it's a dead language, and you will never actually speak it or use it outside of academia.

    I'm happy to see a young bass player studying classical harmony! Just keep in mind that the rules/terms you are studying are deader than gramma's gramma, and now we can play anything we like (for better or worse)!
     
  15. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Cincinnati
    Yea, that's what I was taught too. But the real message should have been, "Avoid Parallel 5th.. IF you want to sound like J.S. Bach. Of course if you want to sound like Debussy you'd better be ready to use them to the extreme.

    IMO it's not really dead.... but I would agree that it's not the Be All and End All that may university theory teachers would have you believe. (BTW the same could be said of 12 Tone music).

    I do hold what Charles Ives said on this subject. "Why anyone would want to discard traditional harmony I cannot see. Why anyone would want to use traditional harmony exculsively I cannot see". And so it is. Traditional harmony (complete with augmented 6th chords) is a useful tool and in the hands (and ears) of a creative artist it can have its place.
     
  16. onlyclave

    onlyclave

    Oct 28, 2005
    Seattle
    I completely disagree with your statements. Classical theory is only giving names to the sounds that were familiar at the time (Perfect authentic cadence, major triad, upper neighbor) and making guidelines to that the harmonies could be sung and sounded interesting. If you don't know the history of those rules how could you know what rules to break in order to create new sounds? Do you really think that you are the first person to discover quartal harmony?

    Studying and understanding classical music theory is the basis for understanding things like jazz harmony. Most bedroom bass players equate theory with modes, but they have no idea how they are related to each other and limit their playing significantly.

    I think it's great that someone wants to talk about augmented 6th chords. It's the original tritone substitution.
     
  17. These are the bane of every theory student at one time or another...:hyper:
     


  18. +1
     
  19. The_Orlonater

    The_Orlonater

    Jun 6, 2007
    I'm a bedroom electric bassist... :bawl:

    I'm a 14 year old in desperate need of a gig.
    I just study theory and play bass in the meantime.
    I want to know all theory. I understand I can't just cram it all into my head and I'm learning and I'm trying hard at it. Anyway, I found something on Wikipedia.
    I think it helped me a lot.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chord_(music)#Sixth_chords
     
  20. Here is what I found on Augmented 6 chords.

    If we have a minor chord in first inversion the interval between the bass note and the root of the chord is a Major sixth.

    If we then raise the tonic note (by an augmented unison), the interval between the bass note and root note becomes an augmented sixth. A chord with this interval of an augmented sixth is called an Augmented Sixth Chord.

    The three basic types of Augmented sixth chords:

    An Italian Sixth Chord has an augmented sixth between the bass and root of the chord, with the fifth of the chord in-between the bass note and root.

    A German Sixth is like the Italian sixth but with one extra note placed a perfect fifth above the bass note.

    A French Sixth is like the Italian sixth but with one extra note placed a Augmented fourth above the bass note.

    The resolutions of Augmented sixth chords:

    Italian and French Sixth chords will most often resolve to a dominant chord.

    The German Sixth will most often resolve to a dominant or tonic chord. (It is worth noting that if the German Sixth resolves to the dominant then parallel fifths will occur, which can cause musical lines to lose their independence in certain styles of music.)
     

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