Contemporary Classical Composer

Tonal Harmonic Vocabulary

The following charts feature the harmonic vocabulary used by eighteenth-century composers and, to varying extents, music by composers of other times and places. They are intended to succinctly capture the harmonies featured in High Baroque and Classical period scores, and to serve as a reference for the student engaged in the analysis of this and similar kinds of music. Following convention, C-tonality is featured as the paradigm for major and minor mode. Harmonies in red are encountered in nineteenth-century scores, and are included here as bonus material. (The format would need to be redone if the attempt were made to include all the harmonies explored by Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, and other Romantic Era composers, let alone Debussy or Scriabin.) In the minor mode chart, note that the harmonies derived from the natural-minor scale appear on top even though the minor dominant is less common than the major dominant, which suggests that minor mode actually borrows from harmonic or melodic minor, albeit frequently. It leases the major dominant, or the leading-tone, but doesn’t technically own them. The principle theoretical texts consulted while creating this chart were Evan Copley’s Harmony and Form I & II, and Tonal Harmony by Kostka & Payne.

Functional Harmonies in Major ModeClick to Open PDF