Objections raised about the mystery chord in question 102
Question: This is a follow-up to your Question 102 about the chord d, e, and g. I thought your answer -- that it's an Em7 with no 5th -- wasn't sufficiently nuanced.****Acoustically, the strong interval is the 5th formed by the g and d. And if you just play that chord, the naive ear (or at least mine) does hear g as the root. It sounds like a 6th chord, which it is, if you can accept that the 3rd is missing. The point here is that I'm leery of naming chords based on 3rds when there's an obvious, strong dominant-tonic interval within the chord, suggesting a different root.****More importantly, I think that what the d-e-g chord "is" depends entirely on its context. How will that dissonance resolve? If the d resolves to c natural or c sharp, then sure, it's functioning as an Em7. But suppose the next two chords are d-f-g and c-e-g. In that case, it was a dominant 6th chord, which moves to the dominant 7th,and then to the tonic, c. Yes, it's unusual not to include the leading tone, but the ear still hears the V-I progression clearly. Or how about this resolution? -- c sharp-e-g, then d-f-a. Here we have the mystery chord functioning as a suspended dominant 7th in the key of Dm.****If you have a moment, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this. I really respect all your answers, and how clearly you write.

Answer: Those are excellent points about my writing, and the one about context is even better: context really is the determining factor if there's any doubt at all. And this stuff is fun to talk about, so let's assume doubt.

Taken in isolation I think that Em7 is the logical answer. You have in the original chord the dissonance of a second, which wants really really badly to become a third, typically by letting the lower tone move downward. When you don't know anything else about the context, the sight of a second is as good as a signed confession that this is an inverted seventh chord, and the root will be the upper note of the second.

Assuming we know nothing about the environment here - we don't even know what key we're in! - that Emin 7 could logically be followed by C, or by A. A is best, allowing the very strong progression ii7-V-i.

You've suggested trying C# dim as the following chord, which could be done, though the voice leading is harder to work out. But the d-e-g would still be an inverted minor 7. And you have an idea of calling it a suspended dominant 7th in D minor. I'm not so sure about that - that would mean analyzing the d-e-g as an A7 sus 4 - but without the root! I'm willing to give up the third if circumstances are desperate, but the root - I just can't bear to assume both the root and the third in triadic harmony. I think it makes much more sense, if we're thinking this is D minor, to see the mystery chord as ii 4/2. It has everything it needs to be ii 4/2. Occam's razor applies:

But if this had been presented with a following G7 then sure, you could try to analyze it as a dominant chord with the third missing and a sixth added - as unusual as that is in traditional harmony. Actually the E would in that case be better considered as a nonchordal tone; in functional harmony there really isn't such a thing as a chord of the sixth. So let's call that E a non-chordal tone, an accented passing tone in this realization, and then the only oddity left is the empty fifth. The empty fifth troubles my soul, however, and would get your knuckles rapped by an alert instructor of tonal counterpoint. I think you'd be safer, if the following chord were G7, to stick with the minor seventh analysis of d-e-g, making the progression iii7-V, which is reasonable.

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