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The Neapolitan chord

What this chord does: The Neapolitan is a pre-dominant chord. It is


derived from the diminished iiochord in minor, by lowering the root.
How it is spelled: The Neapolitan is a major triad built on the lowered
second scale degree; therefore it consists of these scale degrees: lowered
2, 4, and the low 6. (Musicians often say "flat two, four, and flat six" even
though in every key, the notes don't literally have flats on them.)
In a minor key, the sixth scale degree is already low, so it requires no
alteration; only the 2nd scale degree needs to be lowered. In major, the
Neapolitan chord requires both the 2nd and 6th scale degrees to be
lowered, which makes this chord more chromatic in the major mode, and a
bit more surprising to the ear.
How it is indicated in musical analysis: This chord is usually indicated by
the letter N, and if in first inversion as N6, which is the most common
usage. Some theory texts indicate this chord as bII (flat II). When you
see the lowered 2nd scale degree in a pre-dominant chord at a cadence, it
may be a Neapolitan. Analyze to determine if it is indeed a major triad built
on that note.
How it sounds: Since this chord is a major triad, its sound is not
dissonant. But because of its unusual half step root relationship to the
tonic, the diminished third interval in the soprano (usually) and tritone root
movement to its chord of resolution (the V), it can sound quite striking. It is
not the quality of the chord, but rather the relationship of the chord to the
tonality that gives this chord its unexpected character.
How it is used and resolves: The Neapolitan in its most classic use is in
first inversion and resolves to V (the tonic six-four may intervene). There
are a few important things to remember: double the third, as it is a primary
tone and is not an altered tone; place the b2 scale degree in the soprano or
alto voice. However, there is one unusual feature of this chords
resolution: the lowered second scale degree always moves down to the
leading tone, a diminished third below. (If the tonic six four intervenes,
the lowered 2nd moves through the tonic note on its way to the leading
tone.) Here is an example of the N6 chord in the key of b minor:

This voice movement from flat 2 to leading tone is odd, since we usually
make chromatic movement in the same voice. Even though the V chord
contains the 2nd scale degree, we do not move the lowered 2nd degree up
to the regular 2nd scale degree; it always moves to the leading tone
instead. This is the most important thing to remember about the voice
leading of this chord, and the first thing to take care of when resolving it.
Once this note is resolved, it will be much more clear where the other
voices should go.

Since the Neapolitan usually resolves to V, it is not typically found in root


position, since that would create a tritone leap in the bass from flat 2 to the
dominant note. Most often, the third (the 4th scale degree) is in the
bass. The chord is approached like any ii chord, often using common root
movements of up a 4th (by approachingfrom VI), down a 3rd (by
approaching from IV), or up a step (approaching from the tonic chord.)
[Note: moving up a 4th, down a 3rd and up one step are the three types of
root movement that are most common in musical progressions. These are
not the bass notes, but rather the distance from one Roman numeral to the
next. For example ii6 V is an up a 4th root movement. You may wish to
visit the tutorial on typical root movement if you have not analyzed music
this way before.]
Doubling: As you may know, chromatic notes should not be doubled, and
primary tones are good notes to double. Therefore, the fourth scale degree

is usually doubled in this chord, which is the third of the triad, since it is both
a primary tone and in major is the only non-chromatic note. Rarely, the root
may be doubled, but this occurs infrequently, typically only when this chord
is being tonicized.
Tonicizing the Neapolitan: Since the N is a major triad, it can be
tonicized. (The V of N happens to be the triad VI in the minor mode.) When
a secondary dominant resolves to a root position N chord, the root of the N
may be doubled this will mean the lowered 2nd scale degree in the bass
will leap a tritone when resolving to V while the other lowered 2nd scale
degree doubled above will move to the leading tone as required, as in the
example below.

Using a Neapolitan 6th chord as a pivot chord in modulation:


A Neapolitan chord is useful as a pivot chord in modulation. Since it is a
major triad, there are many diatonic or even chromatic functions that can
interchange with the Neapolitan function for use as a pivot chord. Using a
Neapolitan chord as a pivot allows you to make both close and distant
modulations. There are too many possible modulations to discuss them all,
but essentially they work the same: either the N in the old key or N in the
new key can be used as the pivot chord.
For example, one could modulate from I to iii, D to f# min, if the IV chord in
D major (a G major triad) was used as a pivot. This chord will function as
the Neapolitan in the key of F# minor. This is an example of a closely
related key modulation. For a more distant example, the N chord in E

major (an F major triad) could become I of the new key, to modulate to F
major, which is a half step modulation, quite a distance away on the circle
of fifths.
[Note: If you compare the distance between the roots of the two chord
functions being used in your pivot chord, this will always indicate the
distance of the modulation. For example, if the pivot is IV in the one key,
and N in the other, the modulation will be a major third, since the distance
between the roots of IV and N are a major third apart. Whether the
modulation goes up a M3 or down a M3 will depend on whether the IV is in
the original key and N in the new, or vice versa. If this way of analyzing
pivot chords is new to you, you may wish to visit the tutorial abouthow to
easily find a pivot chord to modulate to any key.]
Here is one example of a modulation using a N as a pivot. This is a
modulation to a closely related key, from a minor tonic to the minor
dominant (i to v), using the VI in the original key as the pivot, which is N in
the new key.

To verify that you understand the main principles of the Neapolitan chord,
be sure you can answer the following questions:
What scale degrees make up the N chord?
To what chord does the N resolve?
What is the most important voice leading principle when resolving a

Neapolitan chord?
What note is usually doubled in the N chord?
If you have trouble with any of these questions, review the appropriate
section above.