(musTh211) bII/Neapolitan: Enharmonic Spellings and Review

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Chromatic Harmony and Enharmonic Spellings

With chromaticism increasing, be prepared for some harmonies to be enharmonically spelled. Enharmonic spellings can be used to make the music easier for the performer to read. For example, in Ab Major the bII chord is Bbb – Db – Fb. Yuck! It can be enharmonically spelled A(natural) – C# – E(natural). Good. The same goes for bVI, or V7/bII. In Ab major, bVI is spelled Fb – Ab – Cb, but can be enharmonically spelled as an E major triad.

Enharmonically spelling a chord does not change its harmonic function, and you need to learn to recognize the enharmonic spelling and use the appropriate Roman numeral label. For example, finding an A major triad in the key of Ab major, that leads to an Eb-flat dominant 7 has to be recognized as an enharmonic spelling of bII, and labeled as such. You would never label it #I.

It is also possible that you might encounter a passage with an extended section of bVI and bII spelled enharmonically, where the key signature changes to reduce the number of accidentals needed. This type of key signature change would not indicate a new key area/modulation.

Later on we will study how composers can use enharmonic spellings to actually change the function of harmonies and move to distantly-related keys. (It’s like theory magic.)


  • bII usually appears in first inversion, with the third of the chord doubled.
  • The b^2 scale degree must move down to the leading tone (possibly with motion through ^1).
  • If bII is in root position, double the root (giving you two instances of b^2). b^2 in the bass will usually move to ^5 (as part of the movement to the dominant). b^2 in any voice besides the bass will resolve according to expectation (see above).
  • In major, bII will also need b^6.
  • bVI (or VI in minor) is the dominant of bII, however, you only label it as the dominant of bII if it is a Mm7 (dominant7) chord, i.e., V7/bII. Never label V/bII. Instead use bVI.


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