Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/2-5-1 in classical music


QUESTION: I've been looking into the 2-5-1 progression in jazz. Since jazz is said to have some elements of classical musical I was thinking that some examples of a 2-5-1 progression must be present in classical music. Do you know of any such examples?

ANSWER: Dear Hank,

Thank you for getting in touch. I presume you are referring to the chord progression, ii-V-I. (In Western music, these numbers are always written using Roman numerals with lower case for minor and diminished chords and upper case for major chords). Just to clarify this, if we were in the key of C major, the chord notation would be Dm/F - G7 - C. The first chord is a D minor chord with an F in the bass. In Roman numbers it would be shown as a iib.

This has been perhaps the most common chord progression in Western music for the last 400 years. There must be thousands of examples in hymns and chorales. They invariably appear as the last three chords in a hymn. The ii chord is invariably a iib with the third in the bass. This is because it produces a brighter sound and gives a more satisfying bass line. You could look at any chorales by J S Bach and you'll find it many times in the closing bars. Hundreds of church hymns use it too.

Because it is so common in hymns professional composers tend to avoid this progression in orchestral music because it is so over-used. So you won't find it the closing bars of many symphonies though it is sure to appear somewhere in any classical work.

Here's an example in a famous hymn tune:

This hymn is based on the canon by Thomas Tallis and every phrase ends with a iib-V7-I progression. (On the above page, click on the yellow button to see the piano score.)

I hope this helps.

Best wishes


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

I saw that ii-V-I in the key of G at the end un the hymn.

You mentioned the iib-V7-I progression. What do you mean by the iib? All I saw in that hymn was ii chord.

The ii chord in the key of C would be Dm/F according to you. Why Dm/F and not Dm?
If I understand it correctly in classical music this progression is used as a cadence which differ a lot from the usage in jazz?

Dear Hank,

In my previous email I wrote:

The letter "c" after a chord means that the fifth note of the chord appears in the bass, same as Dm/A.

This may not be very clear for you. By the "fifth" note I mean five notes up from the root of the chord. For example, in the chord of C, the third note is E and the fifth note is G. In the chord of A minor, the third would be C and the fifth would be E. The seventh of course, would be G.

I noticed that you have not rated many of my previous responses for All Experts. I'd be grateful if you could take a few minutes to do this because it improves my status on the website.

Thanks and best wishes


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Dr Colin


I can answer questions from students of "classical" composing, arranging, notation problems and music theory, writing for instruments and voice and writing music for education. I can answer questions about orchestration but I do not cover questions about pop or rock music, pop song writing or electronic music.

I taught for many years in UK up to "A" level theory and composition. I have spent many years in music education, initially (like everyone else) as a teacher. Then I moved on to advisory work (teaching teachers!) and also lectured, giving many workshops for teachers in developing music education skills and techniques. For a time I worked as a teacher-lecturer at London University's Institute of Education and eventually worked full-time as a Music Education Adviser to schools in part of London, offering advice on music education and curriculum development.


I started composing music at the age 14 (it was mostly rubbish, since you asked) and now have a large number of compositions to credit as well as many publications, especially for instrumental music and choral music. I have also written several acclaimed works for large orchestra and choir. My work has been published particularly in the UK (under different names)(notably by Boosey & Hawkes, Novello, and Schott) but also in the USA and the Netherlands.

My music for elementary players (several publications) has been performed and broadcast worldwide. I am now retired from my previous job as Music Education Adviser. These days I spend most of my time composing and arranging. I am currently working on instrumental arrangements of world national anthems for my National Anthems website and also completing a suite of very easy piano solos and duets for elementary players. For many years I have used the music program "Finale" for all my music writing activities.

International Society for Music Education; Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

"The Times" Educational Supplement; "Hi-Fi News and Record Review". For several years, I used to write for many of the state music education periodicals in the US and I also wrote several influential articles on instrumental music teaching for "Music Teacher" magazine in the UK. (UK).

PhD(Hons); MA(Hons); FLCM (compositon) ARCM, LMusTCL,(music diplomas)

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