Functional Analysis is a system of harmonic analysis that has the cadence as the basis. Functions are determined aurally; each has its own sound – sometimes we talk about chords having desire (this chord wants to go here). The principle contributor to each chord’s function is its root – at this point the bass pitch. (In week 3, we will encounter chords where the root is not in the bass.)
There are 3 primary functions:
Tonic (T, t)
Dominant (D, d)*
Tonic is described as stability or home. It’s root is scale degree 1, do, the name of the key.
Dominant is described as tension or motion. It wants to go to tonic. It’s root is scale degree 5, so. However, it is important to have scale degree 7, ti, to have pull up to tonic.
Predominant is transition/ambiguity. It is more described by where it’s going (usually dominant), and can be harder to identify aurally. It’s root is scale degree 4, fa.
In major keys, the primary functions are major triads (labeled with capital letters).
In minor keys, the primary functions are minor triads (labeled with small letters) EXCEPT dominant. Minor dominant (d) chords do exist, but since the tension/motion of the dominant function comes from the ti-do motion, scale degree 7 is flexible (in minor keys) and almost always ti at a cadence. This means that dominant is assumed to be a major chord (D) even in a minor key.*
In functional harmony, a chord cannot just go to any other chord. Over a large span, we move thru the functions in order:
In smaller spans, less stable functions – using substitutions (week 2) or inversions (week 3) – can decorate large functional pillars if most of the chord voices move by step.
[For types of cadences and solfege syllables see “Review Items.” Triad is defined in “Definitions.”]
*Minor dominant chords can sometimes occur in prolongations when they are passing between other functions, but are not generally the primary representative of Dominant function.
**In handwriting, it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between a P and a p, so I’ve taken to putting a line over my lower case ps, just as is conventional (here, anyway) with small ms and cs.