I highly encourage everyone to watch the accompanying video with this article. It provides excellent visual representations of the Neapolitan 6th chord as well as a demonstration of how it can be utilized in your music.
Neapolitan 6th might sound like a strange name, but it’s a beautiful chord that can enhance your music. Even if you haven’t heard the name, you’ve probably heard the chord. But what is it exactly and how can you utilize it in your music?
The Neapolitan 6th can function like a IV chord. Sometimes composers will substitute a II 6 chord for the IV chord. So in the key of C major, instead of the IV chord, F – A – C, you have the first inversion of the II chord which has the F on the bottom: F – A – D.
The Neapolitan 6 chord offers another substitution taking things one step further. The Neapolitan chord is a major triad built on the flatted second degree of the scale. That might sound complicated, so let’s break it down. In the key of C major, the second degree of the scale is D. So, lower that note a half-step and you have D-flat. Build a major chord on D-flat: D-flat – F – A-flat. That is the Neapolitan chord in root position. You might wonder how a D-flat major chord will fit in a the key of C major, but in the first inversion (6) it functions the same as the IV or the II 6 chord but has a unique sound.
Again, build a Neapolitan 6th chord by lowering the second note of a major scale. So, in C major you start with D and lower it a half-step to D-flat and build a major triad on D-flat: D-flat – F – A-flat. Then invert it so F is on the bottom (6 inversion) F – A-flat – D-flat. You now have a Neapolitan 6th chord!
So if you’re improvising or composing, and are using a IV or II 6 chord, think about using a Neapolitan 6th instead to give your music a distinct flavor. It’s a fun and creative tool to have at your disposal and something that can make your music more interesting. Furthermore, as you study your scores, you will discover the use of this chord in countless compositions.
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