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    V/V to I

    I have a suspicion that this might not be truly uncommon, but I'm wondering if any of you have examples to share of V/V resolving directly to I (any genre of western music).  And all the better, if anyone has ever published about this specific progression/resolution, I'd be interested to learn!

    Thank you for any help!

    Zac Cairns



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    • 18 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • These are very helpful examples – thank you, all!  I have a few thoughts to share:

      Background – I deliberately left this background out of my original post, but it might be more useful than I thought. I came across a chord progression that appears to be retransitional in the Guns N’ Roses song “Yesterdays.”  The song is in D (err…Db…they tune down a half step, but it’s really hard for me to *not* hear the fingered chord voicings), and the guitar solo moves to Bm.  At the end of the solo, the rhythm guitar/bass walk up from Bm – C#m – DM – and then sit on EM for two full bars before the third verse begins back in D.  It definitely feels like a gesture that serves to return to the original tonic, but the idea of “retransition on V/V” is interesting to me.


      Poundie – thank you for that example.  I’m not nearly as familiar with La Boheme as I probably should be…but when I listen to that example (locally – I haven’t gone far back for bigger context) it sounds more like a (end of Tristan-ish) V to IV than V/V to I.  Even so, that descending whole step relation is still maintained.  Great performance you shared, too!

      David – Ooh, that’s exactly the same situation I’m looking at with the GNR song.  Perfect!  Thanks!

      Eric – thank you for questioning my use of the word “resolution.”  You’re right, I probably shouldn’t be using that word at all, at least not in the context of the GNR song.  Sloppy terminology on my part.  And I definitely appreciate your examples (and especially the ones that cross a phrase boundary!).

      Mark – That is a very nice example.  Thank you!

      Bill – I remember those examples well from our TA meetings many moons ago!  J But yes, for my purposes here, I’m looking for the bare triad.  At least…for now…   (There’s another really nice V42/V like that in the “Journey to the Island” cue from Jurassic Park, too.)

      Jena – Ooh, that’s a fun one.  The pedal A puts this in the same kind of category that Bill’s describing above.  But it reminds me a lot of the G-A oscillation in Jane’s Addiction’s “Jane Says.”

      Dimitar – thank you for that comment.  Coincidentally, someone else emailed me privately with a similar observation about V/V to I in country music, and Eric’s comment above says something similar. I think it’s a great point, though probably a different direction than my mind is going right now.  But I’m glad to hear your thoughts.

      Scott – great ideas, and thank you especially for the Horner examples. I’ll look up your Oxford Handbook chapter again, because these “departure” and “return” ideas seem right up my alley.  One question, and I apologize if I’m missing something obvious – why is this move (DM to CM) a M2M and not a M10M?

      Megan – Good point about the V/V nomenclature.  Would you recommend just a good ole major II?  (Assuming I’m using RNs at all)  Love the Duran Duran example – and thank you for all of your suggestions!

      Jay – thank you for that example.  Gorgeous!

      Happy to hear more thoughts that anyone might have, too.  Thank you all for your help!


    • At the climactic conclusion of Act I from Giacomo Puccini's La Boheme, a B major chord leads into an A duet between Rudolfo and Mimi that begins in A major; see 9:10 of this clip: https://youtu.be/sAk07qVLoRg?t=549 

      Poundie Burstein


      Poundie Burstein


    • The retransition from the bridge to the final verse in "Tequila Sunrise" by the Eagles ends on V/V, followed then by I at the start of the verse.

    • Does it matter if the "resolution" is over a phrase boundary? I can think of plenty of popular songs that end a phrase with V/V (or major II, if you'd rather), but begin the next phrase with I (Total Eclipse of the Heart, I'm Yours, etc.)

      Boston's More Than a Feeling, in the chorus, after the big bVI chord, continues vi - II - I.

      Arcade Fire - Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles) -- the chorus ends on V/ii - V/V - I.

      Come What May -- in the final "Come What May" iteration: vi - V/V - I - Vsus - V - I. This, to me, is example of a broader phenomenon in popular music where a I chord in root position stands in for where there would be a cadential 6/4 in common practice music, about which I know there is at least one article in Spectrum (although it escapes me where/when, right now).

    • Hi Zac,

      One example that I can think of is Beethoven, Op. 109, second movement, at the return (m. 109). Not sure if anyone has written about this (though perhaps Schenker's explanatory edition might shed light on it).



      Mark Anson-Cartwright

    • Zac, are you distinguishing between V/V as triad and V7/V? The latter is often described as a  "common tone dominant seventh": the seventh holds over to the root of the elaborated chord. Most often it appears in 4/2 position. Schubert Winterreise "Gute Nacht" (the major mode strophe); Bernstein West Side Story "Tonight"; Brahms Double Concerto first movement mm. 9 and 90; arguably Mencken's "Part of your World" (Little Mermaid) and "Belle" (Beauty and the Beast), although in these latter two examples, V42/V eventually resolves to V after oscillating with I.


    • The intro/verse of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' "Here Comes my Girl," oscillates between A major and B major over an A pedal. Locally, the progression sounds like I to V/V and back again, but the chorus establishes E major as tonic, causing us to hear the A and B chords retroactively as IV and V, respectively. Not sure if that's exactly what you're looking for, but it's an interesting example. 

      Jena Root



    • Dear Zachary,

      You bring up the interesting topic of functional nuances. When what sounds like V/V resolves into I, it functions as an altered Subdominant chord. Interestingly, the resolution of II major into Tonic is the same as it is into the Cadential 6-4 (which has a tonic structure), and occasionally the latter is instantly reconsidered as a passing tonic 6-4 (if it is followed by another subdominant). In my teaching, I make a fine distinction between altered S chords (containing raised 4 degree) and DD (dominants of the dominant. The former resolve into Tonic (I, I6, passing I6-4) ot tonic structure (Cad.6-4), while the latter tonicize the Dominant. I think Brahms had a resolution of F# into E or E minor chord ini his 4th Symphony, but I could not locate it right now.

    • I call "II# to I" (or "V/V to I") a "return M2M" in the nomenclature I use in my publications on film music, a repertoire in which this tonally oriented progression is not uncommon. (My chapter in the Oxford Handbook of FIlm Music Studies cites the final cadences of James Horner's end-title music for The Rocketeer and Bicentennial Man -- the same music, really -- as examples of "return M2M.") Beyond that, I recommend checking out the last 23 measures of the last movement of Fauré's Piano Quartet No. 1 (1883), which offers multiple instances of return M2M and its return M6dim (e.g. F#dim --> CM) variant. Also, the first 28 measures of the third movement of Wolf-Ferrari's Piano Trio No. 1, op. 5 (1902) has not only a couple return M2Ms in mm. 16-17, but also departure and return m2Ms, a return M2Mm7, and a couple departure and return M10Ms (the "tonal inverse" of M2M). In both of these excerpts the tonally anticipated resolution of II# (V/V) to V occurs to end the twenty-something-measure formal unit that has indulged all of the root-motion-by-whole-step-into-tonic subversion. 

    • Dimitar, perhaps you are thinking of mm. 5-6 in the fourth movement of Brahms 4: Em: F#7-Em6.

    • Pop music does this a lot but then you probably wouldn't call it V/V.

      "Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler, in the chorus. "Givin off spaaarks / I really need you tonight"

      "Hungry like the Wolf" by Duran Duran, also in the chorus

      "With a Little Help from my Friends" by the Beatles in the bridge.


      Megan L. Lavengood  |  Assistant Professor, George Mason University

    • In the first movement of Schubert's A-Minor String Quartet, mm. 15-18, V7/V moves to i6 twice in succession.

    • Pop music does this a lot but then you probably wouldn't call it V/V.

      "Total Eclipse of the Heart" by Bonnie Tyler, in the chorus. "Givin off spaaarks / I really need you tonight"

      "Hungry like the Wolf" by Duran Duran, also in the chorus

      "With a Little Help from my Friends" by the Beatles in the bridge.

      @meganlavengood - I think this was the subject of a paper by Brett Clement about the Lydian II chord. Not sure it's 100% the same thing, but I recall that II#-I progression being indicative of Lydian. 

      Devin Chaloux

      Indiana University

    • @ Mark and all, Schenker indeed comments the return from II# to I in Beethoven's op. 109, second movement (the return is at mes. 105, not 109). He stresses the exchange of I and II starting from mes. 93 and writes:

      The succession that follows, particularly mes. 102-105, shows that what is at stake merely is a plagal turn, II–I. For sure a construction like the following [a musical example shows the bass line of mes. 97-100 transposed a fifth lower and the Roman numerals IV – – V in E minor] would have had the advantage of naturalness, but the plagal turn II–I can therefore not be missed. In addition, Beethoven seeked to ensure the functioning of the plagal in going several times the path from I to II and back (mes. 95, 96 and 97, 99, 100 and 101!) and so doing ensured through these exercises of the ear that also the last determining progression to the tonic of the return could only be heard as plagal turn, II#3–I! 

      (Erläuterungsausgabe, 1913, p. 39b, my translation.) Schenker further discusses the fact that the alteration of the third of II was made necessary by the voice-leading requirements. He criticizes von Bülow's inadequate explanation claiming that the hearer should imagine the missing dominant between II and I and describing the phenomenon as an anacoluthon or an aposiopesis. Schenker further stresses that in order to prepare this II–I construction, the performer should give priority of expression to the left hand in mes. 93-96.



    • "why is this move (DM to CM) a M2M and not a M10M?"

      In the Oxford Hanbook nomenclature, the ordered pitch-class interval sandwiched in the middle of the Ms is the interval from the root of the (more) tonic triad to the root of the (more) non-tonic triad. This allows, among other things, for undulations involving a tonicized harmony to need only a single label.

    • Scott -- thank you for that clarification!  That seems like a useful distinction, and I can imagine how the "departure/return" qualifiers are likely used.  In a happy twist of fate, my library actually owns a copy of the Oxford handbook, so I'll pick it up tomorrow!   

    • Let us not forget that II major is a purely diatonic triad in Lydian mode, which makes it an SII Lydian chord (Subdominant on the second degree). Popular musicians, as some of my colleagues thoughtfully noticed, like to flirt with the Lydian SII, especially in a succession T-SII Lyd-S-T (I-II-IV-I), which has become a cliche figure. We teach students that II (V/V) must follow IV in a typical progression, but in polular music we frequently observe a so-called "reversed syntactical order" wherein anything is possible, for example IV-VIm, V-IIm, etc.

    • Late to the party as usual...

      First example that came to mind: J. Brahms Symphony 3, iii. Right before the top of the c-minor theme comes back in the winds there's a several-bar arpeggiation of F#dim7 across the orchestra.

      Best wishes,