The Neapolitan Chord. Part 1

Learn what a Neapolitan chord is and how it functions.

Ultimate Guitar
The Neapolitan chord has been used for hundreds of years now, however, many musicians do not know what it is and how it functions. After reading this you can impress your friends and possibly even some of your music teachers! In order to understand how we can use this chord to the best of our abilities, we must first understand some basic concepts about chords and chord functions in a key. 1) Know how to construct a major scale and minor scale 2) Know how to build diatonic chords of each of these notes. 3) Know how the I and the V chord function. If you don't know these three steps, take some serious time to review before continuing. THE THEORY: Part 1 The Neapolitan chord is a flat two major chord that usually prepares the dominant chord. For example, a progression that some classical composers use is a i, V7, i progression. (A minor, E7, A minor) This progression can get stale and old after a while. Good news! There is a solution! Instead of playing the V7 chord after we play the i chord lets insert a flat two major chord in between them. The progression would then look like this. i, N, V7, i. (A minor, Bb, E7, A minor) Interesting and different sounding right? It helps prepare the E7 chord so when we do play it, it does not sound so jarring. Lets try another example in a major key. Take the progression I, V7, I. In the key of C, this progression would be C, G7, C. Now lets put a Neapolitan chord in between the C and the G7. The progression now becomes I, N, V7, I. In other words C, Db, G7, C. The Neapolitan chord is found more often in a minor key than a major key, however, you can use this chord in both if you like it. *Review* -Lets see what you have learned! 1) Q: What is a Neapolitan chord? A: A Neapolitan chord is a flat two major chord. 2) Q: How does a Neapolitan chord function and how do I use it? A: A Neapolitan chord helps prepare the dominant chord. I can use this chord anytime before I play the V or V7 chord. This chord colors my music and is helpful to avoid cliche i, V7 progressions. 3) Q: Can I use a Neapolitan chord only in a minor key? A: No! You can use this progression in both major and minor keys!

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5 comments sorted by best / new / date

    something very, VERY big was left out. i doubt you'd impress a music teacher with an oversight like that. the vast majority of times the neapolitan chord is used, it is used in first inversion -- e.g. Cm - Db/F - G - Cm. in fact, this occurs so frequently that it's called a "neapolitan sixth" far more often than "neapolitan chord".
    The N chord functionally isn't bound to specific scales (considering that the I and V chords which it complements are present in many scales, and all diatonic ones), because it is mainly used specifically for building that kind of tension. Although, I also find that alternating the V chord with others, such as a bV a IV and occasionally III or VI chords can offer up an unusual kind of flavor. Whether you play them as 7 chords, however, is up to you. But the Neapolitan chord is indeed primarily a tension building device. It's a handy little trick that works within a specific context, more than it is a solid, omnipresent musical principle. If that makes sense.
    This was a very good article. But I have one complaint. How else can I use it besides building tension for the V7?
    I agree with aeolianwolf. Although you may do whatever you like with composing and playing music, strict classical theory usually has the neopolitan in first inversion, or N6. The bass would therefore move in 1, 4, and then 5 motion. In the key of C: C, F, G
    I was going to come out with a part 2 right after this discussing all of these statements but since you guys beat me to it I might as well just state them here. Carnagereap666- Instead of using the N chord as a predominant chord you can use it as a pivot chord to change keys to the next relative key. For example, lets say that you have a i, N, V7 progression in the key of E minor. Instead of using the N as a predominant chord we are going to use it to modulate to A minor. The progression would then be Em, N (F), G, Am. This progression is a little dull so it might sound better with this. Em9, Fmaj9 (#11), G6, Am. And yes you do find the Neapolitan chord in first inversion in a minor mode very often. The symbol is N6. However Aeolianwolf, you only call it a "Neapolitan sixth" chord when it is in first inversion not when it is in root position.