What is a Neapolitan Chord

by Rodrigo Sanchez, Feb 8, 2021 . 4 min read

What is a Neapolitan Chord

What is a Neapolitan Chord? A Neapolitan chord is a major chord built on the flat second of a major scale. That is the simplest way to define it, but let’s expand on it.

Let’s take the basic scale of C major, for illustration purposes. We learned in kindergarten that the musical notes are C, D, E, F, G, A, B. Those notes make up the C Major scale and each of them represents a degree on that scale. For instance, E is the third degree, as it is the third note on the scale. Conversely, G is the fifth scale degree. The second degree is D, and if you flatten that you get D flat. So in the key of C, the Neapolitan chord is built on the D flat.

But really, what is a Neapolitan chord?

If you have a little bit of music theory knowledge, the statements above should be pretty clear. If not, you can still learn what a Neapolitan chord is and how to use it, but it’s going to be harder. For now, we have defined that the Neapolitan chord is built on the flat second of a major scale (also known as minor second). For simplicity, let’s stick with the key of C (with the notes that most of us learned in preschool). Now, what do we do once you have the root where this chord is built upon (the minor second or flattened second)?

The Neapolitan chord is a major chord

This part is simple, but I’lll make it simpler just for you. Major chords with the root, the third, and the fifth of a major scale. If you were paying attention, you should be able to figure out which notes to use to build a C major chord (the one with the notes you learned in preschool). The root is C (first note of the scale), the third is E (the third note on the C major scale). Finally, the fifth is G (the fifth note on the scale). And there you have the C major chord: C E G. 

Great! Now we are going to build the Neapolitan chord the same way. It is a major chord, so we are going to take the root, the third, and the fifth to construct it. However, we now have to build it on Db with the Db major scale (Db Eb F F# G# A# C). That would be Db (root), F (third) and G# (fith). And there you have your Neapolitan chord on the key of C major. 

Not so fast

The Neapolitan chord often appears as a first inversion chord. Say what?! Don’t worry, it’s easy. The first inversion means that you take the third note and place it first, followed by the fifth and then the root. That means that in the key of C major the first inversion Neapolitan chord would be F, G# and Db. Those are the same exact notes as the root position chord but in a different order. Again, these might seem like advanced concepts if you know nothing about music theory. But it’s actually quite simple. 

Who uses Neapolitan chords?

The short answer is everybody with some chops and swagger. That’s right! The Neapolitan chord is present in the work of classical composers such as Beethoven and Pergolessi all the way to pop stars like Britney Spears (“Womanizer”) and Lana del Rey (“Video Games”). Not Rock N’ Roll enough for you? Well, this chord is also present in the music of The Rolling Stones (“Mother’s Little Helper”) and The Beatles (“Because” and “Do You Want To Know a Secret”).

A little bit of music theory can go a long way. This is true whether you are a guitarist playing in a cover band, or a songwriter wanting to have commercial and published songs. Building chords and knowing scales will give you a lot of power and freedom and should be included in your practice routine. Music theory often gets a bad rep as something boring and that will hinder your creativity. Nothing could be further from the truth. 



Get our free Alternate Tunings Guide!
Submit

Check out some other similar articles

Take advantage of our biggest backer-exclusive discounts and get your hands on this next-generation automatic tuner. Back the Kickstarter campaign today and be the first to receive the Roadie 3.

Have you ever wondered what are the 5 most used types of guitars?

Rodrigo Sanchez
Oct 18, 2021 . 4 min read

These 5 tips to start playing the blues will give you a starting point for approaching this vital genre of music.

Rodrigo Sanchez
Oct 15, 2021 . 4 min read

These 4 tips for writing a song on guitar will help you kickstart your creativity.

Rodrigo Sanchez
Oct 11, 2021 . 4 min read

These 5 ideas to help you find your sound as a musician are quite useful. Regardless of what instrument or style you play, having your own style and sound is important.

Rodrigo Sanchez
Sep 27, 2021 . 4 min read

This guide to understanding chords in a simple way will give a stronger comprehension of harmony.

Rodrigo Sanchez
Sep 20, 2021 . 4 min read

These 4 ways to deal with musical frustration can save you a lot of grief. We’ve all been there, for a variety of reasons.

Rodrigo Sanchez
Sep 17, 2021 . 4 min read

Today we’re going to talk about five tips for changing chords faster on guitar. This is one of the main obstacles that beginners face when learning the guitar.

Rodrigo Sanchez
Sep 6, 2021 . 4 min read

This list of five mistakes to avoid when practicing can help you in your journey to becoming a better musician.

Rodrigo Sanchez
Aug 23, 2021 . 4 min read

These 4 reasons for practicing with a metronome will help you understand just how important this is.

Rodrigo Sanchez
Aug 20, 2021 . 4 min read

These 5 popular alternate tunings for guitar can open a universe of possibilities. By using them, you are essentially changing the nature of the instrument but without having to buy a new guitar.

Rodrigo Sanchez
Aug 16, 2021 . 6 min read

One can utter the word in a few different ways. “Capo” is short for “capodastro” or “capotasto,” and it is a derivative of the Italian term ‘head of the neck’.

Mikita Varonin
Aug 6, 2021 . 6 min read

Today we’re going to talk about 5 ways musicians get inspired. The term inspiration refers to being mentally stimulated to do something, especially in the creative realm.

Rodrigo Sanchez
Jul 2, 2021 . 4 min read

There’s a ton of stuff you need to learn if you’re a guitar beginner. You have to learn the riffs, chords, and different finger techniques before you even learn to play your first song.

Frederik Nielsen
Jun 25, 2021 . 4 min read

We recently covered how different kinds of arthritis can affect your guitar playing. We also provided some tips on how to avoid it.

Frederik Nielsen
Jun 21, 2021 . 3 min read
We'll be bringing you recommended tabs and plenty of interesting quotes from guitar legends along the way!