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Old 11-20-2012, 01:25 AM   #1
dannydawiz
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Polytonality

Hello i just stumbled upon a concept that left me confused.

Polytonality is the musical use of more than one key simultaneously.

Polytonality seems to imply the concept of two tonal centers happening at the same time. How is this possible? I mean I understand that for example if you were in the Key of C Major and you played a Eb Major then you would be borrowing notes from another key (In this case the parallel minor) but even so you can't have two tonal centers at the same time can you? Either the tonal center will change entirely or it will go back to C.

This type of tonality doesn't seem to make sense to me at all.

Can someone please clarify?

Last edited by dannydawiz : 11-20-2012 at 01:27 AM.
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Old 11-20-2012, 01:28 AM   #2
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One instrument/voice plays in one key, another instrument/voice plays in another.
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Old 11-20-2012, 01:31 AM   #3
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Sense and polytonality are not mutually exclusive of each other, but it can be hard to wrap your head around it. What jazz_rock_feel said is correct. Let me just add that, in my experiences at least, polytonality will be dissonant. It will not sound consonantly pretty.
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Old 11-20-2012, 01:37 AM   #4
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So if I the tonal center of a song resolved on C Major but the vocalist resolves an Eb then its considered polytonality simply because Eb isn't found in C? Couldn't this just be considered an accidental?

I thought that the tonal center of a song was established by the key itself?
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Old 11-20-2012, 03:02 AM   #5
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It's a difficult concept to explain with words, but no doubt you've heard polytonality in many songs. Here's a good explanation with examples
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Old 11-20-2012, 05:07 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by will42
Let me just add that, in my experiences at least, polytonality will be dissonant. It will not sound consonantly pretty.


It depends how closely related the keys are. C & G are likely to sound more consonant than C and F#, for example. It also depends on the context. The jazz example ^ sounds lush rather than terrifyingly dissonant. The Rite of Spring, OTOH, contains sections that are extremely dissonant.
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Old 11-20-2012, 10:04 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dannydawiz
So if I the tonal center of a song resolved on C Major but the vocalist resolves an Eb then its considered polytonality simply because Eb isn't found in C? Couldn't this just be considered an accidental?

I thought that the tonal center of a song was established by the key itself?

No you're not getting it. You have one instrument, let's say guitar (although to be honest, I wouldn't say true polytonality is used in Rock/Pop all that often) that's playing in C major. His chord progression is C-A-F-G. Then you have another instrument, let's say another guitar, that's playing in F major. His chord progression is F-D-Bb-C. Now imagine they're playing at the same time. That's polytonality.

They're both expressing their own tonality simultaneously.
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Old 11-20-2012, 11:28 AM   #8
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don't feel discouraged TS, it's very confusing to wrap your head around at first. the fact that you know what a tonal center is already has you pretty close to getting it, though. most readers here would say "you mean playing G mixolydian over C?" or something similarly and completely wrong.

it's kind of like explaining what "happiness" is or something, though. very simple once you "get it", but to put it into words and explain with a typical understanding of tonality it's a bit of a pain to express.

everything here is good, though
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Old 11-20-2012, 11:42 AM   #9
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Tavener - The Lamb (part of the intro is bitonal, G major and E major iirc)

Debussy - Preludes (No.1 from book 2 and 7 from book 1 feature bitonality)

Bartok - Mikrokosmos no.105, 125 (Bimodal and bitonality)

Stravinsky - Petrushka (bitonal)

Have a listen. Technically polytonality is the use of 3 keys at once, two keys at once is referred to as bitonality.
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Old 11-20-2012, 02:10 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jazz_rock_feel
No you're not getting it. You have one instrument, let's say guitar (although to be honest, I wouldn't say true polytonality is used in Rock/Pop all that often) that's playing in C major. His chord progression is C-A-F-G. Then you have another instrument, let's say another guitar, that's playing in F major. His chord progression is F-D-Bb-C. Now imagine they're playing at the same time. That's polytonality.

They're both expressing their own tonality simultaneously.



I understand what you mean when you put it like this. Then in this case does it mean that polytonality is strictly chordal? If not then could you show me an example of polytonality through a melody instead of a chord progression?

Quote:
Originally Posted by hail
don't feel discouraged TS, it's very confusing to wrap your head around at first. the fact that you know what a tonal center is already has you pretty close to getting it, though. most readers here would say "you mean playing G mixolydian over C?" or something similarly and completely wrong.

it's kind of like explaining what "happiness" is or something, though. very simple once you "get it", but to put it into words and explain with a typical understanding of tonality it's a bit of a pain to express.

everything here is good, though


Thanks for the nice words. I understand the concept of polytonality it's just that my mind doesn't want to believe that its possible. For some reason i'm stuck in this zone where there can only be one tonal center and every other note is either borrowed from a different key or is an accidental. It's just letting go of that thought that is causing me trouble.

Thanks everybody for the help and references. I found that video to be pretty helpful along with the sample videos of the polytonality being used. I also get that the less related keys will be dissonant while the keys with more shared notes will be more consonsant.
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Old 11-20-2012, 02:24 PM   #11
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Bi/Polytonality can be achieved when there is an ambiguous resolution point, where it has potential to resolve to a variety of different keys.

Assuming we have something like a C Major chord and a D Major chord overlayed on each other, is the C Major the Tonic, or is it the dominant of F major? Is D major the Tonic, or is it the dominant of G Major?

Or better yet, is the D Major functioning as a V/V for C Major? We have 3 key possibilities here that can be played with.

Another interesting aspect is how these overlayed chords create extended chords such as Major Ninth/Eleventh chords and etc, so you can use those to create polytonal music.
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Old 11-20-2012, 03:43 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dannydawiz
I understand what you mean when you put it like this. Then in this case does it mean that polytonality is strictly chordal? If not then could you show me an example of polytonality through a melody instead of a chord progression?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polytonality

Look at the first example on the page and listen to it. Petrushka is unarguably the most famous example of polytonality in the history of all time.

What you should consider is that harmony and melody aren't separate entities. A melody implies a harmony and is part of the harmony. So you can't really say that polytonality is strictly harmonic or melodic because the melody in tonal music will always serve to imply the underlying harmony.
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Old 11-20-2012, 06:20 PM   #13
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The section at 1:43 is polytonal. You can hear several different keys assert themselves at the same time.
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Old 11-21-2012, 12:03 AM   #14
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Wow after listening to all of these composers I am pretty stunned at the complexity of the music itself. It seems like a very complicated type of music to compose and I must admit that I do find some it to be appealing to my ears. Thanks guys I finally have the concept of polytonality in my ears and I plan on listening to a lot more of it in the future.
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