#1
I've read many times on this forum, from the members that are generally regarded as being correct, that a chord progression is tonal (in a particular major/minor key) if it moves around a set tonal centre and resolves to that centre with its particular quality (major or minor).

I can understand that concept, and can think of many chord progressions that fit that concept perfectly.

There are particular chord progressions I have issues with. For example, consider the following chord progression.

C#min9 - F#7add11 - Esus2(add#11) - E

This progression could be described as being in E major where the #4 is used to "suggest" a Lydian sound. That's fine with me (and yes, I do understand modes). A member of this forum also described at as an interrupted cadence in B major. I understand cadences and I can se why it was called that, but to my ears, B is never the centre of the progression. To my ears, the centre is E throughout.

Now, to my ears, the progression doesn't resolve to E major in the sense of the E major scale, because by the time we reach the E chord, the use of the A# has become so established that playing an A over the E chord would sound jarring to me. I would be inclined to call this a Lydian progression, because to my ears, the scale doesn't resolve to the E major scale, but to the E major scale with a #4.

Now, consider this progression.

Emin7 - Gmin7 - Bbmin - C#min7

This is a pretty typical fusion-type progression. The usual approach for a fusion guitarist using a chord scale theory approach (which I've read, and in most cases can understand as being a merely a tool to organise the use of accidentals in a particular key), would be to play the Dorian mode on the root of each chord (using some chromatic passing tones and out notes to make the transitions work).

Now, this progression is different to the last to my ears. I hear the centre moving from each root the the next on the chord changes. Since I perceive the centre to be moving on each chord change, I can't see this as being a progression in E minor with accidentals. Why would a key based understanding of this progression be beneficial to me (over a CST based understanding) when I perceive the key to change on each chord?

Another chord progression mentioned in the Jazz Theory thread was this.

Amin9 - B7#5 - Emin9 - Bb7b5

A regular member here (Aeolian Wolf, who I hope will participate in this thread) mentioned that the CST approach to this progression is incorrect and the progression is simply in A minor. Again, I hear the centre moving on each chord change.

Is tonality subjective, or have I fundementally misunderstood something?
My name is Tom, feel free to use it.
Last edited by Prophet of Page at Sep 8, 2011,
#2
Emin7 - Gmin7 - Bbmin - C#min7


In cases in which, arguably, there are key changes on each chord or over the course of a progression, than in such a context I do find it silly to try to reduce it to "accidentals in the mother key". This is such a case - it's blatantly modulating by a minor 3rd.

And, if you so desired, you could "borrow" the associated dorian over each minor 7.

Amin9 - B7#5 - Emin9 - Bb7b5


This was the chords from the video that I linked. There definitely are no key changes here, and it is possible, looking at these chords alone, to make perfect sense of it as being in A minor. At the very least, you could say it's in A minor and using modal borrowing.

But the important point from my angle here is that there is nothing "incorrect" about doing so. It's a possible route of coloration, and it musically works. In such a case "the chord scale approach" is just a conceptual tool for groups of notes that fit well with chords.

I imagine that what bugs Aeolian is the notion of people thinking "okay, I'm 'in E dorian over the Emin9, and I'm switching to Bb lydian dominant over the Bb7b5". I would agree that this technically isn't what is happening and that this can involve some confusion about what modal music generally is.

What I want to say is that the chord scale deal is a useful tool when wielded without confusion about what one is doing. As long as it's thought of like "this is a suggested group of notes that works", but realize the center is not actually shifting, then I don't see what there is to get one's panties in a bunch over.
Last edited by Brainpolice2 at Sep 8, 2011,
#3
I hear the centre moving from each root the the next on the chord changes. Since I perceive the centre to be moving on each chord change, I can't see this as being a progression in E minor with accidentals. Why would a key based understanding of this progression be beneficial to me (over a CST based understanding) when I perceive the key to change on each chord?


If you can hear a center, then it's tonal, the tonal center just happens to be moving.

You can use a dorian scale over each chord, but that doesn't make it modal, much like using a pentatonic scale over a progression doesn't make the song pentatonic. Modal music is long gone, unless you fancy writing in the pre-baroque style.
#4
Modal music is long gone, unless you fancy writing in the pre-baroque style.


I really don't see how one can say that modal music is long gone. It's undeniably existed in rock and jazz for a while. You can't listen to some later Coltrane, or some of Miles's stuff, or the Santana-esc dorian vamps that tons of people use, and tell me that there is no modal music anymore. I do understand that a lot of earlier modal music went into the background in European history as tonality was standardized, but modal music never stopped existing in western music.

I sometimes get a sense that various people are commenting on modes from an angle of simply favoring tonal music, with an emphasis on the conventions of the common classical period - so much so that they want to reduce everything to those conventions, even things that it doesn't make sense to try to apply them to.
Last edited by Brainpolice2 at Sep 8, 2011,
#5
Comparing the amount of modal music to the amount of tonal music today, then modal music practically is gone.
^^The above is a Cryptic Metaphor^^


"To know the truth of history is to realize its ultimate myth and its inevitable ambiguity." Everything is made up and the facts don't matter.


MUSIC THEORY LINK
#6
Quote by Brainpolice2
I really don't see how one can say that modal music is long gone. It's undeniably existed in rock and jazz for a while. You can't listen to some later Coltrane, or some of Miles's stuff, or the Santana-esc dorian vamps that tons of people use, and tell me that there is no modal music anymore. I do understand that a lot of earlier modal music went into the background in European history as tonality was standardized, but modal music never stopped existing in western music.

I sometimes get a sense that various people are commenting on modes from an angle of simply favoring tonal music, with an emphasis on the conventions of the common classical period - so much so that they want to reduce everything to those conventions, even things that it doesn't make sense to try to apply them to.


i - IV = Minor key, IV derived from Melodic minor

I - bVII = Major key, bVII borrowed from parallel minor
#7
Quote by rockingamer2
Comparing the amount of modal music to the amount of tonal music today, then modal music practically is gone.


Better.

It really isn't gone.

OK, the style of music written now isn't the same as the medieval stuff, but there is still written stuff that uses modes. Therefore modal music still exists.

Also, just because in western music (i.e. "Classical" music") modes have been replaced by other systems, it doesn't mean that no music nowdays can be considered "modal". Thinking of music as confined to the "Classical" (capital "c" right?") convention is old and stale. Music needs to be analysed as it is, and understood as it is- not confined to pre-conceived notions.

I agree with Brainpolice2 on this one. T
#8
Quote by griffRG7321
If you can hear a center, then it's tonal, the tonal center just happens to be moving.


This isn't the criteria for music being tonal that I most often see written in these forums (nor on most sites). Usually, the criteria I see given here is as I described it in the first post, copied here.

"a chord progression is tonal (in a particular major/minor key) if it moves around a set tonal centre and resolves to that centre with its particular quality (major or minor).

Quote by griffRG7321
You can use a dorian scale over each chord, but that doesn't make it modal, much like using a pentatonic scale over a progression doesn't make the song pentatonic. Modal music is long gone, unless you fancy writing in the pre-baroque style.


I never said that progression was modal, I know it isn't. I was asking why a key based understanding of that progression would be beneficial when I'm clearly modulating by a minor 3rd on each change. How is understanding such a progression in terms of keys in any way more useful to an improvisor (or indeed anybody) than the CST approach?

Regarding the Amin9 - B7#5 - Emin9 - Bb7b5 progression, I do understand that it could be written as a progression in A minor, but as I mentioned, I don't hear the A centre throughout. The progressions I mentioned were used as examples of three specific problems I had with understanding the use of keys.

The first was to ask a question regarding resolution,, the centre does not move but I hear the entire scale resolve to an E major scale with a #4 and would find an A note jarring. Why does the resolution of the whole scale not matter?

The second was specifically a situation where the only sensible way I could see of applying the concept of a key would be where we modulate by a minor 3rd on each change. Understanding it as a progression in some mother key with accidentals is, as was said, just a bit silly. What I was asking was why, in such a situation, a key based understanding of the progression is beneficial over a CST appraoch, or at all. To me, trying to work with 4 keys in such a progression and then considering accidentals in each seems more complicated and less efficient than considering 4 base scales and making transitions using some chromatic passing tones and outside notes.

The third was about a progression I could easily imagine being described as being in A minor, but where I personally perceive the centre moving on each chord. This violates the criteria I have read for a progression to be tonal. What I was wondering here was, since how we hear things is really subjective in nature, can the criteria of a musical definition not also be subjective?

Those, specifically, were my questions. I was never claiming that anything was truly modal (not even the first progression, where I mentioned I'd be inclined to call it a Lydian progression, purely to describe how I hear the scale resolve on the last chord).
My name is Tom, feel free to use it.
Last edited by Prophet of Page at Sep 8, 2011,
#9
yes and no--but more yes--the tonal center is where you hear it) and that depends on how you train your ear (for example, a teacher and I had an arguement today about a section of a song that goes Ab7-Ab7-G7--G7-I argued that it was the enharmonic spelling by a dumbass jazz musician of a german augmented sixth chord preparing the dominant in the key of C, while he said it was just a nebolous dominant chilling a half step away from the actual dominant. we had the opinions we had not because I know what an augmented sixth chord is and he doesn't, but because we heard the chords differently)
but, while CST (correct term for playing scales that are not the parent scale of the key you are in over chords--for example using A dorian over an A minor chord in the key of C) is an amazing tool for ear training, internalization, and imrovisation, the scale you use over a chord is SEPERATE from the tonal center of a tune (which can help you determine relevant chord/scale choices for an inside sound).
all the best.
(insert self-aggrandizing quote here)
Last edited by tehREALcaptain at Sep 8, 2011,
#10
Quote by Prophet of Page
This isn't the criteria for music being tonal that I most often see written in these forums (nor on most sites). Usually, the criteria I see given here is as I described it in the first post, copied here.

"a chord progression is tonal (in a particular major/minor key) if it moves around a set tonal centre and resolves to that centre with its particular quality (major or minor)


When one refers to the tonality of a piece, there are 3 broad categories underneath it. They are major/minor, modes and atonality. The presence of a key center means that it has to be in one of the two former categories. For this reason both statements are correct, but your statement only refers to one of the two sub-categories of music which contains a key center when you are using the term "tonality".
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
Soundcloud
#11
Just because something is not diatonic doesnt mean it isnt tonal.

So the answer to your question, is yes OP. The more complex your note choice gets, the more names you can legitimately give to the same thing. Sort of like the difference between calling something V7/V and calling it II7
Last edited by chantastic at Sep 9, 2011,
#12
Quote by chantastic
Just because something is not diatonic doesnt mean it isnt tonal.


i don't see where anyone said anything even remotely resembling that.

the CST approach is only incorrect where theory and analysis are concerned. for improvisational purposes, it is much easier to extemporize using those chord-scales than it is to think in a key and have to adjust for such outlandish accidentals with each chord. soloing over a B+7 in A minor is a pretty daunting task, even for a seasoned musician. using a chord scale is more effective here -- while theoretically incorrect, it is incredibly more convenient. honestly, this is pretty much my thought on it:

Quote by Brainpolice2
What I want to say is that the chord scale deal is a useful tool when wielded without confusion about what one is doing. As long as it's thought of like "this is a suggested group of notes that works", but realize the center is not actually shifting, then I don't see what there is to get one's panties in a bunch over.


since, as i said, it's for the sake of convenience and ease that one can utilize the chord-scale concept.

i agree with griff on the modal issue. all of that stuff can easily be said to be in a key (or, far more often, in keys). and, yes, while you can argue that miley cyrus writes her songs in ionian and aeolian, it's far more practical to analyze them as being in keys.

i don't think tonality is subjective. not at all. there are people who still try to tell me sweet home alabama is in D, which i find ridiculous. but here's what i can tell you. that progression you posted? yeah, if you hear the tonic as moving, then you're changing keys on each chord. meaning you don't need to think in chord-scales (although it would still be advisable). however, i see it thusly: Am9 is your tonic chord, naturally. B+7 is a V/v, leading nicely to the Em9. and Bb7(b5) is simply a tritone substitution off of E7. it still has that tritone (Ab [G# in the E7] - D), and only has the alteration in the b5 (the Fb, which lines up perfectly with the E in E7. in fact, if you look at it, Bb7(b5) contains the same notes (enharmonic spellings aside, of course) as E7(b5). i'd even go so far to say that it's more logical to label it as as E7(b5).

that's really all i have to say on the matter.
Anfangen ist leicht, Beharren eine Kunst.
#13
Quote by tehREALcaptain
while CST (correct term for playing scales that are not the parent scale of the key you are in over chords--for example using A dorian over an A minor chord in the key of C) is an amazing tool for ear training, internalization, and imrovisation, the scale you use over a chord is SEPERATE from the tonal center of a tune (which can help you determine relevant chord/scale choices for an inside sound).


I'm aware that CST is merely a tool for assigning a set of notes to a particular chord that you need to play over, and that just because you might play an E Dorian scale over a chord progression in A minor that this doesn't imply that I'm playing is "Dorian" in the modal sense, or even that the centre has moved from A to E. I'm merely selcting a set of notes to play over that chord.

Earlier in your post you mentioned you and a teacher hearing chords in a progression differently and preferring to describe them differently. In that example, the difference is how you hear the chords functioning, correct? I don't imagine you mean that one of you is hearing the centre shift while the other is not.

Quote by AeolianWolf
the CST approach is only incorrect where theory and analysis are concerned. for improvisational purposes, it is much easier to extemporize using those chord-scales than it is to think in a key and have to adjust for such outlandish accidentals with each chord. soloing over a B+7 in A minor is a pretty daunting task, even for a seasoned musician. using a chord scale is more effective here -- while theoretically incorrect, it is incredibly more convenient.


Thanks for your input, you've wrapped up my second question very neatly.

Quote by AeolianWolf
i agree with griff on the modal issue. all of that stuff can easily be said to be in a key (or, far more often, in keys). and, yes, while you can argue that miley cyrus writes her songs in ionian and aeolian, it's far more practical to analyze them as being in keys.


I was really hoping we could keep this thread off the subject of what it means for music to be modal. The longer it is discussed in this thread the more chance the thread has of being derailed completely.

Quote by AeolianWolf
i don't think tonality is subjective. not at all. there are people who still try to tell me sweet home alabama is in D, which i find ridiculous.


Here I would agree with you.

Quote by AeolianWolf
but here's what i can tell you. that progression you posted? yeah, if you hear the tonic as moving, then you're changing keys on each chord. meaning you don't need to think in chord-scales (although it would still be advisable).


Ok, again this nicely addresses my question. So what you're saying is that if I hear the centre moving on each chord, then I would probably get more benefit approaching such a progression in terms of chord scales.

Quote by AeolianWolf
however, i see it thusly: Am9 is your tonic chord, naturally. B+7 is a V/v, leading nicely to the Em9. and Bb7(b5) is simply a tritone substitution off of E7. it still has that tritone (Ab [G# in the E7] - D), and only has the alteration in the b5 (the Fb, which lines up perfectly with the E in E7. in fact, if you look at it, Bb7(b5) contains the same notes (enharmonic spellings aside, of course) as E7(b5). i'd even go so far to say that it's more logical to label it as as E7(b5).


I knew the chord progression could be described that way, but as I mentioned, it doesn't quite sound like that to me. If you hear the progression in this way, would you find a key based approach to improvisation useful here? Are there any benefits to such an approach that I'd miss with a CST approach?

Could somebody address the isssue of the resolution of the entire scale in the first progression (E "Lydian")?
My name is Tom, feel free to use it.
#14
Quote by AeolianWolf

i don't think tonality is subjective. not at all.


Particularly in late Romantic music, there can be more than one way of reading tonality. A lot of the tonal centres are fleeting, and some people would rather think of them as chromaticisms, and some people would think of these as tonicizations or modulations. Sometimes whole phrases of sections act as a "pivot", rather than just one chord, creating a sense of ambiguity as to which key it is in. The conclusions that you draw will be dependant, to some extent, on where you place the important structural moments of the piece as a whole, which is to some extent subjective, at least when you get to Mahler, early Schoenberg, Bruckner et al: when Forms stop conforming to the textbook "classical forms", this implies some level of ambiguity.

Consider all the discussion on the Prelude from Tristan und Isolde. Theorists have probably thought about this about 1000 times more than Wagner ever did.

Quote by AlanHB
When one refers to the tonality of a piece, there are 3 broad categories underneath it. They are major/minor, modes and atonality. The presence of a key center means that it has to be in one of the two former categories. For this reason both statements are correct, but your statement only refers to one of the two sub-categories of music which contains a key center when you are using the term "tonality".


Thinking of atonality like that kind of removes it from the context out of which it arose. Schoenberg, for example, hated the term:
"To call any relation of tones atonal is just as farfetched as it would be to designate a relation of colors aspectral or acomplementary. There is no such antithesis."

Atonality is really just an evolution of the kinds of tonal ambiguities you find in Berlioz, Wagner, Mahler etc. It can be thought of as extreme chromaticism where keys/tonal centres only exist for a couple of notes before there's another modulation, or as something belonging to two or more keys at the same time. It's also worth noting that the absence of a key does not constitute the absence of a tonal centre. The kinds of relations between pitches that imply tonality can still be found in a lot of atonal music, particularly that which follows more in the tradition of Schoenberg/Bartok. I'd much rather that atonal music was thought of as being without a clear sense of tonality than the absence of tonality.
#15
what really matters are the guide tones you can play in the key and let the guide tones guide you through the changes. even if you use CST to navigate the changes you still have to know the chord tones/guide tones so why complicate the thinking in adding the "modes" (in a CST way) and not just think in the key and chord tones/guide tones.

regarding atonal - I have to say that some dodecaphonic lines sound really pleasant to my ears
#16
Quote by National_Anthem
Particularly in late Romantic music, there can be more than one way of reading tonality. A lot of the tonal centres are fleeting, and some people would rather think of them as chromaticisms, and some people would think of these as tonicizations or modulations. Sometimes whole phrases of sections act as a "pivot", rather than just one chord, creating a sense of ambiguity as to which key it is in. The conclusions that you draw will be dependant, to some extent, on where you place the important structural moments of the piece as a whole, which is to some extent subjective, at least when you get to Mahler, early Schoenberg, Bruckner et al: when Forms stop conforming to the textbook "classical forms", this implies some level of ambiguity.

Consider all the discussion on the Prelude from Tristan und Isolde. Theorists have probably thought about this about 1000 times more than Wagner ever did.


Thinking of atonality like that kind of removes it from the context out of which it arose. Schoenberg, for example, hated the term:
"To call any relation of tones atonal is just as farfetched as it would be to designate a relation of colors aspectral or acomplementary. There is no such antithesis."

Atonality is really just an evolution of the kinds of tonal ambiguities you find in Berlioz, Wagner, Mahler etc. It can be thought of as extreme chromaticism where keys/tonal centres only exist for a couple of notes before there's another modulation, or as something belonging to two or more keys at the same time. It's also worth noting that the absence of a key does not constitute the absence of a tonal centre. The kinds of relations between pitches that imply tonality can still be found in a lot of atonal music, particularly that which follows more in the tradition of Schoenberg/Bartok. I'd much rather that atonal music was thought of as being without a clear sense of tonality than the absence of tonality.


A very informative post!
#17
Quote by Jehannum
A very informative post!


Thanks. I did a dissertation on "1850-1950: The Fragmentation of Tradition" last year, it's kind of cliché topic, but probably the one that interests me the most besides Beethoven. A huge chunk was entirely devoted to the relationship between tonality and form. In fact, I don't think much of it wasn't

If you're interested in that kind of thing, you should read "The Unanswered Question" by Leonard Bernstein. It's a transcript of a series of lectures he gave at Harvard. The original lectures were filmed, they're on DVD, and some sections are on Youtube. Get the book, rather than the DVD, unless you're loaded

The first half is a little dry, it's probably much better as an actual lecture than something that you read. He doesn't get on to the interesting stuff till the second half, but the first half acts a vital primer. It's very classical-centric, but very accessible.
#18
Interesting conversation. I am not a musician. However, I took a music class once in college and recall the teacher (Duff Kennedy, Santa Barbara CC, 1985) claiming tonality was subjective. And that what sounds tonal today, could and has changed over time. My interest in this topic goes to the greater point of subjectivity in life, and how much that depends on our particular culture and era. Anyway, I'm impressed with the considerable knowledge shared here. Thank you. Steve
#20
Quote by Prophet of Page
I've read many times on this forum, from the members that are generally regarded as being correct, that a chord progression is tonal (in a particular major/minor key) if it moves around a set tonal centre and resolves to that centre with its particular quality (major or minor).

I can understand that concept, and can think of many chord progressions that fit that concept perfectly.



I don't think the concept itself is subjective, but you can play with ambiguity.

Quote by Prophet of Page


There are particular chord progressions I have issues with. For example, consider the following chord progression.

C#min9 - F#7add11 - Esus2(add#11) - E

This progression could be described as being in E major where the #4 is used to "suggest" a Lydian sound. That's fine with me (and yes, I do understand modes). A member of this forum also described at as an interrupted cadence in B major. I understand cadences and I can se why it was called that, but to my ears, B is never the centre of the progression. To my ears, the centre is E throughout.

Now, to my ears, the progression doesn't resolve to E major in the sense of the E major scale, because by the time we reach the E chord, the use of the A# has become so established that playing an A over the E chord would sound jarring to me. I would be inclined to call this a Lydian progression, because to my ears, the scale doesn't resolve to the E major scale, but to the E major scale with a #4.

To me it sounds like a ii V IV IV, that never resolves to I. You could say you're exploiting the #11 over the IV for it's lydianesque sound.

Quote by Prophet of Page


Another chord progression mentioned in the Jazz Theory thread was this.

Amin9 - B7#5 - Emin9 - Bb7b5

A regular member here (Aeolian Wolf, who I hope will participate in this thread) mentioned that the CST approach to this progression is incorrect and the progression is simply in A minor. Again, I hear the centre moving on each chord change.

Is tonality subjective, or have I fundementally misunderstood something?


Id say that progression is actually in E minor. the 1st chord being the iv

Rather than "fundamental misunderstanding", I would rather say that what you have is a lack of experience with the fundamentals.

Focus on diatonic Major and minor progressions. DON'T RUSH IT. spend some serious quality time there.
shred is gaudy music
Last edited by GuitarMunky at Jun 14, 2012,
#21
I think sometimes you have a clear tonal centre. it's about conext and more than just chords.

compare a II7 V7 I7 and I7 IV7 V7. Play them in C and G respectively. same chords and if you give each one bar and loop it it's hard to tell which is which

D7 G7 C7 and G7 C7 D7

There are times when the tonal centre is ambiguous and times where it could be pulling between more than one tonal centre.
Si