Welcome to the third article in my Diarrhea series. If you haven't read my
first two pieces, I invite you to read them. Here are the links:
Part One: Lessons Learned
Part Two: That One Thing and How to Get It

Today's article marks the beginning of a 3-part series. It requires an understanding
of intervals, how chords are built from scales, as well as basic knowledge of cadences.
If you don't have this knowledge, you might want to give this article a read:
You don't need to know this stuff for everything that I discuss today, but it
will make it easier for you to understand some of the concepts.

We're not actually going to talk about physics very much, but we need Newton's
Laws of Motion to illustrate today's real topic. Newton's Third Law of Motion
states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you
push a wall with 5 pounds of force, the wall is going to push back with 5 pounds
of force. The thing to take out of this is that a great many things in our world
exist in pairs, whether they be forces, objects, people, or actions. A magnet
needs to have two poles: north and south; a magnetic monopole, a magnetic particle
with only one pole, has never been observed. Every villain needs a hero to counter
him. When you eat cookies, you need milk to wash them down. Sex factors
into this as well. Every question needs an answer, and those questions whose
answers are unknown create tension, which just so happens to be today's topic.

If I could engrain three ideas in your heads it would be these:
1. Tension requires Release
2. Consonance breeds Tension
3. There are exceptions for nearly every rule.

Well, what is tension? The best way that I can put it is like this: tension is a
feeling perceieved by the listener from a musical idea that is inherently unstable,
unexpected, and/or dissonant. This becomes a bit tricky when you realize that
instability, unexpectedness, and dissonance are all relative terms; what one
audience perceives as being stable and consonant to the point of cliche, another
audience might find to be horribly dissonant and impossible to follow. A percussionist
from Indonesia or Africa might feel at home playing ludicrously complex polyrhythms,
but stumble playing straight eighth notes. A jazz musician might get a bad reaction
playing really outside lines to a crowd expecting pop music. One idea that you might
take away from this is that you should always know the audience that you're playing to.

Tension is a word used to unify some very different ideas, and, as such, it's not very
precise. This article sets out to define the different types of tension and several
ways to make use of them, so let's get to it.


Why go over harmonic tension first? Partly because I just feel like it, and partly
because it's the easiest one to learn and explain. I'd like to draw a parallel between
harmony and the work of a painter. The artist is going to combine colors to create
various hues until he finds the perfect one. Everything that he has mixed up until
that point has a bearing on what new shades he can create now, and what he is creating
now has a bearing on what he mixes next. As the painter grows older and gains useful
experience, he begins to understand the effects of mixing various colors and knows how
to more easily create the effect that they've imagined. In western music, the major
scale represents our 'primary colors', the basics from which we can create a large range
of usable colors. The amount of chords that can be created from just the major scale is
formidable, but these by no means represent the entirety of colors available for our use
as artists.

The vast majority of music created in the western tradition is based on what is called
ternary harmony, meaning the chords used are made from stacking intervals of either
minor thirds(3 semitones) or major thirds(4 semitones). Using this method, we create
three families of chords: major, minor, and dominant; we also have diminished and
augmented chords, but these can both be included in the dominant category. If we were
to rank the three families on a scale of consonance and dissonance, we would find that
the family of chords that are the most dissonant and create the most tension are the
dominant chords. The basic chord in this family is the dominant 7 chord, consisting
of these intervals:
1 to 3: major third
1 to 5: perfect fifth
1 to b7: minor seventh
3 to 5: minor third
3 to b7: diminished fifth/tritone
5 to b7: minor third
An A7 chord consists of the notes A(1), C#(3), E(5), and G(b7). The interval that creates
the tension in this chord is the one between the C# and G. It is most commonly found as
the chord built from the 5th degree/note of a major scale, but it can be found in many
other scales as well. An A7 can be built from the 5th degree of D major, and has a
tendency to resolve to D major type chords. The reason for this is because of the
melodic tendencies of the notes of the D major scale: D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#. In the context
of D major, G wants to move down to F#, and C# wants to move up to D. We could imply
the chord change A7-D, by simply playing this:


Because the function of a dominant chord in most diatonic harmony is to create tension,
we can add almost any note to this chord and it will still function the same way, with
the level of tension created increasing. The different extensions/alterations that are
available are: b9,9,#9,11,#11/b5,#5/b13, and 13. In terms of A, these notes would be,
respectively, Bb,B,B#,D,D#/Eb,E#/F, and F#. Each of these notes gives the chord its own
unique flavor, so experiment with each one of them as well as combinations of them and
see what interesting voicings you can come up with. The topic of dominant chords is
much too big to give a comprehensive explanation in this topic, so we're going to move
on to a topic very close to my heart: including chords from outside the major/natural
minor tonalities.

Here's a very basic example:
The initial progression is: Bb-C-Dm.
This progression is in the saddest of all keys, D minor. That's natural minor to be exact.
We can add a major triad whose root is a Perfect 5th above the Dm triad to create tension,
which is then resolved when we play the Dm. This chord is an A major triad, and could be
extended to an A7 chord. The change we're making is a minor V7-i progression. By adding
this chord, we're making a momentary switch to D harmonic minor. The reason why it's
harmonic minor and not melodic minor is because we played a Bb major triad just recently;
the ascending interval between a D and a Bb is a minor sixth, or 8 semitones; harmonic
minor contains this interval, while melodic minor doesn't. These temporary shifts to
different tonalities, like melodic and harmonic minor, harmonic major, diminished,
whole-tone, etc., are easy ways to create tension and a sense of motion in your music.
Our final progression is: Bb-C-A-Dm.
Experiment with various voicings of these chords all over the fretboard, and write
down the ones that catch your fancy. Here are some of my favorite ways to play this


You may have noticed that my chords aren't just triads. I've added an E to each of the
Bb chords. In the key of Dm, that Bb triad has available extensions of C(9), E(#11), and
G(13); I've just chosen a common alteration to add to the chord. In the last example,
I've added an F to the A major triad (a b13), and an E to the Dm triad(a 9). I've made
my switch to D harmonic minor, so I look for possible extensions from that pool of notes.
(D harmonic minor: D-E-F-G-A-Bb-C#). You may have also noted that there is a very
dissonant interval in the A major triad in the last example. The distance between the
E and F forms an interval of a minor ninth, the only interval in the western system of
music that our ears haven't gotten accustomed to. I voiced the chord like this because
the chord exists to create tension, so by adding a note that creates even more tension,
the impending resolution will be that much better. The E that I've added to the Dm chord
is there solely for voice leading purposes; having the F from the A chord move to the E
in the Dmadd9 chord is slightly less jarring than having it move down to a D. Experiment
with creating cadences in your progressions using this principle; that is the easiest
way for novices to get into this scene. Remember what I said last time: get the most out
of anything that you write; create as many variations and embellishments as you can come
up with and write down the best ones. This seemed like a rather long explanation for what
was supposed to be a very basic example, so we're moving on now. If you have questions
about this, post them.
Remember how I said that most western harmony is based on intervals of thirds. The key
word here is MOST. What about those other tunes? Well, we have other systems of
creating chords that create different feels and textures in songs, as well. Right now,
we're going to discuss quartal/quintal harmony. The most obvious question right now is
"What the hell is quartal/quintal harmony?" That's a perfectly reasonable query, and
I'm hoping to give a perfectly logical response. Quartal harmony is a system wherein
chords are built based on intervals of either the Perfect 4th or the Augmented 4th.
Quintal harmony is a system where chords are built based on intervals of either the
diminished 5th, Perfect 5th, or augmented 5th. Okay, genius, but how would I use it and
why would I use it? Simple: we build chords from the same scales that we're used to
building chords from, and then insert those chords into existing progressions based on
the idea of common tone substition. The answer to WHY you would use is a bit
more complex. By using quartal chords you create harmonic ambiguity. Quartal harmony is
heavily used in modal jazz where this ambiguity works great with instability inherent to
modal music. What in the hell is common tone substitution? The best way to explain
this is to show an example.

Let's look at the key of E major. This contains the notes (E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#). Using the
system of ternary harmony we would build these chords from this key:
Emaj7: E-G#-B-D#
F#m7: F#-A-C#-E
G#m7: G#-B-D#-F#
Amaj7: A-C#-E-G#
B7: B-D#-F#-A
C#m7: C#-E-G#-B
D#m7b5: D#-F#-A-C#
However, if we build chords using 4th intervals, we'll have chords containing the following
notes having the following formulas:
E-A-D#-G# (1-4-7-3)
F#-B-E-A (1-4-b7-b3)
G#-C#-F#-B (1-4-b7-b3)
A-D#-G#-C# (1-#4-7-3)
B-E-A-D# (1-4-b7-3)
C#-F#-B-E (1-4-b7-b3)
D#-G#-C#-F# (1-4-b7-b3)
Let's say that we wanted to play a basic V-I cadence in E major. The chords are B7-Emaj7.
By analyzing which quartal chords approximate the two ternary chords, we can substitute
them into the progression. The most obvious chord to substitute for the B7 is the
quartal chord built from B; it contains the tritone between the 3 and b7 of B7 and the
root of the chord, B. Playing this would imply a B11 chord. We could also try the
quartal chord built from A; it contains the tritone as well, and would imply a B13 chord.
As for the Emaj7 chord, we could substitute a quartal chord built from D# to imply an
Emaj13 chord. We can do this because the quartal chord contains the 3 and 7 of the Emaj7
chord, G# and D#. You should notice that by using quartal chords, you create a bit of
harmonic ambiguity where previously there was only tension and release.

We're going back to that old standby of always get the most out of every idea that you
come across. Each of the forms of quartal chords that we derived from the major scale
has a slightly different feel; what would happen if we took each form and built them from
every note of the chromatic scale? Do you think we could get some interesting, new chord
substitution options. I'll do some of it, but it's your responsibility to do some of the
work involved here.

We have four different forms of quartal chords derived from the major scale:
Let's take the SECOND form and build it from each note, whilst thinking of our root note
as a C, with the implied chord in parantheses:
built from C: C-F-Bb-Eb (Cm11)
built from C#: C#-F#-B-E
built from D: D-G-C-F (Csus)
built from D#: D#-G#-C#-F#
built from E: E-A-D-G (C6/9)
built from F: F-Bb-Eb-Ab
built from F#: F#-B-E-A (Cmaj13#11)
built from G: G-C-F-Bb (Csus)
built from G#: G#-C#-F#-B
built from A: A-D-G-C
built from Bb: Bb-Eb-Ab-Db
built from B: B-E-A-D (Cmaj13)
Now you do the rest.

I mentioned quintal harmony briefly above for a reason. That reason is that if you
can play a chord voiced in fourths, you can voice that chord in fifths as well. This
is because if you invert a fourth interval, the interval that is created is a fifth
interval. Let's see that, shall we:


The F on the G string in the first chord moves down an octave to the E string. The C on D
string stays in the same register, but changes position to the A string. The G on the A
string moves up an octave to the D string. And the D on the E string moves up two octaves
to the G string. If the second voicing is too extreme for you, the third voicing rectifies
that problem. Do the same with each quartal chord on each set of four adjacent strings and
you'll have a good vocabulary of quartal and quintal chords.

That's enough on harmony for today; you've got enough work ahead of you as things stand.
One of the ideas that I said that I wanted to get into your heads was the fact that
"Consonance breeds tension." In my opinion, one of humans' most interesting facets is
their ability to feel boredom. Someone could come up with the greatest diversion in the
history of mankind and if its makers didn't add new features every once in a while, people
would turn away from it, not seeing its benefits any longer, only seeing its failure to
improve. Let that be a lesson to you as well: if you ever get famous, don't you ever, EVER
stop practicing. The concept is a little bit difficult to grasp so let's draw an analogy.
Let's say that you have a workout regimen to get into shape. Every time you lift weights
at the gym or go running, you're creating physical tension in your body that tears your
muscles apart. Periods of rest are needed to reap the benefits of your exertion. You
might find that you like the periods of rest much better than the time you spend working
out, and so you stop going to the gym and you spend most of your time on the couch,
watching TV, and eating Spaghettios. You get comfortable where you're at and your
muscles start to weaken and atrophy, you start to gain weight, and gradually, your trips
to the microwave to heat up your Spaghettios cause you to exert yourself more and more,
until the most miniscule of physical activities becomes a test of endurance. what in
the hell does that have to do with making music? Because tension and resolution are
such a critical element of music, our ears are trained to hear the ebb and flow of
tension. When we stop including dissonance in our music, peoples' ears will still try
to seek out and discover tension hidden away from them. When we don't create the feeling
of Question & Answer, peoples' minds will begin to perceive tension in places where
there normally wouldn't be any. Hearing music in this way could potentially alter the
intended meaning and feeling of the music, and if we don't have control over the music
that we make, what do we, as musicians, have control over?

...phew!! That was much longer than I expected it to be.

Next time:
Rhythmic Tension
Alright, you succeeded in going way over my head. I'll have to read over this several more times, and hopefully one of which will not be while I am so tired.

But the idea of basing chords off 4ths or 5ths is a completely new idea to me. I must try to incorporate some of those chords into my playing.
Strat / SH-201 -> DOD Mixer -> ZVex Mastotron -> Fulltone Clyde -> BYOC OD II -> Ibanez FLL -> VS Chorus -> DOD FX 96 -> Boss DD-6 -> MXR 10-Band EQ -> Boss RC-2 -> Stereo Mixer -> Alesis PicoVerb -> Peavey Delta Blues 210/Yamaha Fifty112
All the info seems to be correct and very thoughtfully explained. I respond to this more when I get home again.
The "Popped Collar" Award(Sexiest)

The "Rest In Real Life" Award(Best Past MT Mod)