Tonality: a definition or a notion?

Discussion in 'Education' started by Freetobestolen, Dec 7, 2021.

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  1. Please post your own pondering, as concisely as possible, and your reasoning justifying such.

    Cheers
     
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  3. Ad Heesive

    Ad Heesive Audiosexual

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    This started to get discussed before in the context of arguing about the word bitonal.
    (conventional versus unconventional interpretations of that word)

    In that discussion, opinions about tonality started to get expressed.
    Maybe I'll edit this later to extract what you requested (i.e., concise points) but meanwhile here are links to that discussion.
    (all close together in the same thread)
    ---
    Edited-Update:
    That discussion can be picked up at this point in another thread.
    https://audiosex.pro/threads/chord-of-chords.61873/page-2#post-603393

    Below are the comments I made in that discussion. What were they trying to achieve?
    [1] Emphasising that ideas are far more important then the words we use to label them.
    [2] Words (like tonality) are just signposts to ideas.
    [3] Words should and do get interpretted flexibly, BUT, if we stretch our personal interpretations too far away from conventional use then we're probably talking nonsense and confusing people.
    [4] Tonality, Bitonality, Polytonality do have conventional interpretations but are subtle and so also have some ambiguities.
    [5] All the points I made in the discussions were in accord with very conventional interpretations of the words. I was merely defending conventional use of the words and discussing what they mean.

    There is no point in me trying to extract anything concise from the discussions below because that would just amount to repeating dictionary definitions.
    So if it's too long to read - then with all due respect - I just don't care. :)

    ============
    https://audiosex.pro/threads/chord-of-chords.61873/page-2#post-603393
    :winker:First the obligatory AudioSex protocol requires me to say...
    "WFT - That's not what Bitonal means you f3*kin moron dipstick" :guru:
    Sorry about that - just following forum tradition! I'll be civilised now.:winker:

    Thanks for your extensions to the conversation about extended chords, polychords, bitonal, polytonal, etc.
    I sincerely believe that words do not have fixed meanings. They are just malleable signposts to ideas. If they are working well then we have a shared conventional use of a word where most people are using it in a roughly similar way to point at roughly the same idea.

    I can sincerely say that (I think) the way you are trying to use the word bitonal is unconventional and hence misleading.
    But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe many people use it as you do - who knows?

    I resort to my well worn mantra "The words are just signposts - it's the ideas that matter"

    So, what are our (yours and mine) contradictory uses of the word bitonal ?
    Let's bring the ideas into focus - and expose the ambiguity of the word.

    I previously said...
    That was a rhetorical question - I was not anticipating anyone offering an alternative interpretation of bitonal or polytonal.

    A simple example...
    A chord sequence - four triads - Am,Dm,G,C
    It's conventional to say things like
    - vi, ii, V, I of C Major
    - this is in Key C Major
    - the tonal center is C
    - the tonality is C Major

    It would be very unconventional to say the tonality is shifting from Am to Dm to G to C
    The chords are obviously changing but they all belong to the same tonality - C Major.

    Now add 7ths - the four chords are now Am7,Dm7,G7,CM7
    Just for colourful interest lets change that to Am7,Dm7,G7,C6
    I claim (very conventionally) that the tonality has not changed - the tonality is still C Major.

    But we now have your two chords Am7 and C6 and you said "C6 = Am7" and you claimed that these are Bitonal. I suggest that this is misusing the word tonality, i.e., a very unconventional and hence misleading use of the word.

    Instead, the idea that you had in mind (I think) is this.
    C6 (C,E,G,A) and Am7 (A,C,E,G) share the same notes.
    If you look at these four notes, as an isolated chord, and especially if you look at elaborate voicings, then it can be ambiguous as to what the root is. Is it a C6 or is it an Am7. That ambiguity will be resolved by the context, as in my example above where it becomes obvious that the first chord is Am7 and the last chord is C6.

    So I claim that tonality refers to the space that the chords occupy
    Examples
    Am7 and C6 occupy the same tonal space - so, they are not bitonal. (hence I contest your interpretation)
    whereas
    CM7 and EM7 do not occupy the same tonal space, so the label bitonal seems OK here.

    My stance again...
    - I don't really care about the words - it's only the ideas that matter.
    BUT
    - I do care about words being used carelessly (which we ALL do)
    because then they fail to fulfil their role as signposts and we miss the intended ideas.
    ============
    https://audiosex.pro/threads/chord-of-chords.61873/page-3#post-603407
    Correct but think carefully what tonality means because... this next bit is hopelessly misguided in its use of the word tonality
    By this crazy interpretation of the word tonality I could say something only marginally crazier like...
    (note this intended to be crazy!)
    C major chord contains a major third, expressing major tonality. Plus it contains a minor third, expressing minor tonality.

    Therefore a C Major chord is bitonal all by itself.:dunno: (using your words - so one Major and one minor tonality altogether)
    That sentence is of course (obviously) total nonsense but it's using the same warped view of the word tonality as in your example. If you can't see that - well your conceptual analysis skills need a radical upgrade.

    ---- and a quick update, based on 'news just in' from @BaSsDuDe above.
    @Freetobestolen, I suggest you radically revise your interpretation and use of the words tonal, bitonal, and polytonal, simply to fit in with more conventional usages, as illustrated in my (very conventional) usage and in the references supplied by @BaSsDuDe.
    Why try to re-invent the meanings - is it just to contradict what everyone else uses? Does that feel special in some deluded way?
    There is lots to praise about being unconventional in actual music making.
    But there is nothing to gain by trying to distort all the conventional music theory vocabulary.
    ============
    https://audiosex.pro/threads/chord-of-chords.61873/page-3#post-603473

    OK, remaining constructive, and also taking the piss - out of all of us! :winker:

    Here's an entirely speculative (and more than a bit loony) debate - about that (surprisingly contentious) word Tonality

    And in this debate I am playing devil's advocate, not interested in expressing my own actual opinions (yet)
    just toying with 'what if' questions and answers and seeing what ideas come into focus.

    I've bullet pointed a list of semi-arbitrary statements (in spoilers) and I'm really not personally committing to any of them.
    So, shoot any of them down in flames at your leisure - as long as it helps you to get your own ideas straight!
    But for fun, my devil's advocate will try (and probably fail) to argue that bitonality and polytonality are just bull crap fantasies that don't actually exist. How's that for a fun debate?

    So repeat - all these bullet points are devil's advocate claims - might be true - might be bull crap
    and my personal pragmatic opinions may or may not coincide with any of it!

    Start with an antique idea which is that tonality has something to do with listeners brains always hearing a tonal center (irrespective of whether the music can be described as having a tonal center or not). Hence you can find interesting discussions about how listener's brains will build a sense of tonality into their auditory experience even when confronted with allegedly atonal music.
    That's just something to bear in mind during the rest of the discussion.
    Maybe I should explore whether there's a difference between tonality as perceived by listeners and the tonal intentions of composers.
    ---
    Composer plays just one note, e.g., "C". (applause please)
    As music theorists maybe we can get away with saying either of these...
    - Composer has not yet specified a tonality. The tonality is wide open and ambiguous.
    OR, we could say the the exact opposite...
    - The listener is now hearing a primitive tonality called "C".
    Is one of these statements more true than the other? Are they consistent in their use of the word tonality?
    ---
    Composer adds the note E, now playing a major third C,E
    Composer: I have still not specified a tonality, it's still too primitive, too ambiguous.
    Listener: Well I'm hearing something - and it ain't C minor.
    ---
    Let's skip forward to a pentatonic example (referencing @Freetobestolen's request to consider pentatonic tonality)
    Composer plays melodies, riffs, and phrases using 1=C, 2=D, 3=E, 5=G, 6=A
    OOPS skipped forward too far, implied diatonic numbering there, better backtrack to simpler :dunno:
    Composer plays melodies, riffs, and phrases using 1=C, 2=D, 3=E, 4=G, 5=A

    Composer: I have now established a popular but primitive major pentatonic tonality
    It's so primitive that a snob like me calls it a pseudo-tonality.
    Listener: Yep I agree, I'm hearing that, and I think I'm hearing it centered on "C".
    ---
    Composer expands it to a very very wonky 12 bar blues (one with no blues balls at all!)
    4 bars of phrases using C major pentatonic (C,D,E,G,A)
    2 bars of phrases using F major pentatonic (F,G,A,C,D)
    2 bars of phrases using C major pentatonic
    1 bar of phrases using G major pentatonic (G,A,B,D,E)
    1 bar of phrases using F major pentatonic
    2 bars of phrases using C major pentatonic

    Composer: I have now expanded the primitive C major pentatonic pseudo-tonality and (at last) established a proper traditional/conventional diatonic tonality.
    I am using all the notes from the C Major scale (and only the notes from the C Major scale)

    Listener 1: Yep, I can hear that, I notice the changes when you shift from C to F to G etc, but I also hear that we're starting in "C" and ending in "C" and I feel like "C" is the tonal center. I DO NOT feel like we're changing key (changing tonality) at any time.

    Listener 2: That's funny cos I DO feel like we're changing key every time we change the pentatonic from C to F to G, etc. But I agree we start in "C" and end in 'C"
    Listener 1 and Listener 2 now start a fight about who is right :snuffy: about whether the tonality is changing key or not - even though they're both hearing exactly the same changes.

    Composer: calm down guys, when we only had one pentatonic, I loosely used the phrase primitive pseudo-tonality, but now I've got my full blown traditional diatonic variety so I've moved on. My diatonic tonality embraces all three pentatonics, so now I just call them chord changes within my true intended tonality of C Major.
    Listener 1 and Listener 2 have no idea what the fuck the composer is talking about and carry on fighting.
    ---
    A slick composer arrives and demonstrates a tune using all 12 tones of the chromatic scale and has the audacity to claim that she's still entirely in the tonality of C Major. She has 4,327 tricks up her sleeve to explain how she is still in the Key of C Major while also playing the 5 extra notes that don't belong in the C Major scale.

    She gets into an argument with another composer over which tricks provide the best explanations.
    Composer A: this bit here is best viewed as an extended chord with a mind bogglingly complex notation.
    Composer B: that's bollox, just view it as two chords stacked on top of each other. A polychordal notation is far simpler than a weird extended chord.
    Now the composers are fighting but at least the listeners have stopped fighting and are just laughing at the composers.
    ---
    Composer A: look these two triads C Major and D minor, when stacked together, have a fairly simple label and they're simple to view and label as an extended chord.

    Composer B: I still prefer to see it as polychordal; and what about when you stacked EM7 on top of CM7, I don't want to work out a label for that little monster, I'm much better off thinking polychordal for that. And it doesn't even fit into your strictly diatonic C Major scale. So guess what, I'm going further - it's not just polychordal - it's bitonal.

    Composer A: Now you're just inventing more bollox, this tune is in C Major. - not bitonal at all.

    Composer B: No it's not bollox. What about when Stravinsky played Eb7 on top of E Major? that's bitonal.

    Composer A: nah, that's just chord V and chord VI from the harmonic minor scale, still monotonal!

    Composer B: starts muttering something about Stravinsky also punctuating with an "A" and wrecking the harmonic minor theory, but instead says... "If I keep on piling enough of these non-diatonic chord combinations together, I can eventually break your sense of being in just one tonality" And actually I don't need to do that, I just found Bartok's Twelve-tone Phrygian/Lydian polymodal music and that easily wipes out your single tonality.

    Listener: That's strange - I liked that Bartok stuff, it but it still sounded tonal to me. Did my brain do something wrong?
    ============
    https://audiosex.pro/threads/chord-of-chords.61873/page-3#post-603529
    From the first of your references...
    "Polytonality - It is the use of two or more distinguishable key centers, simultaneously. However, the term bitonal can be used instead of polytonality, referring to the use of two key centers in the musical composition."

    From the second of your references...
    "Polytonality is the musical use of more than one key simultaneously. Bitonality is the use of only two different keys at the same time."

    I accept both of those quotes as representing the prevailing, conventional, well-recognised, use of the terms bitonal and polytonal. And it's precisely what I have been boringly using too, in all my discussions. So, why would anyone want to contest the main simple point - which is that the simultaneous use of multiple keys is the essential ingredient in the conventional use of the terms bitonal or polytonal?

    But, because I like exploring ideas, I can see how that means we might still have some exploring to do to answer questions like "what does it take to unambiguously establish a key? even before we tackle establishing multiple keys?"
    and I already joked a bit about this.
    As my caricature illustrated, if I play a C note and an E note simultaneously, and if had been consuming too many intoxicants, I might say, "hey look my C,E, is a bitonal diad because I intended each note to portray a different key."

    But that should probably be regarded as just ridiculous, even if I later went on to actually develop this opening diad into a bitonal piece using C Major and E Major. It only actually becomes bitonal when 2 different keys are actually established - at least according to conventional use of the terms.

    So, the bottom line is surely, if you haven't yet actually established even one key then you certainly can't yet claim to have bitonality. A chord by itself can indeed go on to become part of a key as the context gets developed, but a single chord by itself. not yet in a context, just projects some possibilities and a lot of ambiguities.

    We could easily discuss stuff like, just how much ambiguity do you need to remove before you can say "the key is now unambiguously established". We can go a long way with that quite easily, but I for one would not like to say here's THE only prescription. There is an example of Mozart establishing the key of a piece by playing 11 of the 12 chromatic tones - and you guessed it, the one he left out was the root of the key.

    Now can we abandon nonsensical talk of single chords being bitonal? no matter what potential they might have in contexts that have not yet been actualised.
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2021
  4. Djord Emer

    Djord Emer Platinum Record

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    pls don't go there...

    if you want concise (so don't ask for thorough), I'd stick with The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory definition: "As a music-theoretical term, “tonality” was first used by Alexander Choron in 1810 to describe the arrangement of the dominant and subdominant above and below the tonic and thus to differentiate the harmonic organization of modern music (tonalité moderne) from that of earlier music (tonalité antique). One of the main conceptual categories in Western musical thought, tonality most often refers to the orientation of melodies and harmonies toward a referential (or tonic) pitch class. In the broadest possible sense, however, it refers to systematic arrangements of pitch phenomena and relations between them."
     
  5. Olymoon

    Olymoon MODERATOR Staff Member

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    Education section? Really?... Unfortunately we don't have a "spend your time on a useless polemic" section.
    Sorry... :rofl:

    I use theory, but at some point, music is meant to be played, listened, composed, enjoyed, not over thought.
    We only have 24 hours per day... Let's enjoy it.
     
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  6. Ad Heesive

    Ad Heesive Audiosexual

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    Agreed - but I also can't help grinning at the irony that overthinking music has just been subjected to a polemic attack
    - a good one too - just the right amount of sarcasm. :winker:
     
  7. Should I respond to this in kind?

    Is polemicizing solely what you can assume I'm up for?

    Had curiosity really killed the cat?

    Am I forcing/teasing someone to second-guess himself?

    Can't we see the proposed questioning aswered in its terms by the respective thread attendants, on their own words/examples?

    Five posts so far and Zero proper answerings. Do this Education section strictly boils down to a Fosters' or naysayers' farm (Mod included)?
    I rather not to believe so.


    PS.: Please read carefully @Djord Emer's post. It's been extracted from a high caliber source. Are there any contradictions/ambiguities anyone here is able to spot/grasp?


    Cheers
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 7, 2021
  8. Lieglein

    Lieglein Platinum Record

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    Atonality is more logical but I do not feel anything exciting there. :dunno:

    Stockhausen once said to Adorno that he does not care about the listeners feelings. And this is really what I think about this "style". It is made out of and for the feelings of exactly one person out there and this is the composer. :yes:
     
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  9. Valnar

    Valnar Platinum Record

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    Tonality is when you hierachize all notes and emphasize the tonic triad, especially the root of that chord.
    But that's more or less abstract, and is tied into it's historic context.

    The Major and Minor tonality as we know it today emerged when baroque composers made a former interval that was infamous for being avoided in different ways, the tritone, now the angling point of their entire conception of music with the "newly discovered" dominant seventh chord (Pre-Baroque composers used Clausulas, which are very similar to our dominant resolution), homophony started around that time too for more or less the same reason. Before that time, you had chords, and even tonalities, just not as you know it. Mind you how different everything was, equal temperament wasn't established so there was no D# for example until around Palestrinas time, and I think it was Monteverdi that introduced the A# and the few other missing chromatic notes.

    So, TL DR: Instead of making sense out of individual melody lines, about 400 years ago people started making sense of a bunch of notes they called chords, and just like a tree has it's roots, the trunk and it's branches, tonality has the tonic chord, diatonic chords and chromatic chords, and the main idea being that all chords (at least in the mind of the listener) eventually lead back to the tonic (Schönberg exaggerated by saying every chord besides the tonic can be seen as passing motion)..
     
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  10. Great, but atonality is not under the scope here @Lieglein... and it's not supposed to be for the sake of a minimal continuation, once it poses as the thread's antithesis. Firstly I'd like to know what you'd have to say about the originally proposed questioning. Thanks in advance.
     
  11. Great straight-forward answering @Valnar. I thank you for it. As of now, hopefully we'll be able to amalgamate everyone's further contributions into something less abstract and usable according to each individual experience...

    So, for you, is tonality a definition, a notion or ..? How would you put what comes to mind into work?

    Cheers
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 7, 2021
  12. The Dude

    The Dude Platinum Record

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    How would you put what comes to mind into work?

     
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  13. Age before beauty ( bASSduDe ) ...
     
  14. Lieglein

    Lieglein Platinum Record

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    Why can't it be both? :dunno:
    Depends on the context I would say.
     
  15. The Dude

    The Dude Platinum Record

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    So that is how you do it ( bASSduDe )...

    I can`t hear anything...
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2021
  16. Please go ahead... in which contexts would you say ?
     
  17. First the sight affecting your judgement, now the hearing... sad.

    Anyhow, could you please stop/quit the early flogging and bring in ANYTHING resembling to a minimum contribution to ANY thread?

    PS.: ... and I'm gonna detain myself of going through on how pathetic is choosing an heteronym which is not even one in proper sense, giving yourself right away.

    Cheers
     
  18. Olymoon

    Olymoon MODERATOR Staff Member

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    You'd better do that, they have nothing to do one with each other .. (I can check that)
     
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  19. The Dude

    The Dude Platinum Record

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    Have I got in your nerves just because your not able to answer your own question ?

    :hahaha:
     
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  20. Ŧยχøя

    Ŧยχøя Audiosexual

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    It's Both..

    And both will be defined by the Context..

    Like you play a C Maj chord, and that's all the context.. what's the tonality?
    It could surely be the Major Scale/Ionian.. but it could also be Lydian, Mixolydian, Lydian Dom, Harmonic Major.. etc etc

    Some ambiguity can exist, as often there's not only one possibility..
    but one can define a Valid tonality from one's personal notion/perception of that context,
    or use his/her Will to choose one based on his notion/perception, or do a more theoretical/intellectual derivation..


    However in more Defined contexts, where the chords are more Decorated, or where there is More Chords,
    or where there's more melodic/harmonic elements defining an overall tonality.. the options/ambiguity will reduce,
    and so sometimes it can be narrowed down, and derived in more absolute terms.. even to a single possibility.


    Ofc, Time will always be a factor too,
    like maybe the option for choice/ambiguity is there, but only in this specific/brief moment in time,
    before that other melodic/harmonic element comes with whatever notes further defining the stuff, or whatever other chord, etc..

    Here Perception can play a big role:
    maybe in theoretical terms you could play a big number of notes/scales on a given moment..
    But in all Practical, Aesthetical or even physical terms, maybe most of those possibilities become absurd, given the Briefness of that moment.

    Just because in theoretical terms you can correctly cram a whole bunch of notes/scales on a given moment,
    doesn't mean all that stuff will be perceived positively by regular humans/the audience..

    The options are there ofc, and some of it can be established/determined by intellectual means,
    but it's always in the Empirical realm of practice where the stuff needs to be evaluated.. does it sound right?

    Or am I just cramming a bunch of theoretically correct notes together?

    (for instance Zappa began composing purely by Intellectual means, but then he listened the music and didn't like it..
    so he had to become an actual musician, and play/hear the stuff in order to make humanly palatable music.. it's in his Bio)



    So yeah, it's all about the Context, and one's Perception/notion, Definition, and Will.
    Some contexts will be more ambiguous/open to subjective interpretation,
    while other will be more defined or even restrictive/exclusive,
    narrowing the tonality down, even to a single absolute possibility, by all perceptual and intellectual means.. :yes:



    (As an example for a very open/versatile context, take the Blues..
    there's so much stuff that could be played over those three simple chords, while being both theoretically/intellectually and perceptively/subjectively correct,
    it could take me even days to enumerate all possibilities.. :yes:)
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2021
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  21. Olymoon

    Olymoon MODERATOR Staff Member

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    Thank you for your educated answer and your patience :bow:

    It's just that most of these threads end up badly, and no one get nothing for music out of it.
    I hope you prove me wrong this time.
     
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