Defining Tonality Essay

1327 words - 5 pages

Over the years there have been many ideas of tonality and how it shaped Western Music culture. According to an article over tonality by Danlee Mitchell and Jack Logan, tonality is a term used to describe the arrangement of the dominant and subdominant above and below the tonic. Another definition for tonality is that it refers to systematic arrangements of pitch phenomena and relations between them. With all the technical terms and confusions it is no wonder why many students have a hard time understanding the meaning of tonality.
What is Tonality?
There are many different aspects of tonality that one must know before they can fully start to comprehend the meaning. The first would be the relationship between the different pitches. Every pitch can be considered tonal when it is placed at the tonal center, otherwise known as the key of the music. For example, if you were playing a piece in the key of C you will most likely begin and end on the note C because it would be considered tonal. Now just because it ends on C doesn’t necessarily mean it is tonal, but when you factor in the relationships of the dominant and subdominant it gives tonality a better definition. The dominant is the fifth note of the scale which has the most pull back to the tonic or the base note such at G to C. This phenomenon is governed by the overtone series and can be found anywhere including nature. It has been discovered that male mosquitoes fly at a frequency higher than a female causing them to vibrate at a perfect fifth.
The overtone series is a complex measurement of pitches that helps musicians understand how they are related to each other.

Above you will see a picture of the overtone series and the relation of pitches.
All tonal references can be traced back to the series whether it ranges from a complex piece such as Bach or something simple as Mary Had a Little Lamb. As musicians we need remember what tones work better for it will help us in the end no matter what musical career you decide to take.
Bach French Suite #
A primary example of the common relationship between the fifth and tonic can be seen in many pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach but I would like to focus on his French Suite #5.


V/V V7 I
Above you will see a small excerpt from Bach’s French Suite #5 Allemande

As we analyze this piece it is easy to tell how the relationship of the notes revolved around the V-I tonality making it almost seem almost inevitable to our ears. The part I chose to outline begins at measure one and continues until measure four. Bach does a great job of outlining the piece and establishing a key early so the listeners have no doubt where he is going to take the music. If you take a closer look at the bass line you can see a constant pattern causing the harmonic pull back to the tonic. The piece starts off on tonic and quickly brings us to the subdominant which is the second strongest note in the...

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