TonalityGUIDE - basic tonal music theory and analysis for undergraduates
  Startcentre  |  Reference Guide  

Introduction to tonality More about the TonalityGUIDE analysis tool kit Clefs, note labels, intervals and transposition
chord identification understanding voice-leading style awareness

The ToolKIT, which is accessible from all pages of the site, outlines the three main analytical skills that aims to develop. It also links to a short introduction to the study of tonality as well as a reminder of some basics (note and interval labels, clefs and transpositions).

Introduction to Tonality
introduction triadic harmony tonality and tonic
(main theory page)

Consonance and Dissonance
One of the founding principles of tonality is the idea of consonance and dissonance. There is disagreement on the theoretical basis for this concept, but what is certain is that it has become so firmly ingrained in our culture that it is central to the way we understand tonal music.

The reasons why are less important than the fact that within the Western musical tradition dissonant intervals are felt to be somehow unstable, in need of resolution to a less unstable interval. A consonant interval could therefore be described as stable - it does not feel like it needs to resolve. Consonances are sometimes described as being inherently more pleasant to the ear and dissonances as less pleasant.

In general terms, major and minor seconds (and sevenths - their inversions) are understood as dissonant, as are augmented fourths. Major and minor thirds and sixths and perfect fourths and fifths are understood as consonant. However, as discussed in the main style section of this site, the extent to which any interval is considered dissonant changes in different styles.

An exception to this classification is when there is the interval of a fourth above a note in the bass. Suspensions are a good example of a fourth being treated as a dissonance.

At its simplest, the importance of consonance and dissonance to the sense of 'being in a key' can be seen the harmonisation of a melody. If you play a melody accompanied by a held C major triad, some notes will be dissonant with the notes of the triad and some will be consonant. A new hierarchy is created: the consonant notes are understood to be more stable than the dissonant ones.

Because a triad consists of two stacked thirds, only the actual notes of the triad in a melody can avoid forming a major or minor second with one or other or its notes. In this way, a triad imposes a hierarchy on melody by highlighting which notes are part of the harmony (consonant) and which are not (dissonant).

There are seven possible diatonic triads in C major (see triads definition), so it is possible to harmonise any note of the C major scale with a triad that will make it consonant. The final section of this introduction explores how a hierarchy is created between these seven triads, creating a true sense of 'being in a key'.

introduction triadic harmony tonality and tonic
(main theory page)

The Tonality GUIDE tonal music analysis tool kit
information and orientation as you browse around
chord identification
understanding voice-leading
style awareness

© Copyright Thomas Pankhurst

TonalityGUIDE - Tonal Harmony and Voiceleading - Table of Contents