TonalityGUIDE - basic tonal music theory and analysis for undergraduates
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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).

Style Awareness
Introduction Case Study One Case Study Two

Introduction & Palestrina Bach Haydn Debussy

An Example of Stylistic Change: The Added Minor Seventh
The history of musical style is no longer taught as a continuously improving development from 'primitive' monody to the complexity of some twentieth century scores; it is dangerously easy to find logical progression from one style to another if that is what you are looking for. Nevertheless, it is interesting to chart how the usage of the same basic building blocks slowly changes over the centuries, and this page offers four snapshots of minor seventh chords. The Palestrina and the Debussy extracts lie right on the edges of the common practice tonality explored on this web site.

Stylistic awareness is crucial to understanding and replicating tonal styles. Because voice-leading and harmony is not governed by 'rules' but by characteristic ways of doing things, they do not make sense without reference to the style of writing of a particular era, genre or composer.

Palestrina (sixteenth century polyphony)
It is a general feature of this style that dissonances are never emphasised. They tend to appear either on a weak beat, or as a suspension. In this extract the two seventh chords (major or minor triad in blue with the added seventh marked in red) are both treated in this way:

  • The first appears on a weak beat of the bar, and even in this situation Palestrina is careful not to emphasise it too much. It is approached and left by stepwise descent, a characteristic way of handling dissonance that achieves the status of a rule in this style.
  • The second seventh chord is part of a suspension. Again it is part of a stepwise descent but, because it appears on a strong beat of the bar, the seventh itself is prepared by being included in the previous chord in the same voice.
The emphasis in Palestrina's style is on line: the voice-leading is more important than harmonic progression. Neither the sevenths or other dissonances are really chords in the functional sense, they are the result of the interaction of the lines.

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