[Smt-talk] inability to perceive "Dominant"

Michael Morse mmorse at ca.inter.net
Sun Apr 12 11:23:04 PDT 2009

4/12/2009, art samplaski wrote:

>I agree with Fred's underlying principle, that "average
>listeners" (here taken to mean, are untrained but have
>listened to a fair deal of Western music) can distinguish
>"dominant" because of tonal tension. I think the problem
>is, both of them are getting caught in the trap (now
>centuries-long) of conflating the _concept_ of "dominant"
>and "tonic" with specific instantiations (I vs. V chords).
>ANYONE who knows that tune, whether in its original or
>U.S.-filked lyrics, will go "Augh!" or something similar
>when you stop one note short of tonic. Likely a lot of
>folks will sing the missing note just to relieve the
>tension. Ask them why, and you'll get a variety of answers
>that boil down to something approaching, you stopped
>short of home base and the resting point, leaving me
>hanging; I *had* to finish it!
>Art Samplaski
>Ithaca, NY

A perhaps even more droll example eliminates the melisma from the 
Star-Spangled Banner:

Oh, say can you see *by*!
The dawn's early light *what*! (etc)

But I think these examples illustrate something at least mildly 
subversive of some versions of tonal theory. In the case of song, the 
interactive fusion of words and tones, listener expectation is 
many-sided, and includes ga=rammatical sense (or some Heavy Metal 
facsimile of same) as much as tonal action. Purist Pythagoreanism can 
look away from this fact betimes, to distressingly naive effect. 
Aristoxenianism has rather more going for it than sociological 
reductionism and everyday relativism...

MW Morse
Trent University
Pbgh ON 
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