[Smt-talk] Leading Tone versus Tonality

Ninov, Dimitar N dn16 at txstate.edu
Wed May 16 16:43:30 PDT 2012

Dear Ildar and Nicholas,

I have always claimed that the dominant-tonic relationship has not been created by the leading tone; it has only been enhanced and sharpened by the leading tone to an ultimately convincing relationship between the two polar functions in the mode. The leading tone, of course, is one of the greatest emblems of the common practice period, and the boundaries of the key are not so strictly defined without it. But since we have abundant examples of modal harmony which sounds tonal (when you play three different minor triads that are arranged in consecutive fifths, the triad in the middle will emerge as a tonic, even though it has been approached without a leading tone), we have to admit that tonality can exist without a leading tone. Tonality yes, but the common practice period no; because of the stylistic preferences of the great masters.

Having said all of that, I would like to state my old belief that the harmonic functions in a key must be defined and labeled in relation to the tonal center; the local connections are of secondary importance. Ildar has once mentioned about the vicious circle of "pre"-chords such as: the tonic is a pre-subdominant; the subdominant is pre-dominant; and the dominant is pre-tonic. Let us not return to the big discussion fro three months ago, but I believe that in a tonality there is only one paradigm - the tonal center, period. The dominant does not need a special care; it may be approached by every chord in the key, even by III (III-V4-3 is a wonderful tool). This fact opens the possibility for us to call pre-dopminant all the chords that can precede the dominant! Even the tonic! To avoid this absurd, I prefer to use the old term subdominant and to think of it as related to the tonic.

Best regards,


Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
School of Music
Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, Texas 78666

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