[Smt-talk] The "Governing tone"

David K Feurzeig mozojo at gmail.com
Fri May 4 12:17:32 PDT 2012

I think there's a distinction between logically consistent naming  
conventions and "mnemonic etymologies" we make up to explain received  
terminology of ancient vintage.

I'm not a historian of theory, but I assume that "dominant" to refer  
to the fifth scale degree derives from earlier modal theory, where for  
many modes, the dominant was the fifth tone. No doubt some SMT-listers  
can enlighten us as to what "dominant" connoted to those who came up  
with the term.

It's pedagogically *convenient* to explain the dominant's name as  
relating to its function (at least as a chord--I agree this is less  
obvious as a melody tone). But I don't pretend to my students that  
this is *why* it was named the "dominant" way back when.


On May 4, 2012, at 1:35 PM, Arthurs, Daniel wrote:

> To Michael, David (Feurzig), and the list,
> To clarify my remark: it’s strange to me because Venth (et al.  
> according to David) is describing a scale step, not a sonority (so  
> far as I can tell, and which your descriptions focus on).  It’s  
> entirely possible I am reading it too literally when he states,  
> “Each tone of the scale, whether major or minor, has its distinctive  
> name.”  It’s going to be much harder to teach a class that the  
> dominant scale step somehow governs over the key (and do we really  
> use such tyrannical metaphors in describing stuff like this? Michael  
> says it “dominates” the tonic, and so does the Clendinning & Marvin  
> text).  Otherwise I agree with both of your descriptions of  
> functional harmony.
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