[Smt-talk] Tests in Theory - Chords in Tonality versus Chords in a Scale

Donna Doyle donnadoyle at att.net
Thu Jan 23 06:28:35 PST 2014

Dear Dimitar,

What seems to me to underlie your discussion here is the age-old unanswered question: Which came first--harmony or melody?
As Bartok/Lendvai pointed out, the harmonic is found in the natural world (a single tone's overtones) while the melodic is 
a human impulse dating back to our beginning. 

What we know for sure is that Western tonality developed from the eight mode system of the early middle ages--a melodic system. 
Chromatic inflections arose to accommodate melodic tendencies. When basslines of CPP repertoire move stepwise, they tend to 
use the "melodic" form of the minor scale. This determines a set of chords which you seem to have excluded from your discussion 
and which clarifies the confusion you describe, as it includes not only the aeolian and harmonic sets, but also the Mm IV7 and dim vi, 
both found in the literature when the bass ascends (e. g,, Mozart, K 488, II, mm 5-8).

Rather than lists of chords, a more musical and comprehensive assignment would be to learn Francois Campion's progression, his Rule 
of the Octave (Dragone, Theoria, early '90s). With its ascending and descending forms in both modes, in a musical gestalt, it illustrates 
the chords you describe. Moreover, in one fell swoop, it contains most of the information given in the first third of many harmony texts,
incl the #4 inflection and the Phyrgian cadence (origin of the aug 6s [perhaps the origin of our "French"?]). 

Learning this Rule in several keys on one's instrument, with one's voice, and on paper, even before understanding it fully, gives the 
student not only a satisfying musical experience but also the comprehensive, indeed profound, sense of the working of the tonal system 
that you seem to be attempting to describe. 

Best regards,
Donna Doyle

Aaron Copland School of Music
Queens College
65-30 Kissena Blvd.
Flushing, NY  11367
tele: 718-997-3819
fax:  718-997-3849
email: donna.doyle at qc.cuny.edu
email: donnadoyle at att.net

On Jan 22, 2014, at 3:40 PM, Ninov, Dimitar N <dn16 at txstate.edu> wrote:

> Dear Colleagues,
> Some tests make the students list seven chords in a minor or major key. In my opinion this is wrong and it undermines the ability of the student to conceptualize the term "tonality" differently from the term "scale". While the core of tonality is the tone/chord content derived from the pure diatonic scales, a typical tonality is laid on a larger platform which includes both diatonic and chromatic elements.
> Therefore, "list the seven chords in minor" is a confusing invitation which comes from nowhere and leads nowhere. Yet some authors cannot help making strict tables of seven triads and seven seventh chords in major and minor, ever trimming some important characteristics of tonality. Fortunately, music practice does not match their limited tables, but unfortunately, students do not know that and they are being confused. A sure sign of that confusion is their surprise when they encounter or have to use V or VII from natural minor or, say, IV or II7 from harmonic major. As a result, they do not know how to use the first couple of chords, and, as far as the second couple is concerned - they wait until the third semester to be inaugurated in the special magic world of "modal mixture", which gives them a license to use more than seven chords in major...
> I think that the best way of getting started is to explain to the students that all the triads from the natural modes (Ionian and Aeolian) are legitimate diatonic structures, and none of them has to be excluded from the music of the CCP and from any tonality-table (which has to stay pretty loose and open, anyway). This basic level of tonality is coded into the key signature of any major or minor key. Next, it would be good to explain that a general collection of triads in minor includes (but is not limited to) the seven diatonic triads from natural minor (with no exception!) and the two dominants from harmonic minor. A typical dominant is one which contains the leading tone, but V and VII from the natural minor are used pretty regularly in the CPP, in the capacity of a connecting chord and a tonicizing chord, respectively.
> Similar is the case with major tonality. All the diatonic triads are used with no exception, plus the two harmonic subdominants containing an upper sensitive tone towards the tonic's fifth degree. Thus the Plagal cadence, especially in Romantic music and later, acquires greater tension and drive towards T.
> The above review leaves some 9 triads and 9 seventh chords in each mode that circulate with some regularity in tonal compositions. Of course, the melodic versions and additional crhomaticism yeld additional possibilities, but the starting step has been made. 
> The picture presented above unfolds as soon as you open Rimksy Korsakov's Practical Manual of Harmony. It is presented in an amazingly concise manner and it suggests that modal mixture is as old as tonality, and that it is nonsensical to say or write "because of the flexibility of degrees 6 and 7 in minor, more chords are possible in minor than in major". In fact, the number of possible triads and seven chords is exactly the same in major and minor, taking into account their three basic versions each. However, by completely ignoring this important vertical aspect of modality, some authors keep calling "diatonic" the harmonic and melodic minor and their inherent chords, probably forgetting that these artificial modes yield some genuine chromatic intervals and chords. How can you classify  an augmented triad as a diatonic chord? How about a minor-major seventh chord? Is the augmented second a diatonic interval? The diminished fourth? All of these elements, and more, are constit
> uents of the harmonic and melodic scales. Therefore, these are genuine chromatic scales with low degree of chromaticism. R. K. calls them "artificial modes".
> A most astonishing feature in some pedagogical-literary mish-mash is the lack of clear reference between harmonic and melodic minor and modal mixture. 
> Thank you,
> Dimitar
> Dr. Dimitar Ninov, Lecturer
> School of Music
> Texas State University
> 601 University Drive
> San Marcos, Texas 78666
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