[Smt-talk] The Ubiquitous Triad

Victor grauer victorag at verizon.net
Mon Jul 21 04:26:22 PDT 2014

For one thing, the "chord of nature," i.e., the overtone series, is far less natural than most theoreticians of a certain era claimed. If that were the case, we'd see the evidence in all sorts of animal cries, whale songs, bird calls, etc. We do not. Humans are the only creatures using pitches related to the overtone series. Also, as has already been mentioned, the overtone series can't really be heard, at least to most ears, even musical ones. It's the product of analysis, becoming evident only as the result of conscious experiments. I suspect the relation between overtones and the scales used by so many human groups has to do with the overblowing of pipes, which could have been used very early on to lure birds. Once that practice got started (in Paleolithic Africa), it established itself as a tradition and just continued -- that's my theory at least. But this has more to do with scales than chords. There is very little if any evidence of triads per se
 in ANY non-Western tradition. When they appear it is usually an incidental result of polyphonic interplay grounded for the most part in 4ths, 5ths and even 2nds.

When we are talking about the triad per se, we are talking about a particular tonal formation that has a very specific and very interesting history. As Lowinsky and others have informed us, the triad as a self-consciously utilized element of musical organization appeared very suddenly in the Italian (also Spanish) courts, most likely from sources in popular music that have never been documented. The source of this radically new approach to tonal organization is a true mystery. Though it may seem to us as perfectly natural, that is due essentially to its status as a by now well worn tradition -- a musical "ideology" taken for granted but by no means "natural."

Victor Grauer
Pittsburgh, PA, USA


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