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Thread: Usefullness of terms like tonic and dominant?

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    Default Usefullness of terms like tonic and dominant?

    Hi!
    I understand the practical use of roman numerals in harmonic analysis. What I do not understand is the practical use of the system using terms like tonic a dominant. Roman numerals helps you see how a song is harmonically constructed and makes transposing easier. I cannot see how the other system can help with that. Why then do we study this system and what are the correct terms for these two systems?

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    musicians have to have language to communicate musical ideas. they really are not two systems, but rather two sets of terms for the same system, which is the system of functional harmony.

    I believe the terms "dominant" and "tonic" predate Roman numeral analysis. Functional harmony didn't begin until JJ Ramaeu published his Treatise in 1722, the same year Bach published the WTC

    which is why there are two sets of terms.

    myself, I prefer you say tonic and dominant because there's less chance of my not hearing you properly, but the two sets of terms are freely interchangeable

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    There's something else in the terms "tonic" and "dominant".

    They can also refer to keys. In a modulation, you're talking about going to the "key of the dominant" in a section and things like that.

    so "tonic" and "dominant" can take on a wider meaning than just describing an individual chord.

    but the simple answer is what my old teacher used to say to me... "because music is hard and tricky"

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    Roman numerals designate specific triads whereas tonic, subdominant and dominant designate functions. The IV chord in C major is F-A-C, whereas other triads and seventh chords, like D-F-A and D-F-A-C, for example, can perform a subdominant function. And as Nate suggests, when one says the exposition of a movement in sonata form modulates to the dominant, one means a key embodying a state of tension with respect to the tonic key analogous to that the dominant triad holds with respect to the tonic triad.
    … The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity. William Butler Yeats

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    I agree that the terms dominant and tonic have functional conotations that are lacking in the Roman numeral description. The linear musical scale can be re-written as a circle of fifths as in vii, iii, vi, ii, V, I, IV, and this is a canonical form of root motion in many pieces of music. Of those seven scale degrees or root chord tones, the V does dominate the harmony in many ways. If you look at many pieces by Mozart, Back Beethoven and many others, the chord that gets the most time and the most emphasis is the Dominant, whether in the home key or in a key that has been modulated to. The dominant chord is usually accented in relation to its resolution to the Tonic harmony as well. In fact, when it is not emphasized properly it can sound unmusical.
    Just one other comment about the dominant chord is just how many altered notes it can handle. The augmented dominant seventh chord with added flat ninth and thirteenth comes to mind. Now that's a dominant chord.

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    +1

    When you get more advanced in music theory, you'll be thankful to have learned terms like "tonic, supertonic, submediant, etc ".
    For example, you could tell somebody, "trumpets and timpani in the key of a minor, 1st and 3rd beats of the 1st measure, tonic and dominant", and I could be easily written out with no hassle. An inefficient way of doing this is " trumpets and timpani, 1st and 3rd beats, the first cord is from bottom to top: A, C, and E, the second chord is E, G, B. " See what I mean?

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    Terms like "tonic" and "dominant" are used for much more than simply "spelling out" the notes of chords. Rather, they are used to indicate the function or the "parts of speech" of a particular musical aspect (chord, key, etc). To illustrate, the word "tonic" carries along with it a bunch of functional connotations, such as stability, relative centrality, resolution, the end of a perfect cadence, etc.

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