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Thread: How does the tonic effect the sound of notes in a melody?

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    Default How does the tonic effect the sound of notes in a melody?

    - I have a very vague idea of how tonality/tonics work in general, but want to learn more. It seems like the listener (subconsciously) compares the sound of notes in a melody to the tonic.

    - For example, if a melody with C as the tonic has an Eb in it, that Eb always has a ‘minor’ sound to it no matter what melodic interval we used to get there. If I previously only use notes from the C major scale, the Eb sounds dark and sinister no matter what melodic interval I used to get there.

    - My theory is that it’s because I (the listener) hears the sound of the Eb compared to the tonic (C) which would make a minor third, rather than comparing it to whatever note came before it. I also noticed the sound is more prevalent on a strong beat. Is this an accurate way to think about tonality?

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    Quote Originally Posted by youngcapone View Post
    - I have a very vague idea of how tonality/tonics work in general, but want to learn more. It seems like the listener (subconsciously) compares the sound of notes in a melody to the tonic.

    - For example, if a melody with C as the tonic has an Eb in it, that Eb always has a ‘minor’ sound to it no matter what melodic interval we used to get there. If I previously only use notes from the C major scale, the Eb sounds dark and sinister no matter what melodic interval I used to get there.

    - My theory is that it’s because I (the listener) hears the sound of the Eb compared to the tonic (C) which would make a minor third, rather than comparing it to whatever note came before it. I also noticed the sound is more prevalent on a strong beat. Is this an accurate way to think about tonality?
    I've noticed in your questions that you always seem to be thinking linearly, in terms of melody:

    "It seems like the listener (subconsciously) compares the sound of notes in a melody to the tonic."

    "...if a melody with C as the tonic has an Eb in it, that Eb always has a ‘minor’ sound to it no matter what melodic interval we used to get there."

    "...the Eb sounds dark and sinister no matter what melodic interval I used to get there."
    "My theory is that it’s because I (the listener) hears the sound of the Eb compared to the tonic (C) which would make a minor third, rather than comparing it to whatever note came before it."

    "I also noticed the sound is more prevalent
    on a strong beat."

    This is different from the way I think. I think vertically. For me, the vertical came first, and the linear/melodic is just a version of that which has been spread out in time.

    I think you should listen to some Ravi Shankar, and some Indian music, so you can learn about "the drone." You need to listen vertically and harmonically, instead of in terms of melody and travel through time.

    I also think it would help if you listened to music with chords in it, such as jazz, or even older standards and Broadway/tin pan alley songs.

    The drone is "now," and it can answer all your harmonic questions. You touched on it when you said "My theory is that it’s because I (the listener) hears the sound of the Eb compared to the tonic (C) which would make a minor third, rather than comparing it to whatever note came before it." This is called "harmonic thinking:" you have a "drone" or reference note (tonic C) to compare the scale notes.

    In fact, this is how I learned to name my intervals in ear-training. I kept a mental "drone note" in my head to compare other notes.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Jul-06-2020 at 13:46.

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    There are various cognitive mechanisms that determine the tonic in the human brain, but there are always several ways in which a passage can be re-interpreted and re-harmonized in various tonal or modal keys/scales.
    Rhythmical accents and the actual melodic intervals (so a harmonic series with a root - that can modulate during the melodic unfolding- is determined) are probably the most important factors.
    Small, chromatic intervals are very useful for modulation up or down when you have ambiguous melodic motion. They are basically alterations of the pitch that you "resolve to" unless your melody is very high pitched (outside of normal melodic regions, employed in most traditional music - there even "arabic" 1/4 harmonies can sound in a certain way "good").

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    How does the tonic effect the sound of notes in a melody?


    If it's counterpoint, which is what you seem to be describing, there is no "tonic," is there? The tonic of what? A key or a scale?

    Is this an accurate way to think about tonality?
    I'm not sure...did they have "tonality" during the Baroque/counterpoint era?

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    Quote Originally Posted by youngcapone View Post
    - I have a very vague idea of how tonality/tonics work in general, but want to learn more. It seems like the listener (subconsciously) compares the sound of notes in a melody to the tonic.

    - For example, if a melody with C as the tonic has an Eb in it, that Eb always has a ‘minor’ sound to it no matter what melodic interval we used to get there. If I previously only use notes from the C major scale, the Eb sounds dark and sinister no matter what melodic interval I used to get there.

    - My theory is that it’s because I (the listener) hears the sound of the Eb compared to the tonic (C) which would make a minor third, rather than comparing it to whatever note came before it. I also noticed the sound is more prevalent on a strong beat. Is this an accurate way to think about tonality?
    This is untrue. The minor mode isn't that simple. The Eb can temporarily sound like the root of a major chord (III), especially if preceded by a major chord built on Bb (the b7 degree). In general, passages in the minor mode often contain parenthetical elements borrowed from the relative major. So Eb can have different expressive significance in different passages, even when it's preceded and followed by the same notes.

    Your general theory of listeners subconsciously comparing each note to the tonic cannot be how it works. That notion is too simplistic. As Millions has noted, the vertical dimension can be critical. How a single note, like Eb, is heard depends on its harmonic significance and other aspects of its context, as well as its role in melody.

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    [/COLOR][/B]I'm not sure...did they have "tonality" during the Baroque/counterpoint era?
    The consensus among musicologists and theorists is that tonality was fully established in the music of Italian composers of the middle Baroque (circa 1660?). There is a good deal of early and middle Baroque counterpoint that retains some or most of its modal character. By the time we get to Bach and Handel, however, it's tonal counterpoint (and often described that way in courses on 18thc counterpoint, to distinguish it from modal, 16thc counterpoint.)
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Jul-10-2020 at 02:00.

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