You are here

Keychanges - basic rules?

All about the tools and techniques involved in capturing sound, in the studio or on location.

Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby Spyder2 » Mon Oct 13, 2008 1:36 pm

I have notice in X-Factor, the songs are shortened with an extra chorus and they usually slam in a keychange for the final chorus. Any tips on what they are doing here? It is a typical semi-tone rise? Do you just wang in a V7 in the key you want to go to? So your in A, want to go to A# so the chord preceeding is F7?
Spyder2
Regular
Posts: 269
Joined: Wed Nov 22, 2006 12:00 am

Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby Andrew Cleaton » Mon Oct 13, 2008 1:54 pm

That pretty much sums it up! V7 will get you to any key you want. The corny X-Factor / Eurovision trick is to go up a semi-tone - as in your example, A - Bb. This works well as the final phrase of a melody will probably end on the root note of the scale (or "tonic") - in this case, A. The singer can hold this note while the chord changes underneath. This works because A is found in the chord of A and the chord of F7 - although it takes on a different function and feel. In the key of A, the note A is obviously the root - it feels like home, the final resting place. In the key of Bb (especially with a juicy F7 under it) it is the leading note, and feels unfinished forcing you up to the Bb to establish the new key.

You could push the boat out and go up a whole tone! In your example, this would take you from A to B via a chord of F#7. This can sound dramatic because the new leading note, F#, clearly doesn't belong in A.

Going up by either a semitone or a whole tone are the common ones. As you move to keys that are even further away from the starting point it can begin to feel a bit like changing from 4th into Reverse at speed - which might be the musical effect your after but you won't find that on the X-Factor.

All the best

Andrew
Andrew Cleaton
New here
Posts: 9
Joined: Tue Jul 30, 2002 11:00 pm

Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby IvanSC » Tue Oct 14, 2008 8:32 am

I have always regarded gratuituous key changes like that as the last refuge of a desperate composer who knows he has a boring turkey that goes on too long.

As an amusing exercise, try singing Land of Hope and Glory and modulating each time it gets to the seventh at the penultimate line ( the "Dah dah dah" takes you to the next key of course) You can keep going up and up forever, or till your vocal range runs out.
Did this once at a British Legion function and had a great time till they all dropped out purple in the face....
User avatar
IvanSC
Frequent Poster
Posts: 2927
Joined: Tue Mar 08, 2005 12:00 am

Me? But I`m such a loveable old bugger!


Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby Spyder2 » Tue Oct 14, 2008 11:52 am

Thanks for the explanation Andrew.

I might have to give it a try, cheesey or not Ivan :bouncy:
Spyder2
Regular
Posts: 269
Joined: Wed Nov 22, 2006 12:00 am

Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby jayzed » Tue Oct 14, 2008 11:56 am

I was actually going to say how I think key changes are usually the refuge of the idea-less. It's difficult to do them without the smell of cheddar...

But then I thought it might be a bit rude - luckily there are some without my inhibitions :-)

Good luck with it, and let us know if you manage to pull it off without gagging.
User avatar
jayzed
Frequent Poster
Posts: 511
Joined: Fri Mar 19, 2004 12:00 am

Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby IvanSC » Tue Oct 14, 2008 1:22 pm

JohnnyT wrote:I was actually going to say how I think key changes are usually the refuge of the idea-less. It's difficult to do them without the smell of cheddar...

But then I thought it might be a bit rude - luckily there are some without my inhibitions :-)

Good luck with it, and let us know if you manage to pull it off without gagging.


It`s a dirty job, but someone has to keep the fora honest! (evil grin)

P.S. Did you try Land of Hope and Glory yet?
User avatar
IvanSC
Frequent Poster
Posts: 2927
Joined: Tue Mar 08, 2005 12:00 am

Me? But I`m such a loveable old bugger!


Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby Spyder2 » Wed Oct 15, 2008 12:37 pm

No, I'm still trying to pull it off without gagging.
:tongue:
Spyder2
Regular
Posts: 269
Joined: Wed Nov 22, 2006 12:00 am

Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby Funky Pie » Sat Oct 18, 2008 9:20 pm

JohnnyT wrote:I was actually going to say how I think key changes are usually the refuge of the idea-less.

They can be, and the whole Britain's got the Pop Factor Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar strictly on Ice phenomenon is a polished turd of an example.

But for some solid gold examples of a keychange, try Todd Rundgren's "Sunset Blvd" or Stevie Wonder's "Golden Lady".
User avatar
Funky Pie
Poster
Posts: 13
Joined: Wed Sep 22, 2004 11:00 pm
As an impeccably dressed sage once said, "all art is quite useless".

Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby hollowsun » Sat Oct 18, 2008 11:00 pm

Funky Pie wrote:the whole Britain's got the Pop Factor Jesus Christ Soapstar Superstar strictly on Ice phenomenon is ...
An absolutely phenomenal spoof of the X-Factor key change obsession that was masterfully executed IMO, even midway through lines and not just at the obvious places.
User avatar
hollowsun
Frequent Poster
Posts: 2122
Joined: Thu Jan 20, 2005 12:00 am

Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby Wurlitzer » Sat Oct 18, 2008 11:05 pm

Andrew Cleaton wrote:That pretty much sums it up! V7 will get you to any key you want. The corny X-Factor / Eurovision trick is to go up a semi-tone - as in your example, A - Bb. This works well as the final phrase of a melody will probably end on the root note of the scale (or "tonic") - in this case, A. The singer can hold this note while the chord changes underneath. This works because A is found in the chord of A and the chord of F7 - although it takes on a different function and feel. In the key of A, the note A is obviously the root - it feels like home, the final resting place. In the key of Bb (especially with a juicy F7 under it) it is the leading note, and feels unfinished forcing you up to the Bb to establish the new key.

You could push the boat out and go up a whole tone! In your example, this would take you from A to B via a chord of F#7. This can sound dramatic because the new leading note, F#, clearly doesn't belong in A.

Going up by either a semitone or a whole tone are the common ones. As you move to keys that are even further away from the starting point it can begin to feel a bit like changing from 4th into Reverse at speed - which might be the musical effect your after but you won't find that on the X-Factor.

I think there's a slight confusion of styles and traditions here.

The "X-Factor Modulation" (I'd always wanted to find a good name for it - thanks :)) generally consists, as has been pointed out, in slipping everything up a semitone, usually for the last chorus of a rousing anthem or heart-rending power-ballad, just as the camera pans nonchalantly over the lead guitarist's prosthetic crotch, Elizabethan locks and come-to-bed-with-me-NOW! eyes and then cuts away to scenes of African mothers crying tears of joy as their hitherto starving children graduate from the Royal Bono University of Eternal Plenitude.

This particular little piece of pop grotesquery, however, doesn't belong to the classical tradition of careful dominant preparation and resolution. As such, I wouldn't say anyone usually bothers with the leading V7, and it will often just sound out of place if you try. Much more common (as far as my ears and memory can recall, anyway) is for one section to end in the home key, and the following one to simply start - SPLATTT!!!! - in the higher one. "Ha! Weren't expecting THAT now, were you?! Just when you thought the cheese couldn't smell any cheesier!"

Baroque and classical composers who did everything carefully via pivot chords and perfect cadences didn't, of course, generally modulate to such keys, they modulated to the closely related keys of relative, dominant etc. This mannerism belongs to the "cut-and-paste" mentality of modern pop music with clearly sectional, rather than developmental, thinking about form. Applying an inappropriate classical mentality to it would risk sacrificing its particular (if dubious) "charm".

Alternatively you could just buy a big lump of Stilton and rub it all over the microphones before recording.
Wurlitzer
Regular
Posts: 401
Joined: Wed Dec 11, 2002 12:00 am

Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby Ian Stewart » Sun Oct 19, 2008 9:26 am

Wurlitzer wrote:

Baroque and classical composers who did everything carefully via pivot chords and perfect cadences didn't, of course, generally modulate to such keys, they modulated to the closely related keys of relative, dominant etc. This mannerism belongs to the "cut-and-paste" mentality of modern pop music with clearly sectional, rather than developmental, thinking about form. Applying an inappropriate classical mentality to it would risk sacrificing its particular (if dubious) "charm".

Not quite. Since the Baroque and Classical periods we have had atonality, palais bands and pop radio stations. It has been suggested that because of the 20th century dance bands we have lost a sense of the formal aspects of harmony. This is because dance bands did not consider the key when they choose what to play next. So whereas once a change from C major to G major via A minor would have been significant, dance bands would decide the key on whether it suited the instruments or which key suited the singer. So instead of keys being used structurally a dance band would play a song in Eb followed by Am followed by D major etc.

The last chorus up a semitone works, even though I have ambivalent views on it. It is a convention in MOR music but I find it difficult when a piece of music ends a semitone higher. However I don't think it is a worse convention than the various other conventions all music have.
Ian Stewart
Frequent Poster
Posts: 659
Joined: Sun Oct 23, 2005 11:00 pm

Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby IvanSC » Sun Oct 19, 2008 10:48 am

never really gotten into early music and find this fascinating.
Did a bit of research on 19th century Methodist choral stuff and that was a real revelation but this stuff is fascinating.

Wonder WHY they decided to set out the "harmonic rules" the way they did?

To my uneducated sensibility, it would seem that so long as the relationship between the chords within a piece remains the same, the starting point or "key" is irrelevant.

At the risk of boring others, tell us more or at least a "read more" link would be nice.
User avatar
IvanSC
Frequent Poster
Posts: 2927
Joined: Tue Mar 08, 2005 12:00 am

Me? But I`m such a loveable old bugger!


Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby R. Spisketts » Sun Oct 19, 2008 3:31 pm

Been meaning to ask, so now we're on the subject... the truck driver's key shift UP is pretty common, but does anyone ever shift DOWN a semi/tone? For a particularly depressing song maybe. "Ok, let's really put it in the toilet for the last chorus..." perhaps combined with slowing the tempo a tad? A cursory google says that a Springsteen song "Racing in the Street" changes down from F to "a mournful Eb" in the break, but I'm not familiar with thats song...
User avatar
R. Spisketts
Regular
Posts: 89
Joined: Sat Jan 29, 2005 12:00 am

Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby IvanSC » Sun Oct 19, 2008 5:04 pm

not a keyshift but the old Cilla Black song " anyone who had a heart" uses the downshift pretty effectively to indicate a downward emotional note in the song.
User avatar
IvanSC
Frequent Poster
Posts: 2927
Joined: Tue Mar 08, 2005 12:00 am

Me? But I`m such a loveable old bugger!


Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby SunShineState » Sun Oct 19, 2008 6:34 pm

agree that key changes are usually cheesy, but a couple of fairly nice ones are Nik Kershaw's "Wouldn't it be good" in the solo (new key starts while something is still playing in the old - nice) and the Real Thing's "You to me are everything" (a whole tone and the change happens in a planned way in the middle of some turn around chords rather than the usual big bang semi-tone thing) :)
SunShineState
Regular
Posts: 118
Joined: Tue Aug 31, 2004 11:00 pm

Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby The Bunk » Sun Oct 19, 2008 6:36 pm

Squeeze's "Up The Junction" drops down from E to D after what I suppose is a sort of middle 8; I was going to venture earlier that although key changes might be regarded as cheesy, I think this one's absolutely brilliant. I used to do it as part of an acoustic due set and it's just great to play.
It then reverts back to E for the last two verses.
The Bunk
Frequent Poster
Posts: 622
Joined: Sat Dec 29, 2007 12:00 am
Location: Surrey

Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby Wurlitzer » Sun Oct 19, 2008 9:10 pm

IvanSC wrote:never really gotten into early music and find this fascinating.
Did a bit of research on 19th century Methodist choral stuff and that was a real revelation but this stuff is fascinating.

Wonder WHY they decided to set out the "harmonic rules" the way they did?

"Rules" is a somewhat misleading way of looking at them. I prefer the term "principles" or even "awareness of effects".

Music theory teachers who don't really know what they're talking about refer to everything in terms of rules - a simple "don't do this, do that." To the composers who actually wrote this stuff, it was more a question of "if you do this, it will have such-and-such an effect. If you do that, it will have a different effect".

Several things followed from that. One was that some effects are very mild and easy on the ear, while others are very striking and surprising to the ear. An over-abundance over strong colours and surprise leads to confusion and anarchy (which is ultimately self-defeating, because the ear ceases to appreciate the effects as such and just becomes tired). So people learnt to use the techniques that would achieve mild effects most of the time, bringing out the stronger ones with skill and taste at exactly the right moment, in exactly the right way, so they could be most effective.

This sense of balance then got over-simplified by non-composing theorists, who didn't understand the point behind the whole thing, into the idea that all the teachniques creating mild effects were "good", and all the other ones were "bad", or "against the rules".

But to answer your question, all of these harmonic "rules" (or principles) are ultimately based on the nature of sound itself, and the emanation of the harmonic series. For example the principle of the dominant being the usual main goal of modulation had to do with the primacy of relationship by fifths. This in turn had to do with the fact that the first (and thus strongest) overtone that emanates from any fundamental, after its octave, is the fifth above.

Of course culture and tradition has a bearing on this. The tonal system of the 18th century revolved around harmonic movement upwards by 5th, from tonic to dominant, resolving then back to the tonic, because it was a highly effective way of constructing long-term musical architecture. The modulation to the dominant, once achieved, created a temporary sense of rest, with a deeper underlying sense that there was still a home that had to be returned to. The journey back to that home then resulted in ultimate satisfaction at the end of the movement. This same basic story, in infinite different guises, gave use the thousands of symphony, string quartets and sonatas of the classical period.

In blues and gospel music, OTOH, and the many styles spawned and influenced by blues, the primary relationship is DOWNWARDS by 5th, from tonic to subdominant, which all has to do with the innate sense of sadness and melancholy in this progression, and the tendency of the blue 7th to effect some degree of modulation to the subdominant. The forward momentum of the music is then not created by harmony (because there's no upward climb to the dominant to be resolved), but rather by rhythm.

Then again in many non-western styles, where there is no tradition of harmonic movement as such, the main harmonic accompaniment consists of a drone on a tonic and dominant 5th that stays absolutely static.

All of these are ultimately different cultures' ways of exploring the same eternal scientific fact - that when we listen to a note, we hear the fifth above it as a kind of "subset" of that note.

To my uneducated sensibility, it would seem that so long as the relationship between the chords within a piece remains the same, the starting point or "key" is irrelevant.

That may be true to an extent (although there are other factors involved, like the way different keys resonate on various instruments. I'm sure you know for example how different strumming a set of simple guitar chords in E sounds, with loads of open strings, from transposing the same set of chords up or down a semitone). But what we're talking about here is not the choice of opening key, but rather modulation to a new key within the course of a piece.

At the risk of boring others, tell us more or at least a "read more" link would be nice.

It's a huge subject. I'm talking about stuff that has come out of decades of my own education, research, writing etc here. I've never really looked into web links about it and I couldn't give you a quick fix.

But if you're interested in the deep underlying principles behind harmony, and how they relate to the science of sound, Rameau's Treatise On Harmony of 1722 is a good place to start, coming at the time it did when it could sum up what the great baroque composers where doing, and influence in turn the classical ones.
Wurlitzer
Regular
Posts: 401
Joined: Wed Dec 11, 2002 12:00 am

Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby Ian Stewart » Sun Oct 19, 2008 10:09 pm

Wurlitzer wrote:
In blues and gospel music, OTOH, and the many styles spawned and influenced by blues, the primary relationship is DOWNWARDS by 5th, from tonic to subdominant, which all has to do with the innate sense of sadness and melancholy in this progression, and the tendency of the blue 7th to effect some degree of modulation to the subdominant.

In some ways the move to the subdominant is more natural. If you listen to a low note you can often hear the 6th harmonic which is a Bb if the low note is a C, although it would not be an equal tempered minor seventh. This would suggest a move to a chord on F. In fact one of Beethoven's piano sonatas in D major starts with a repeated low D and the tonic chord contains a minor 7th which then moves to a G chord.
However higher up the C harmonic series there is an F# which suggests a move to the dominant, this is why Messian would often add a Bb and F# to a standard major triad.

If you take the key of C major the main keys are the tonic obviously and then the dominant and subdominant - C - G -F. Also relative minor these keys - A minor E minor and D minor.
If you use the dominant seventh chord to modulate to the new key, which you would in traditional harmony, the following modulations from C major in their simplest form would be :

C - D7 - G

C - C7 - F

C - E7 - Am

C - B7 - Em

C - A7 - Dm

I would be interested in Wurlitzer's views on how a knowledge of baroque/classical conventions affects his appreciation of music now. For instance, that Commodores' song drives me mad where the chords are :

A7 - A7/G - D

That is so wrong to my ears, the minor 7th - G in the bass - is not resolved onto F# but jumps down to D.
Ian Stewart
Frequent Poster
Posts: 659
Joined: Sun Oct 23, 2005 11:00 pm

Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby hollowsun » Sun Oct 19, 2008 10:27 pm

Wurlitzer wrote:This sense of balance then got over-simplified by non-composing theorists, who didn't understand the point behind the whole thing, into the idea that all the teachniques creating mild effects were "good", and all the other ones were "bad", or "against the rules".
OT but I remember vividly when doing my music 'O' Level, the teacher saying quite emphatically that consecutive 5ths were "against the rules" and me putting my hand up saying...

"So Debussy would fail his 'O' Level then, Miss?"!

As you were ... this is interesting :)
User avatar
hollowsun
Frequent Poster
Posts: 2122
Joined: Thu Jan 20, 2005 12:00 am

Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby Wurlitzer » Sun Oct 19, 2008 11:01 pm

hollowsun wrote:
Wurlitzer wrote:This sense of balance then got over-simplified by non-composing theorists, who didn't understand the point behind the whole thing, into the idea that all the teachniques creating mild effects were "good", and all the other ones were "bad", or "against the rules".

OT but I remember vividly when doing my music 'O' Level, the teacher saying quite emphatically that consecutive 5ths were "against the rules" and me putting my hand up saying...

"So Debussy would fail his 'O' Level then, Miss?"!

As you were ... this is interesting :)


Actually there your teacher was right, presuming that what you were doing was some kind of chorale harmonisation in the style of Bach, or similar. The "rule" against consecutive 5ths was followed with remarkable consistency by all the composers writing in that style, and pretty much in the broader classical style that came out of it up to the end of the tonal period.

Where your teacher was at fault, was in that he didn't explain to you the very good and perfectly logical reasons behind the rule. Then you would have understood why it was applied in such a way, what that had to do with the deepest essence of what those composers were trying to achieve, and the very simple reasons why when Debussy came along, and was trying to achieve something very different, that rule was not relevant to him.

When we learn these reasons for things they can be useful to us, even writing in different styles. We build up a repertoire of technical cause-and-effect. "If I want to achieve A, I do X. If I want to achieve B, I do Y... etc..."

Sadly, the way music theory is commonly taught, very few people manage to take this away from it. The are taught erroniously that rules are absolutes (if only by ommission, since the teacher fails to explain the point behind the rule when it applies). Then when they hear music in which the rule isn't applied, they form the equally erronious notion that the rule is complete nonsense and they should forget all about it always.

It's all in the understanding why.
Wurlitzer
Regular
Posts: 401
Joined: Wed Dec 11, 2002 12:00 am

Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby Wurlitzer » Sun Oct 19, 2008 11:25 pm

Ian Stewart wrote:In some ways the move to the subdominant is more natural. If you listen to a low note you can often hear the 6th harmonic which is a Bb if the low note is a C, although it would not be an equal tempered minor seventh. This would suggest a move to a chord on F. In fact one of Beethoven's piano sonatas in D major starts with a repeated low D and the tonic chord contains a minor 7th which then moves to a G chord.


Yeah I've played that one, it's beautiful.

And I know what you mean. Debussy caught on to this idea of the "natural" minor seventh as a strong overtone, and it also underlies the mixolydian quality of a lot of folk music, and of course the flat 7th in blues and jazz.

I think to 18th century composers, it wasn't about being "natural" in a simple sense. It was about mankind striving, reaching upward to God and standing upright against the force of gravity. Then gravity (which also comes from God, after all) finally resolving that striving in a way that encompasses and thus validates it. It's a mentality that can only really be understood in terms of long-range musical architecture - primarily sonata form. Any effect of "naturalness", such as it exists, can only really come from an appreciation of the movement or piece as a whole.

In blues-based or blues-influenced music, and music of other cultures, harmony is a much more static or short-range (eg repetitive 12-bar cycles) thing. The naturalness is there as a constant, in the flat 7th among other things.

However higher up the C harmonic series there is an F# which suggests a move to the dominant, this is why Messian would often add a Bb and F# to a standard major triad.


Yes, although interestingly Messian, like Debussy whom he ultimately got all that stuff from, reinterpreted that #4 as a static element of the tonic's harmonic series, rather than as a component of the move towards the dominant.

One quite compelling interpretation of the history of harmony in western art music is that it's a gradual journey up the harmonic series, with each generation of composers and listeners becoming comfortable with a higher set of overtones as static elements not needing resolution. In the middle ages, only the octave and perfect 5th were considered true consonances, the 3rd was a dissonance of sorts only to be used in passing. In the great "tonal" baroque-classical-romantic period, the major 3rd and its inversion, the 6th became accepted as consonances, and the 7th was still considered a dissonance needing special treatment and resolution. Then in the late 19th century, leading into the modern period, people like Debussy and Ravel began to hear the minor 7th and even the major 9th as static, consonant parts of the harmonic series and compose with them accordingly, a process that was continued by people like Messian with the #4.

(And that kind of harmony is very similar in many ways to modern jazz harmony, of course.)

There is of course a lot more to it, once you consider the various different types of each interval, and their inversions (the different ways of looking at the perfect 4th for example), but in principle I think there's a lot to it.

I would be interested in Wurlitzer's views on how a knowledge of baroque/classical conventions affects his appreciation of music now.


Another huge topic. Will need to sleep on it.

Nighty night. :)
Wurlitzer
Regular
Posts: 401
Joined: Wed Dec 11, 2002 12:00 am

Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby hollowsun » Mon Oct 20, 2008 12:12 am

Wurlitzer wrote:Actually there your teacher was right, presuming that what you were doing was some kind of chorale harmonisation in the style of Bach, or similar.
I know! I was just being a cheeky bugger ;)

I understood perfectly well that for the period she was right but I just needed to be a smart-arse to get a class giggle! I was 15 FFS!!!!

Unfortunately, she didn't then go on to explain (as you did) how there could be exceptions in - say - the music of the impressionists (or, indeed, pop and rock music) and how that might be an interesting point to discuss. It was a dictate.

But she was showing us how to get an 'O' Level, not giving us a musical education as such!
User avatar
hollowsun
Frequent Poster
Posts: 2122
Joined: Thu Jan 20, 2005 12:00 am

Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby IvanSC » Mon Oct 20, 2008 7:22 am

OMG!
I`ve unleashed a monster!!!

Run for the hills!

Seriously, great stuff, whirley - keep it coming and I1ll try to keep up.

This should shut me up for an hour or two...
User avatar
IvanSC
Frequent Poster
Posts: 2927
Joined: Tue Mar 08, 2005 12:00 am

Me? But I`m such a loveable old bugger!


Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby Spyder2 » Mon Oct 20, 2008 4:20 pm

Appreciating it all here too. Stretching my O level music knowledge too.
Spyder2
Regular
Posts: 269
Joined: Wed Nov 22, 2006 12:00 am

Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby Ivories » Mon Oct 20, 2008 10:19 pm

Well done Wurlitzer - I read Ivan's comment, thought "where do I start", then gave up!

"Rules" (whether or not that's the right word for them) of composing evolved over long periods of time, and not always for coherent reasons. The various theoretical explanations of how harmony works all have some things going for them, but it's probably fair to say there has never been a complete, thoroughly convincing explanation of conventional, 18th-century harmony, that accounts fully for all its complexities. Wurlitzer mentions Rameau, and his idea that the dominant grows out of the tonic. This idea was well-received by other music theorists, and proved why the dominant was so important within a key. However, they struggled to find an explanation for the subdominant: you can easily see how this chord is almost equally important as the dominant in the music of the period, but Rameau and successive generations of music theorists couldn't find a similarly convincing way of deriving it from the tonic.

Incidentally, I'm not convinced by the idea that the primary movement in a blues is towards the subdominant: in early 12-bar blues (pre-50s) it seems to me very common for bars 9 and 10 both to rest on the dominant chord, so you almost get a nice perfect cadence at the end, and almost a sense that chord IV in the 5th and 6th bars is a dominant preparation. Sometimes you even find II-V-I in bars 9-11.

Returning to the subject of rules: some rules of harmony originate in the nature of sound, and overtones, as Wurlitzer said. However, a lot of the rules of western composition also originate in the nature of the human voice. Music theorists generally make a distinction between harmony (principles governing how you create and combine chords, scales and keys) and counterpoint (principles governing how you combine several melodic lines). Obviously in practice these overlap a lot. However, most of the traditional rules of counterpoint have their origins in the sense of what was comfortable to sing. The rules of counterpoint in what was known as the Strict Style (as originating in the 16th century, but as taught widely to students in all centuries including this one!) dictate, for example, that a melodic line should stay within the compass of an octave, plus one note higher or lower (a comfortable range for most singers); that if you use a melodic leap of more than a third, it should be followed by a step in the opposite direction; that leaps of a major sixth, seventh, or any augmented or diminished interval should be avoided (as they are difficult to pitch); that dissonant notes should arise as a result of stepwise or oblique motion, and should resolve by step. These rules were all felt to be natural to the voice. The bans on parallel octaves and fifths are also rules of counterpoint rather than harmony (although they impact on writing harmony as well): parallel octaves were prohibited because they weaken the sense of independence of each melodic line; parallel fifths were prohibited because the effect of a perfect fifth is to define a particular chord or sonority very strongly, and to sound it successively on two different chords asserts the identify of each so strongly that it destroys a sense of connection between the two.

There has always been a tension between music theories based on harmony (like Rameau's) and those based on counterpoint. You can explain the importance of the subdominant easily by saying you are using it to create a bass line that moves smoothly onto the dominant. However, that's a contrapuntal justification rather than a harmonic one. The difficulty we have in reconciling all the rules within one coherent system is one reason why styles of harmony have changed constantly, as different generations have chosen to favour different principles.

Obviously, most mature composers even in the 18th century didn't create their harmony from a set of rules in textbooks; they wrote what sounded good to them. However, one of the main points of using rules when teaching harmony or counterpoint is to train a student's ear to hear the effects of particular "good" or "bad" progressions. When I was doing music O level, I didn't notice the parallel 5ths in my harmony exercises until my teacher played them to me; however, this process was what taught me recognize them, and their effect. Mozart was not averse to a parallel fifth or two, but since it happens within the context of smooth, interdependent melodic part-writing, then you could say that he was a master of the principles behind the prohibition.
Ivories
Regular
Posts: 69
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2003 12:00 am

Next

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 6 guests