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Keychanges - basic rules?

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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?
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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

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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....
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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
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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.
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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?
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Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

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

No, I'm still trying to pull it off without gagging.
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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".
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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...
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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.
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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)
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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...
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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.
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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.
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Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby Wurlitzer » Mon Oct 20, 2008 11:28 pm

Hi Ivories.

Ivories wrote:"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.

It's certainly true that Rameau was not the be all and end all, and there were other theorists who saw things differently from him, but I think with respect I'd disagree with your point about the subdominant.

Firstly, you refer to the subdominant being "almost equally important" as the dominant. That may be true, depending on how you define "importance", but there's no doubt that the identities, usages and connotations of the two chords within the tonal system are radically different.

Opposite, in fact: and this is precisely why the subdominant is called the SUBdominant - because it has a relationship under the dominant that mirrors the relationship of the dominant above it. A lot of people mistakely think the subdominant is so-called because it's "under the dominant" within the scale. Not so: the name comes from the idea of it's being the "under-dominant" to the tonic. ie, just as the dominant lies a fifth above the tonic, the SUBdominant lies a fifth below it.

Rameau gave several very good explanations of this phenomenon, and it boils down to this: the tonic bears the same relationship to the subdominant, as the dominant bears to the tonic. It naturally falls by 5th to it, since our ears make the connection between the root of the tonic and the second overtone of the subdominant's harmonic series.

Now that all sounds nice and neat, but there are several problems and complications, and the need to deal with these can be seen precisely in the way composers actually handled the subdominant in practice.

For example, we don't WANT the tonic to resolve onto something else, because then we'd lose the sense of where the tonic IS! This is why almost every single 18th century sonata movement in a major key modulates to the dominant at the end of the exposition, and I don't know about you but I haven't seen a single one that goes to the subdominant. If it did, the architecture wouldn't work. The effect would be of "falling" into the middle of the piece and having to "climb" back out to the end, which is the exact opposite of what composers were trying to achieve, and would be ultimately unsatisfying.

OTOH the subdominant can have the most incredibly poignant sense of melancholy if used sensitively. For example Bach has a habit of tossing in a subtle move via it right at the VERY end of a movement - like in the second-last phrase or so. The point here is that the architecture of the movement is already completed. We have returned to the tonic and we can feel the end coming - he can then afford to play with us a little by taking the pull of gravity even FURTHER down, because the identity of the tonic is not at stake.

OTOH, ever noticed how the slow movements of classical major-key symphonies are usually in the subdominant key, not the dominant? Similar explnation: the overall key of the piece is not in doubt by this point, because we've already heard the whole I-V-I story of the first movement. Dropping to the subdominant perfectly suits the softer, more introspective quality normally required by the slow movement, and there's two more movements to come to reaffirm the tonic after it, so that's safe enough.

If you see the subdominant in these terms - as a kind of more tonic than the tonic, then the idiomatic usage of 18th century composers make complete sense.

Rameau also had a very canny explanation for the use of IV in a more microcosmic sense, in the typical progression I - IV - V - I, to do with it's similarity to II. We can see IV as just the upper three notes of II7. Thus I falls by natural gravity to IV, which is reinterpreted as II, which falls by natural gravity to V, which falls by natural gravity to I. Natural gravity all the way, baby! makes sense when you look at how interchangeable IV, IVb, II, IIb, II7 and II7b are in that progression in practice.

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.

That's an interesting and very valid way of hearing 12-BAR-BLUES, but I was referring more to the roots of the blues. Long before there was the codified 12-bar form, there were people jamming and making up lyrics, without much sense of precomposition or predetermined form, in blues and gospel styles. If you listen to field recordings of this music, a huge amount of it just oscillates between I and IV indefinately. Often it's not even exactly clear whether an actually chord change is happening, or whether it's just the result of linear processes: the lead singer might rise 3-4 for expressive reasons, and a backing singer will naturally follow 5-6 with him, and then the 4 and the 6, along with the held drone 1, makes a chord IV. Sometimes there'll be a bass, which sometimes changes root note but often doesn't. You get the feeling that there's this amazingly organic process going on whereby the typical early African-American vocal mannerisms and the over-arching harmonic axis of I-IV-I are gradually exploring and clarifying each other.

This tradition can still be heard in people like Ray Charles, Aretha etc. When soul and RnB songs settle into 2-chord oscillations that go on for considerable time, the chords are usually I7 and IV7, not anything to do with V.

The 12-bar form, with its important use of V, came later. And the II-V-I ending was most certainly something that was grafted onto it by educated jazz composers, not part of the roots. Bebop composers then took this process even further and put a VI before the II, then III before the VI, and so on and so forth...

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.

Moste definitely. Absolutely. I was going to go into the consecutives thing in reply to Hollowsun's post, but even I get tired of rabbitting on eventually.
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Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby Ivories » Tue Oct 21, 2008 12:18 am

Wurlitzer wrote:

It's certainly true that Rameau was not the be all and end all, and there were other theorists who saw things differently from him, but I think with respect I'd disagree with your point about the subdominant.

Firstly, you refer to the subdominant being "almost equally important" as the dominant. That may be true, depending on how you define "importance", but there's no doubt that the identities, usages and connotations of the two chords within the tonal system are radically different.

Opposite, in fact: and this is precisely why the subdominant is called the SUBdominant - because it has a relationship under the dominant that mirrors the relationship of the dominant above it. A lot of people mistakely think the subdominant is so-called because it's "under the dominant" within the scale. Not so: the name comes from the idea of it's being the "under-dominant" to the tonic. ie, just as the dominant lies a fifth above the tonic, the SUBdominant lies a fifth below it.

Rameau gave several very good explanations of this phenomenon, and it boils down to this: the tonic bears the same relationship to the subdominant, as the dominant bears to the tonic. It naturally falls by 5th to it, since our ears make the connection between the root of the tonic and the second overtone of the subdominant's harmonic series.

Now that all sounds nice and neat, but there are several problems and complications, and the need to deal with these can be seen precisely in the way composers actually handled the subdominant in practice.

For example, we don't WANT the tonic to resolve onto something else, because then we'd lose the sense of where the tonic IS! This is why almost every single 18th century sonata movement in a major key modulates to the dominant at the end of the exposition, and I don't know about you but I haven't seen a single one that goes to the subdominant. If it did, the architecture wouldn't work. The effect would be of "falling" into the middle of the piece and having to "climb" back out to the end, which is the exact opposite of what composers were trying to achieve, and would be ultimately unsatisfying.

OTOH the subdominant can have the most incredibly poignant sense of melancholy if used sensitively. For example Bach has a habit of tossing in a subtle move via it right at the VERY end of a movement - like in the second-last phrase or so. The point here is that the architecture of the movement is already completed. We have returned to the tonic and we can feel the end coming - he can then afford to play with us a little by taking the pull of gravity even FURTHER down, because the identity of the tonic is not at stake.

OTOH, ever noticed how the slow movements of classical major-key symphonies are usually in the subdominant key, not the dominant? Similar explnation: the overall key of the piece is not in doubt by this point, because we've already heard the whole I-V-I story of the first movement. Dropping to the subdominant perfectly suits the softer, more introspective quality normally required by the slow movement, and there's two more movements to come to reaffirm the tonic after it, so that's safe enough.

If you see the subdominant in these terms - as a kind of more tonic than the tonic, then the idiomatic usage of 18th century composers make complete sense.

Rameau also had a very canny explanation for the use of IV in a more microcosmic sense, in the typical progression I - IV - V - I, to do with it's similarity to II. We can see IV as just the upper three notes of II7. Thus I falls by natural gravity to IV, which is reinterpreted as II, which falls by natural gravity to V, which falls by natural gravity to I. Natural gravity all the way, baby! makes sense when you look at how interchangeable IV, IVb, II, IIb, II7 and II7b are in that progression in practice.

I quite agree that in practice, the subdominant is quite unproblematic. Surely it's the fact that it's both the goal of a falling 5th from the tonic ("more tonic than the tonic", as you describe it), AND very similar to chord II, which tends to move onto the dominant, that makes it an agent of stability within a key.

My point about the theoretical problem of the subdominant is that Rameau and other theorists weren't able to derive its origins from the tonic as neatly as they were the dominant. The overtone series had been discovered not very long before (I can't remember the date, but late 17th century); it provided a more modern explanation of all the harmonic ratios that had previously been explained by lengths of vibrating strings, and made it possible to demonstrate how the dominant has its origins in tonic. The fact that the subdominant doesn't feature anywhere in the harmonic series (I think it's about the 21st harmonic, but even that's not in tune) was a concern to harmonic theorists right until the end of the 19th century, and led some of them (notably Riemann, but as far as I remember Rameau also toyed with this idea) to suppose that there must be an (as yet undiscovered) Undertone series, that was the mirror of the overtone series, which could prove the origins of the subdominant in the same way.

Of course these are purely theoretical problems, which have arguably no bearing at all on composition - but we know that theory and practice aren't always the same.






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.

That's an interesting and very valid way of hearing 12-BAR-BLUES, but I was referring more to the roots of the blues. Long before there was the codified 12-bar form, there were people jamming and making up lyrics, without much sense of precomposition or predetermined form, in blues and gospel styles. If you listen to field recordings of this music, a huge amount of it just oscillates between I and IV indefinately.

Agreed.

even I get tired of rabbitting on eventually.

Oh no you don't, not really...
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Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby Rousseau » Tue Oct 21, 2008 12:21 am

Wurlitzer wrote:

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.

Please ignore the Treatise in relation to the so-called science of sound! The Treatise was hopelessly outdated (not in terms of compositional praxis) when it was published. Indeed Rameau had to hastily rewrite it after Pere Castel reviewed it. Castel pointed out that Joseph Sauveur had already demonstrated that the harmonic series is naturally emitted when a sounding body (corps sonore) vibrates, in a paper given to the Academy of Sciences in 1701.

Rameau was barking up completely the wrong tree in the Treatise because he was still advocating monochordal aliquots to determine scales, generate the major triad and justify his compositional system, when of course the harmonic series produces the so-called major triad as it unfolds (1st 5 partials reduced to within the ambit of an octave). His Noveau Système (the Treatise rewrite) of 1726 incorporates Sauveur's findings, and it's not until 1737 in Génération Harmonique that Rameau fully expounds his theory of harmonic generation (much of it is highly questionable in terms of its science anyway).

Sorry, I'll get me coat now
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Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby Rousseau » Tue Oct 21, 2008 12:31 am

Ivories wrote:
Wurlitzer wrote:

It's certainly true that Rameau was not the be all and end all, and there were other theorists who saw things differently from him, but I think with respect I'd disagree with your point about the subdominant.

Firstly, you refer to the subdominant being "almost equally important" as the dominant. That may be true, depending on how you define "importance", but there's no doubt that the identities, usages and connotations of the two chords within the tonal system are radically different.

Opposite, in fact: and this is precisely why the subdominant is called the SUBdominant - because it has a relationship under the dominant that mirrors the relationship of the dominant above it. A lot of people mistakely think the subdominant is so-called because it's "under the dominant" within the scale. Not so: the name comes from the idea of it's being the "under-dominant" to the tonic. ie, just as the dominant lies a fifth above the tonic, the SUBdominant lies a fifth below it.

Rameau gave several very good explanations of this phenomenon, and it boils down to this: the tonic bears the same relationship to the subdominant, as the dominant bears to the tonic. It naturally falls by 5th to it, since our ears make the connection between the root of the tonic and the second overtone of the subdominant's harmonic series.

Now that all sounds nice and neat, but there are several problems and complications, and the need to deal with these can be seen precisely in the way composers actually handled the subdominant in practice.

For example, we don't WANT the tonic to resolve onto something else, because then we'd lose the sense of where the tonic IS! This is why almost every single 18th century sonata movement in a major key modulates to the dominant at the end of the exposition, and I don't know about you but I haven't seen a single one that goes to the subdominant. If it did, the architecture wouldn't work. The effect would be of "falling" into the middle of the piece and having to "climb" back out to the end, which is the exact opposite of what composers were trying to achieve, and would be ultimately unsatisfying.

OTOH the subdominant can have the most incredibly poignant sense of melancholy if used sensitively. For example Bach has a habit of tossing in a subtle move via it right at the VERY end of a movement - like in the second-last phrase or so. The point here is that the architecture of the movement is already completed. We have returned to the tonic and we can feel the end coming - he can then afford to play with us a little by taking the pull of gravity even FURTHER down, because the identity of the tonic is not at stake.

OTOH, ever noticed how the slow movements of classical major-key symphonies are usually in the subdominant key, not the dominant? Similar explnation: the overall key of the piece is not in doubt by this point, because we've already heard the whole I-V-I story of the first movement. Dropping to the subdominant perfectly suits the softer, more introspective quality normally required by the slow movement, and there's two more movements to come to reaffirm the tonic after it, so that's safe enough.

If you see the subdominant in these terms - as a kind of more tonic than the tonic, then the idiomatic usage of 18th century composers make complete sense.

Rameau also had a very canny explanation for the use of IV in a more microcosmic sense, in the typical progression I - IV - V - I, to do with it's similarity to II. We can see IV as just the upper three notes of II7. Thus I falls by natural gravity to IV, which is reinterpreted as II, which falls by natural gravity to V, which falls by natural gravity to I. Natural gravity all the way, baby! makes sense when you look at how interchangeable IV, IVb, II, IIb, II7 and II7b are in that progression in practice.

I quite agree that in practice, the subdominant is quite unproblematic. Surely it's the fact that it's both the goal of a falling 5th from the tonic ("more tonic than the tonic", as you describe it), AND very similar to chord II, which tends to move onto the dominant, that makes it an agent of stability within a key.

My point about the theoretical problem of the subdominant is that Rameau and other theorists weren't able to derive its origins from the tonic as neatly as they were the dominant. The overtone series had been discovered not very long before (I can't remember the date, but late 17th century); it provided a more modern explanation of all the harmonic ratios that had previously been explained by lengths of vibrating strings, and made it possible to demonstrate how the dominant has its origins in tonic. The fact that the subdominant doesn't feature anywhere in the harmonic series (I think it's about the 21st harmonic, but even that's not in tune) was a concern to harmonic theorists right until the end of the 19th century, and led some of them (notably Riemann, but as far as I remember Rameau also toyed with this idea) to suppose that there must be an (as yet undiscovered) Undertone series, that was the mirror of the overtone series, which could prove the origins of the subdominant in the same way.

Of course these are purely theoretical problems, which have arguably no bearing at all on composition - but we know that theory and practice aren't always the same.






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.

That's an interesting and very valid way of hearing 12-BAR-BLUES, but I was referring more to the roots of the blues. Long before there was the codified 12-bar form, there were people jamming and making up lyrics, without much sense of precomposition or predetermined form, in blues and gospel styles. If you listen to field recordings of this music, a huge amount of it just oscillates between I and IV indefinately.

Agreed.

even I get tired of rabbitting on eventually.

Oh no you don't, not really...


Posts crossed over...

Yup, the sub dominant was a huge problem for Rameau, the minor mode was an enormous problem and Tartini's difference tone threatened to undermine Rameau's entire system (so he chose to ignore it for as long as possible).
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Re: Keychanges - basic rules?

Postby thenaturallevel » Tue Oct 21, 2008 7:20 am

This kind of movement can work if it's made a feature of the song. A good example of this is the Diana Ross song Chain Reaction
(written by the Bee Gees) which basically goes up and then comes back down again. I can't remember the exact progression off the top of my head (possibly simply C-D-E-F-E-D-C), however, given the lyrical content it makes sense.
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