• Bitonality: License to Play In Two Keys At Once (Playing Outside)

    in Chords & Progressions,Improvisation,Jazz music,Piano,Theory

    bitonality image

    Playing outside is a higher dimension of playing.

    I’m sure you’ve heard musicians play weird and outside the box ideas? Well, that’s not totally what outside playing is all about. Playing Outside is not only about thinking outside the box. It’s about removing the box altogether.

    Have you heard musicians (mostly jazz) play things that are way beyond convention, abstract and sometimes confusing? Sometimes, it makes you want to believe they are just playing notes randomly. However, what they’re doing is far from random and that’s the beauty of it. It’s abstract and intentional.

    Several years ago, I had a misconception of what playing outside actually was. I thought that playing outside was about touching chromatic tones with randomness and unpredictability. There were times when I’d try it and succeed. And everybody would call me “bad” (as in “good,” of course). But that’s really not what playing outside is.

    Playing outside involves several outside the box principles that will eventually take you to a point where you will think like there’s no box. One of the principles we’re going to cover in this lesson is bitonality – one of several outside the box concepts you’ll now have at your disposal.

    The Box – Tonality

    The best way to start this outside the box lesson is to make you realize that there’s a box and also show you where it is. This box is called tonality or key. Don’t get me wrong, tonality is good. It has a way of creating a key center by generating an attraction towards a particular note.

    For beginners, intermediate and pre-advanced players, exploring tonal ideas is captivating. However, for the advanced player who is probably tired of the conventional way of doing this, he or she is desirous of thinking outside the box or better yet, thinking like there’s no box.

    Someone once said: “Learn the rules, then break the rules.”

    Tonality locks you in a seven-sided box. In the concept of tonality, there are seven principal notes. Other notes are called chromatic (which means colorful) notes. Tonality creates an illusion that outside these seven notes is like traveling to space.

    Bitonality unlocks the box. Imagine the tonal freedom that will be yours to know that you can safely go outside the seven established conventional sides of the box. Outside the box here refers to a foreign or related tonality. With bitonality, you can travel to space and come back to the earth safely. Yes!

    Most people have been locked so long in tonality that they are afraid of trying bitonality. It’s my desire to unshackle you from tonality and show you how you can play outside.

    Bitonality – Definition

    Bitonality simply means [being in] two tonalities [at once]. Bi – 2 | tonality – key centers.

    Bitonality is the process of playing in two key centers at once. I know you’re probably wondering how it’s possible to be in more than one key at once. Well, you’ll see, step-by-step, how we can play in two key centers at once. Bitonality is pretty much like having two tonal centers around the box.

    Inside the box: Tonality has already created a box. Playing inside is the conventional way of sticking to the 7 notes of the key.

    Outside the box: This is a related or foreign tonality that is outside the box (prevalent key).

    There are different perspectives to bitonality. There are different principles as well in both traditional and popular music styles. However, our focus in this lesson is on bitonality from the perspective of the tritone progression and how we can use it to create an inside vs outside effect while playing.

    Tritone Progression – Definition

    An octave is naturally divisible into 12 equal parts. The octave of C:
    bitonality

    …has 12 different parts:
    bitonality

    Each part is what we call a “semitone progression.” The tritone is a melodic progression that divides an octave into two equal parts. If we divide an octave into 2 parts, each part will have 6 semitone progressions.

    A tritone progression from C is F# (or G♭). Therefore the melodic progression between the notes below are a tritone progression.

    Now that we’ve understood what a tritone progression means, let’s look at the bitonal perspectives of the tritone progression.

    Bitonal Perspectives Of The Tritone

    Our goal with the tritone progression is to build another tonality on it. Considering that F# and G♭ are a tritone progression from C, we can build tonality on F# or G♭ and play simultaneously in both keys. In this case, C is the inside and G♭ or F# is the outside.

    Inside

    Outside

    OR

    In this light, we can use two scale tones for every scale-degree – one from the inside and one from the outside. Here’s a bitonal view of scale degrees in the key C:

    Scale Degree

    Inside

    Outside

    1st

    C

    F♯ or G♭

    2nd

    D

    G♯ or A♭

    3rd

    E

    A♯ or B♭

    4th

    F

    B or C♭

    5th

    G

    C♯ or D♭

    6th

    A

    D♯ or E♭

    7th

    B

    E♯ or F

     

    Same thing can be applied to all the major keys.

    Below is a chart inside and outside keys:

    Inside

    Outside

    C

    F♯ or G♭

    C♯ or D♭

    G

    D

    G♯ or A♭

    D♯ or E♭

    A

    E

    A♯ or B♭

    F

    B or C♭

    F♯ or G♭

    C

    G

    C♯ or D♭

    G♯ or A♭

    D

    A

    D♯ or E♭

    A♯ or B♭

    E

    B

    E♯ or F

     

    From the chart above,

    • ALL F♯ or G♭ scale tones can be used on C as scale tones and vice-versa.
    • ALL G scale tones can be used on C♯ or D♭ as scale tones and vice-versa.
    • ALL G♯ or A♭ scale tones can be used on D as scale tones and vice-versa.
    • ALL A scale tones can be used on D♯ or E♭ as scale tones and vice-versa.
    • ALL A♯ or B♭ scale tones can be used on E as scale tones and vice-versa.
    • ALL B scale tones can be used on E♯ or F as scale tones and vice-versa.

    Bitonality is Theoretically Related

    The relationship between these two tonalities is an important one in Jazz and Classical music. Here’s how it works. Disregarding spelling, C Dom7th and G♭ Dom7th have something in common.

    C Dom7th

    F♯ Dom7th

    If the skeleton (3rd and 7th) of each dominant chord is played, we’ll have:

    C Dom 7th

    F♯ Dom 7th

    Disregarding spelling, the skeleton of C Dom7th and that of F♯ Dom7th are one and the same.

    C Dom 7th

    F♯ Dom 7th

    The skeleton of C Dom 7th above is also the skeleton of F♯ Dom 7th. It can be seen as the third and seventh of C Dom 7th or as the 7th and 3rd of F♯ Dom 7th.

    Let’s see how this equivalence works.

    A 2-5-1 progression in the key of F is basically a movement of chords from G to C to F.

    The common practice is G minor > C Dom 7th > F Major.

    However, C Dom 7th can be substituted with F♯ Dom 7th. This will yield a chromatic progression:

    G minor > F♯ Dom 7th > F Major

    If we switch perspectives, we can graduate from seeing this as a substitution to seeing it as bitonality.

    Bitonality in F will involve two keys – F and B (its tritone). If we look carefully at G minor > F♯ Dom 7th > F Major from the bitonality standpoint, we’ll see:

    G minor is chord #2 in F major… Inside.

    F♯ Dom 7th is chord #5 of B major… Outside.

    F Major is Chord #1 in F major… Inside.

    Bitonality® is powered by Tritone Substitutions®.

    Bitonality is Practically Abstract

    A closer look at the major scales of F♯ and C will show how foreign they are from each other.

    C major:

    F♯ major:

    Without regard to spelling, the major scales of C and F♯ share only two notes in common – B and F (and these notes are a tritone progression).


    The remaining 5 tones of each tonality are pentatonic scales. If F and B are removed from the major scales of C and F♯, we’ll have two pentatonic scales:

    • F♯ Pentatonic
    • C Pentatonic


    Have you ever imagined playing F♯ pentatonic over C Dom 7th? (Yeah! I’m beginning to take your mind outside the box aka – “tonality” of C):

    Those notes are foreign right? But that’s the idea of going outside. Without regard for spelling, we can see 80% of the notes of this outside pentatonic as altered extensions of the C Dom 7th:

    D♭ is the ♭9 extension:

    D♯ is the ♯9 extension:

    G♭ is the ♭5 extension:

    G♯ is the ♯5 extension:

    Do you need an altered sound? Do you need to beef up your dominant 7th chord? Then, embrace bitonality from the perspective of the tritone. These altered tones will give you that abstract tinge you’re looking for. Moving from outside to inside or vice-versa is only a half-step away.

    Bitonality is Musical Freedom

    For cyclical (or circular) progressions, bitonality offers you freedom and harmonic sophistication as a reward for your adventure. For every cyclical progression, the choice of being inside or venturing outside is at your discretion. However, endeavor to end on the inside.

    2-5-1 progression in F

    The harmonic destination is to chord #1 (which I recommend that you stay inside).

    Here are three variations for taking your 2-5-1 progression outside.


    Variation 1 – Inside, Outside, Inside

    • G min9 is chord #2 in F major… Inside.
    • F♯ Dom7 [♯9, ♯5] is chord #5 of B major… Outside.
    • F Maj9 is chord #1 in F… Inside (recommended).



    Variation 2 – Outside, Outside, Inside

    • C♯ Dom7 [♯9, ♯5] is chord #2 of B major… Outside.
    • F♯ Dom7 [♯9, ♯5] is chord #5 of B major… Outside.
    • F Maj9 is chord #1 in F major… Inside (recommended).



    Variation 3 – Outside, Inside, Inside

    • C♯ Dom7 [♯9, ♯5] is chord #2 of B major… Outside.
    • C Dom13 add9 is chord #5 in F major… Inside
    • .

    • F Maj9 is chord #1 in F major… Inside (recommended).



    So you can play a longer progression like the 7-3-6-2-5-1-4 progression.

    • 7 – outside or inside,
    • 3 – outside or inside,
    • 6 – outside or inside,
    • 2 – outside or inside,
    • 5 – outside or inside,
    • 1 – outside or inside,
    • then 4 – inside (compulsory).

    Whatever the case, let your harmonic destination end on the inside. There are exceptions to this guide once you master bitonality effectively.

    Final Words

    Bitonality offers you the tonal freedom of departing from the conventional 7-sided box you are locked in to have a feel of foreign and related tonalities.

    With bitonality, you can make a cyclic progression exciting by playing inside or outside and even combining the two at your discretion and to the utmost surprise of your listeners. However, don’t forget to make your destination an inside chord (unless you can handle the outcome, or the situation demands you end outside). There are memorable moments you can create with outside playing – especially when you end outside. You’ll get everyone to believe that you are a bad cat. If you don’t do it appropriately, you’ll sound like an amateur player who played the wrong chord. You can take the risk of ending outside or stick to the safest – inside.

    Thank you very much. We’re not done yet with playing outside. I’ll return with another concept on side-stepping shortly. I’ll be waiting outside the box til’ then.

    P.S.

    The basic chord quality used in this perspective to bitonality is the dominant chord. This doesn’t mean that other chord qualities cannot be used. However, as a basic introduction to bitonality, dominant chords will serve as effective guides. Being effective in other chord qualities is just a matter of time.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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    { 8 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 John M

    I love the depth and detail that you guys go into in these blog posts. Thanks for your continued dedication to musicians everywhere.

    Reply

    2 Emmanuel Ofori

    I appreciate the love and concern you (and the team) have for us ( the students) and i thank God i (we) found you (and the team). You’ve really being a help to us. God Bless!

    Reply

    3 Ogechukwu

    This is invaluable and very helpful. I started learning to play 3 years ago and have heard of tritones for about 2 years now but without a clue as to how to adequately apply them to my piano playing. The very minute I read this post and practised every bit of it on the keyboard, everything fell into place. Thanks Mr. Onyema.

    Reply

    4 Chuku Onyemachi

    God bless you. Keep up the good work. The future holds much more. Regards.

    Reply

    5 Jawanza Menelik

    Thanks for the in depth explanation of playing “outside”. I can remember hearing jazz musicians like John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock use this approach in their solos and it always blew me away.

    Now I can use some of their licks or create my own. Thanks again.

    Reply

    6 Emmanuel

    nice one man. thanks for ur kindness. God bless u sir.

    Reply

    7 Jo

    Hi nice post, please can I replace a secondary dominant with its tritone? In key C The secondary dominant of D is Adom7, can I replace that Adom7 with its tritone D# dom7? Thanks.

    Reply

    8 modénéla

    goodness this is a blast whoa geez it is like bring healed from blindness at once
    love you guys

    Reply

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