• Active Tones Vs Stable Tones Of The Major Scale

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano,Theory

    active tones vs stable tones

    According to music scholars, the tones of the major scale can either be active or stable.

    Today, we’ll be doing an in-depth study on active and stable tones. But before we get into all that, let’s look at the major scale.

    The Major Scale

    A scale is a succession of notes in ascending or descending order.

    The major scale consists of a set of seven notes played in a regular succession starting from any given note known as the tonic. The tonic is the technical name associated with the first tone of the major [or minor] scale.

    Playing white notes on the keyboard from C to B:

    …produces the C major major scale.

    It is a traditional practice for the tonic of the scale to be duplicated and this puts the scale in an octave position (eight notes.) In the case of the C major scale, we’ll have the scale start on the tonic:

    …and ends on its octave:

    Nevertheless, the major scale still remains a scale of seven notes (aka – “heptatonic scale”.)

    Here are the names that the various degrees of the scale are associated with…

    1st tone – tonic

    2nd tone – supertonic

    3rd tone – mediant

    4th tone – subdominant

    5th tone – dominant

    6th tone – submediant

    7th tone – leading note

    8th tone – octave

    All the tones of the major scale are important, but the first tone of the major scale (aka – “tonic”) is of the greatest possible importance.

    Find out why this is so in the subsequent segment.

    Tonality

    What is commonly called tonality or key in music is the relationship of several notes to a central tone which is the tonic.

    Tonality is the musical process of making a particular note [which is the tonic of a given scale] the tonal center or key center and creating a relationship between this central tone and other six tones. There are two tonalities – the major and the minor tonalities.

    In the C major scale:

    …where C:

    …is the tonic, tonality creates an environment where C (the tonic) can be a tonal center, key center or key. Consequently, other tones of the scale can have their respective scale degree relationship with this key (aka – “tonal center).

    In a nutshell, the key is simply a tonal environment (or simply the environment that tones create) and one of the easiest ways to see all the notes in a key is through its major scale. Here’s what I mean…

    Using the C major scale:

    …you can see a tonal environment, consisting of seven tones – C, D, E, F, G, A, and B:

    …and governed by C:

    …the tonic (aka – “the key center.) This tonal environment is called the key of C major.

    If you’re familiar with the Eb major scale:

    …then you can see another tonal environment, consisting of seven tones – Eb, F, G, Ab, and Bb, C, and D:

    …and governed by Eb:

    …the tonic (aka – “the key center.) This tonal environment is called the key of Eb major.

    “The same thing is obtainable in minor tonal environments too…”

    The G minor scale:

    …gives you an idea of a set of seven notes – G, A, Bb, C, D, Eb, and F that belong to a minor tonal environment where G is the central tone.

    This tonal environment is called the key of G minor.

    There are twelve major keys and twelve minor keys – twenty and four keys in all and each tonal environment has its scale. However, we’ll limit our use of tonality in this lesson to the major key.

    Enhancing Tonality

    The feeling of the tonality is incomplete without what we call the leading note-tonic relationship.

    The tonic is perceived as the tonal center when there is a pull towards it. This pull towards the tonic is enhanced by the leading note – the seventh degree of the major scale. The seventh tone of the major scale is called the leading note because of its strong tendency to resolve to the tonic.

    The leading note-tonic relationship is melodic and harmonic in conception. Check it out…

    Melodic Resolution

    In the key of C:

    …B:

    …is the leading note that resolves to C:

    …the tonic.

    Harmonic Resolution

    The B half-diminished seventh chord:

    …is the leading note seventh chord that resolves to the C major triad:

    …the tonic triad.

    The leading note to tonic resolution enhances the feeling of tonality by creating a pull to the tonic.

    “Please pay attention to the following melodic details that probably escaped your notice in the harmonic resolution of the leading note [seventh] chord”

    B, D, F, and A:

    …are the tones of the leading note chord while C, E, and G:

    …are the tones of the tonic chord.

    Here’s the melodic resolution for each of the tones of the leading note chord…

     

    B:

    …resolves to C.

    D:

    …resolves to C:

    F:

    …resolves to E:

    A:

    …resolves to G:

    Here’s a narrower perspective to it…

    The 7th tone resolves upwards to the 1st tone

    The 2nd tone resolves downwards to the 1st tone

    The 4th tone resolves downwards to the 3rd tone

    The 6th tone resolves downwards to the 5th tone

    In a nutshell, it is only the leading note that resolves upwards. Other tones of the leading note chord resolve upwards.

    Stable Tones vs Active Tones

    The notes of the scale can be categorized into stable and active tones.

    Stable tones are the notes of the tonic triad (aka – “chord 1”.) They are said to be stable because when they are played in a key environment, they have a feeling of repose in the key they are played in.

    In the key of C major:

    …the stable tones are C, E, and G:

    …which are the first, third, and fifth tones in the C major scale.

    Active tones are the notes of the leading note seventh chord (aka – “chord 7”.) These tones are also known as tendency tones because they have the tendency to resolve to stable tones when they are played in a key environment.

    In the key of C major:

    …the active tones are B, D, F, and A:

    …and these are the seventh, second, fourth, and sixth tones in the key of C.

    Let’s go through the C major scale step by step…

    The first tone – C:

    …a stable tone, followed by D:

    …an active tone, followed by E:

    …a stable tone, followed by F:

    …an active tone, followed by G:

    …a stable tone, followed by A:

    …an active tone, followed by B:

    …an active tone, and back to C:

    …a stable tone.

    Final Words

    The stability or activity of a music note can really be felt in music composition. Composers of all ages have taken advantage of this to write memorable melodies.

    Let’s break down the first line of the tune Mary had a Little Lamb

    Ma:

    …here we have the third tone of the scale – stable tone.

    …-ry:

    …we’re following up the previous stable tone with the second tone of the scale – an active tone.

    had:

    Now, another stable tone again after the active tone used previously.

    a:

    …then back to another active tone again after the stable tone previously.

    li:

    …then another stable tone again after the active tone used previously.

    -ttle:

    …the same stable tone.

    lamb:

    …and the same stable tone.

    Here’s a tabular representation of the first line of that tune…

    Lyrics

    Ma

    ry

    had

    a

    li-

    ttle

    lamb

    Tone

    E

    D

    C

    D

    E

    E

    E

    Activity

    Stable

    Active

    Stable

    Active

    Stable

    Stable

    Stable

    Did you see the relationship between stable and active tones in that tune? We’ll certainly learn more about activity and stability in another post.

    Until then!

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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 the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    1 Joe

    Great guide thanks buddy :)

    Reply

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