• Exposed: The Six Levels Of Tonal Organization

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    In this lesson we’ll be exploring the six levels of tonal organization.

    I was privileged to learn this from my mentor and role model (Jermaine Griggs) and I’m privileged to share it with you because it will help you understand how musical ideas are calibrated.

    But before we go ahead with this lesson, let’s define music.

    Music — Defined

    Although there are so many ways to define music, here’s one of the ways to define music:

    Music is an organized sound that pleases the ear

    From the definition above, there are two key words that you must highlight: organized and sound.

    Knowing that music is an organized sound means that the musician is involved in the process of tonal organization and music too involves several levels of organization.

    With a slight modification of the definition above, we’ll have another definition of music:

    Music is the art (and science) of tonal organization

    From both definitions, you can clearly see that music has to do with the organization of sound. Let’s go ahead and explore the various levels of tonal organization.

    The Six Levels Of Tonal Organization

    There are six levels of tonal organization and every musical idea can be broken down into any of these six levels:

    Level #1 – Notes

    Level #2 – Scales

    Level #3 – Intervals

    Level #4 – Chords

    Level #5 – Chord Progressions

    Level #6 – Songs

    Let’s go ahead and highlight these various levels of  tonal organization.

    The First Level — Notes

    A note is a musical sound of a definite pitch.

    Notes are on the first level of tonal organization and are to music what alphabets are to language, atoms are in chemistry, cells are in biology.

    The organization of tonal music begins with the organization of sounds into 12 musical notes. So, out of all the possible sounds in the universe, there are 12 categories of them organized into notes.

    Although notes may be spelled differently, here are the twelve notes:

    <!–Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The “Official Guide To Piano Playing.” Click here for more information.–>

    The Second Level — Scales

    A scale is a melodic progression of notes played in ascending or descending order using a fixed interval between successive notes.

    At the second level of tonal organization, notes are arranged in a step-wise manner in ascending and descending order.

    The organization of notes into scales produced the concept of key (major and minor) and there are traditional scales for the major and minor key that every serious musician must learn:

    The natural major scale

    The natural minor scale

    The harmonic minor scale

    The melodic minor scale

    …among other scales.

    “Check Out The Traditional Scales…”

    C natural major scale:

    C natural minor scale:

    C harmonic minor scale:

    C melodic minor scale:

    <!–Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The “Official Guide To Piano Playing.” Click here for more information.–>

    The Third Level — Intervals

    The relationship between two notes that are heard together produces intervals.

    Although intervals can be melodic, they are the building blocks of harmony in music. When any two notes on the piano are played or heard together or separately, this produces an interval.

    Melodic intervals are produced when two notes are heard separately.

    Harmonic intervals are produced when two notes are heard together.

    Intervals can also sound pleasant or unpleasant and this depends on the notes played or heard together. Consonant intervals are pleasant while dissonant intervals are unpleasant.

    Intervals have qualities and quantities. An interval can be qualified using adjectives like perfect, major, minor, augmented, and diminished and can also be quantified using numbers like first, second, third, fourth, etc.

    So, you can come across intervals like the major second, perfect fourth, diminished seventh, augmented fifth, minor tenth, etc.

    “Check Them Out…”

    C major second interval:

    C perfect fourth interval:

    C augmented fifth interval:

    C minor tenth interval:

    <!–Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The “Official Guide To Piano Playing.” Click here for more information.–>

    The Fourth Level — Chords

    A chord is an aggregate of three or more related notes (agreeable or not), which may be played or heard together.

    At this fourth level of tonal organization, we’re basically stacking “related” notes together — three or more. Two things are important in the formation of chords (among other considerations): the relationship between the chord tones and the note aggregate.

    “Let Me Break That Down…”

    The notes of a chord must be related by a given scale and the distance (interval) between the notes must be fixed.

    For example, the C major triad:

    …consists of C, E, and G, which are related by the C major scale:

    …where they belong, and the distance between them is basically third intervals.

    C to E:

    …is a third interval and so is E to G:

    The note aggregate of a chord is simply the number of notes the chord is consisted of.

    For example, the C major triad consists of three notes and three-toned chords are classified as triads. Here are other classes of chords according to note aggregate:



    Hexads, etc.

    “Check Out The Common Triad Types…”

    C major triad:

    C minor triad:

    C augmented triad:

    C diminished triad:

    <!–Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The “Official Guide To Piano Playing.” Click here for more information.–>

    The Fifth Level — Chord Progressions

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    The Sixth Level — Songs

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    Final Words

    Now that you’ve seen the various levels of tonal organization, you can see the core areas you need to focus on while learning music theory or how to play the piano.

    We have a 500+ page guide on piano playing and music theory called “The Official Guide To Piano Playing” that focuses on all these levels of tonal organization. Please click here for more information.

    Keep up the great work and see you in the next lesson.

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku (aka - "Dr. Pokey") is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

    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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