• Second Day Of Christmas: Two Tonalities

    in Piano,Scales,Theory

    tonalities

    There are two tonalities in music – major and minor.

    Tonality is also known as the key center or simply the “key.” The major tonality is used so frequently that musicians rarely make mention of the minor key, let alone study it.

    In this post, we’ll look at tonality from a binary (two) view and also cover the intervallic dimensions that can make a key center major or minor.

    Tonality – Defined

    There are 12 pitch classes.

    The key center or key is any note that is [at any given time] the central reference (or tonic) to which every other pitch relates to. Every key center is a tonality on its own – with its own characteristic emotion attached.

    I have a few direct questions for you:

    “Have you ever asked why movies come with musical themes?”

    “Why is it that the theme of Titanic and that of Mission Impossible convey different emotions?”

    These themes make every scene come alive in such a way that even without looking at the screen you can sometimes know what’s going on in a scene. Music is the food of the soul and the soul is the seat of emotions. Music’s effect on emotions can be felt on the soul and this emotional effect is derived from tonality.

    It’s possible to use tonality to create emotional contrasts between good and bad, day and night, happiness and sadness, positive and negative, etc., when notes are ordered in a given manner (scale). When notes are ordered below as:

    Good, Day and Happiness are the effects the scale (order of notes) above can create. If you are familiar with modes, it’s easy to see that this scale is no different from the ionian mode.

    Here’s another scale:

    The scale above can create effects of Bad, Night and Sadness (but not limited to these effects as worship music can be very effective in minor keys).

    This scale has everything in common with the aeolian mode. So, there are two contrasting tonalities in music. It would do you well to remember the relationship between these modes and scales.

    Before we go any further, it is important to interject that key centers can be changed. It’s as simple as making another note the central tone. If the note below is the central tone:

    …then the music is said to be in the key of D. This means that D is the tonal reference. Changing key center is just as simple as shifting to any other pitch class.

    If we shift our tonal reference to F, then we’ll be in the key of F:

    Practically, the change of key is called modulation and I can’t wait to share my perspective on modulation with you in future posts.

    Emotional Environment vs Harmonic Environment

    Any of the 12 pitch classes in music can be a key center. However, each key center must possess the potential of creating one of the two emotional environments we covered.

    The terms associated with these emotions/effects shouldn’t be used to describe key centers. If someone walks up to you and says, “Play me the national anthem in the Good key of C,” you’ll laugh right? How about this: “Can you play me the Bad scale of E?”. It’s inappropriate to use terms that are in direct relationship with the emotional environment associated with these keys – words like good or bad, happy, or sad.

    In music, there are words that can be used to describe the harmonic environment these scales create. These words are associated with the harmonic properties a scale inherits from the interval between its tonic and third. Let’s look at the harmonic environments these scales create.

    Major vs Minor

    We came across two scales earlier.

    This:

    …and this:

    The former can be compared to the ionian mode and the latter to the aeolian mode. We have a comprehensive post on modes and you will do well to read it.

    Scales (which are the melodic sources of these emotions) can be described musically using the quality of interval between its tonic (first note) and third. Let’s look at the quality of interval between the root and third of each scale.

    C-E is a major third. (Major thirds have 4 semitones or half steps between them).

    Therefore, the scale below can be described as a major scale.

    Chords and chord progressions built off the tonic of this scale are also associated with this quality. All major scales can be formed by shifting this scale from one pitch class to another.

    A-C is a minor third. (Minor thirds have 3 semitones or half steps between them).

    Therefore, the scale below can be described as a minor scale.

    Chords and chord progressions built off the tonic of this scale are also associated with the minor quality. All minor scales can be formed by shifting this scale from one pitch class to another.

    If you need more resources on major and minor thirds, read this lesson on Consonant Intervals: The Building Blocks of Major and Minor Triads.

    If you only regard scales as an arrangement of notes in ascending or descending order, you are right. However, scales mean more than that because of their harmonic properties (major and minor) that are used to denote tonalities in music. Before we move on, let’s connect emotional and harmonic properties.

    Major – Good, Happy, Positive, Sharp, Bright, etc.

    Minor – Bad, Sad, Negative, Dull, Serious, Dark, etc.

    “Do You Know There Are Twenty Four Keys In Music?”

    Considering that there are twelve pitch classes, it’s common to think that there are only twelve keys (tonalities) in music. But from what we have covered so far, it’s crystal clear that there are two contrasting tonalities – major and minor. Therefore, each pitch class has its major and minor key, respectively.

    If you do the math:

    12 Major Keys + 12 Minor Keys = 24 Keys

    However, there are reasons why it’s common to think that there are just twelve keys. Let’s cover two of them.

    Relative Keys

    There is a key signature relationship between the 24 keys in music. Key signature is the number of pitch modifiers (sharps and flats) in a key. If we shift the C major scale (no sharps or flats) to G, here’s what we’ll have

    G Major has one sharp on F and that’s its uniqueness because no other major key has that same tonality. The use of key signature associates one sharp to G. Even if we rearrange the notes in different orders (practically creating modes), the key signature will still be G.

    C to C (related to C lydian)

    D to D (related to D myxolydian)

    E to E (related to E aeolian)

    F to F (related to F# locrian)

    G to G (related to G ionian)

    A to A (related to A dorian)

    B to B (related to B phrygian)

    Two modes among these varieties are related to the tonality – ionian (related to the major scale) and aeolian (related to the minor scale).

    G ionian (related to G major scale)

    E aeolian (related to E minor scale)

    The scales above share one thing in common – key signature. Both scales have one sharp – an F.

    There are no major keys that have the key signature of one sharp except for G major.

    G A B C D E F G

    Likewise, there are no minor keys that have the key signature of one sharp except for E minor.

    E F G A B C D E

    Therefore, G major and E minor are related. There are twelve relationships in this regard that connect major and minor keys via key signature. Here they are:

    Major Key

    Minor Key

    C major

    A minor

    D♭ major

    B minor

    D major

    B minor

    E♭ major

    C minor

    E major

    C minor

    F major

    D minor

    G♭ major

    E minor

    G major

    E minor

    A♭ major

    F minor

    A major

    Fminor

    B♭ major

    G minor

    B major

    Gminor

    Parallel Keys

    In the same way that there are relative keys, there are also parallel keys. Parallel keys are different tonalities that have the same letter name. C major and C minor are related by this parallel relationship.

    Let’s take a look…


    C major

    C minor

    Parallel keys create different harmonic environments but are related by letter name. C major and C minor share two things in common:

    • C as tonic
    • G as dominant

    Who Else Wants To Learn What Borrowed Chords Are?

    Our founder and president has thoroughly covered the Art of Borrowing Chords so many years ago. Therefore, we are not going into all that again. However, in future posts [as the needs arise], we will borrow chords by taking advantage of this parallel relationship.

    Below is a table of twelve parallel relationships between the twenty four keys.

    Major Key

    Minor Key

    C major

    C minor

    D♭ major

    D minor

    D major

    D minor

    E♭ major

    E minor

    E major

    E minor

    F major

    F minor

    G♭ major

    G minor

    G major

    G minor

    A♭ major

    A minor

    A major

    A minor

    B♭ major

    B♭ minor

    B major

    B minor


     

    Final Words

    In music, it’s common for a piece to start on a given tonality and end on a different tonality. This is called modulation. From what we have covered here in terms of tonalities and their relationships, it’s common to find the following modulations:

    Modulation from major key to its parallel minor. E.g – from C major to C minor

    Modulation from major key to its relative minor. E.g – from C major to A minor

    Modulation from minor key to its parallel major. E.g – from C minor to C major

    Modulation from minor key to its relative major. E.g – from C minor to E major

    Explore all these relationships and you’ll maximize the binary view to tonality – major and minor.

    The following two tabs change content below.
    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.




    songtutor600x314-2jpg

    gospelnewbanner3jpg

    { 0 comments… add one now }

    Leave a Comment

    Previous post:

    Next post: