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The Discussion of Major and Minor Modes—Are we in danger of restricting our vision of what constitutes good music?—How many ways are there to compose?

 

 

 

I have been told that these thoughts might better be discussed on a brand new thread (rather than under the topic of “Major and Minor Modes interchangeability”). On that thread it was suggested that there are, in essence, two methods of composition. One method was to write a melody and add accompanying chords; the second was to conceive of specific chord progressions first, and then overlay the melodic content.

 

I would suggest that there are basically an almost infinite number of ways to write music, rather than two essential methods.  Most of the ways I am thinking of may or may not be facilitated by the traditional straightjacket thinking about chord progressions, or even the traditional notion of a melody accompanied by chords. 

 

Since we live in the 21st century now, we need not rely primarily on the techniques of the 19th or even 20th century.   The use of computers to compose and create music is mainstream now, and we can avail ourselves of the basic kinds of software that exist.  There is a nice book called “Music Theory for Computer Musicians,” which can help, and which also teaches the basic concepts of melody, harmony and rhythms, as well as the various modes, in relation to the techniques that are applicable to most standard composer software.  Even so, such books may be too closely tied to a traditional outlook, which is terribly out of date.   It might be very crucial for younger composers (or for all composers), who are involved in study, to be very careful in avoiding the taint that might come from too much immersion in stultifying exercises.  I cannot praise highly enough James L. McHard’s “The Future of Modern Music:  A Philosophical Exploration” which awoke me from what I would call my musico-metaphysical “dogmatic slumber.”

 

There are unlimited numbers of ways to begin composing which can free one from stultification.   If the goal is actually to create something new, and to rise above the tired and outmoded musical idioms of our age and Western civilization, then our desire to innovate and be original can know no bounds.   One can do, if one likes, the very opposite of what is commonly recommended.   A composer can (rather than simply composing a melody) take a huge block of sound that appears interesting (a large number of notes) and dump them into a series of tracks, the way a sculptor puts a quantity of clay on a table.   Then the musician can take certain notes out, discover latent rhythms and harmonies that already exist in within the mathematical constructs that make up all music.  This is by no means a random procedure, any more than the movements of the hands of the sculptor are random, though chance discoveries may occur which would be less likely with a traditional approach.   There is an interaction between the composer and the material, the mass of sound, which has a kind of life of its own.  And this is simply one idea, pioneered by composers like Xenakis, Penderecki, Stockhausen and Ligeti. 

 

One can do the exact opposite of what I outline above, and just explore the infinitesimal harmonics and overtone universe surrounding one single note, as Scelsi has done, following Tibetan and South Asian models.  Melodic content and harmony can evolve and develop from that exploration.  If you play the piano, or have a computer interface with a keyboard, you can improvise, not simply with the harmonies and the melodies and the chord structures, but with a pitch bend setting, that gives you unprecedented freedom from traditional tonal constraints.  All your improvisations can be recorded on your sound file, and even if out of 20 minutes of improvisation, you get one “beautiful” melodic – harmonic  event that last a few seconds, you may achieve more than you could in the performance of dozens of “exercises.”  You edit out and destroy what you don’t like, and keep the remainder.

 

Knowledge of the basics of chord progressions and traditional harmony are not without their use.  It helps to be able to create a variety of scales—not just Western, but also Indian, Japanese, Javanese, Chinese, African—in order to be able to juxtapose a variety of sound textures that can have original harmonic characteristics.  But above all, I would say the act of composition has priority in and of itself, above the study.   And the study is done, as a means to an end, not as an end in itself, as the acquisition of series of set procedures and lists of rules that keep one in a very, very small domain of sound possibilities.  As a general rule, one could posit a system whereby for every ten hours of actual compositional activity, there is one hour of study, and even that study is done with an eye to altering the rule, deliberately breaking the rule, to see if one can produce something that is original, in accordance with a contemporary theory of “sound-based composition.”

 

Even if one uses the traditional rules of chord progression as the basis of a composition, the software allows us a tremendous amount of freedom, with regard to systems of automation (which far from making a work sound mechanical, actually free the work up from boundedness and potential monotony).  In other words, the pitches can be bent on any instrument (call it portamento, if you like); tone glides can proceed as quickly and as slowly as one likes, within any individual melodic line, or as the broad harmony of a work—so that you have something much more dramatic and interesting than a standard modulation from major to minor, or from one key to another.   What I am discussing here is not, in any sense, “atonality” (a la Schoenberg, Webern or the young Boulez) but would better be termed an evolution of “polytonality.”  We can call it something more:  “multi-tonality” or “mega-tonality,” where the tonal quality of the work shifts into new and uncharted (and often delightful regions) which will always sound as new, or as familiar, as one likes—due to the extreme number of possibilities.

 

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Excellent topic, Ondib. I agree, there are almost infinite numbers of ways to compose than can produce "good" music, besides the traditional Chords or Melody first considerations. I think the combinations of sounds in time provide endless opportunities to create "music". I'm using the term "music" as defined by any individual, as  we don't all agree on it's definition. But there may certainly be as many methods to create/compose "music" as there are individual definitions of music. That's my opinion, anyway.

Personally, I would love to master the traditional Western European ways, including the fluidity of chords/melody first, or a combination, simply because if I were to master any method in my lifetime, this is a likely candidate. And yes, it would limit me from composing other good music. But then, I'm already limited.

I used to play in a gamelan ensemble, and enjoyed it immensely. At present, I would take no pleasure in composing for it though. Playing with them certainly expanded my musical "vision". Should I ever gain a comfort level with composing using the tools within my reach that fascinate me  (including traditional harmony), I might enjoy incorporating gamelan into new sounds I might call "music".

Truth be told, I suck at writing in a traditional harmonic manner, whether it is melody or harmony first. I learn the "rules" and forget them in practice. I usually end up writing one note at a time, here and there until it sounds like something. Or, I'll have "itchy" fingers, and let them "go" on an instrument, using whatever they felt like playing as the seed to a piece. Once or twice, I even heard the music first in my head, and awkwardly plodded my way through to reproduce it on staff paper. The results are varied.

Bumbling seems to be my actual method of composing, regardless of what I prefer it to be. I don't see this as one of your options you've listed above, so I hope my post isn't off topic. But yes, in all seriousness, I compose using the bumbling method.

The Discussion of Major and Minor Modes—Are we in danger of restricting our vision of what constitutes good music?

Or are we in danger of by-passing completely the said modes?

I think there should be complete freedom in choosing one's own compositional processes, but out of the four composers you referred to, could one of them write a tonal/modal melody to save their lives?

I want to thank both Socrates (Socrates Arvanitakis) and Janet (Janet Spangenberg) for their contributions to this discussion.

 

Actually, Janet, I have great respect for what you call “the bumbling method,” which I was referring to when I said, “If you play the piano, or have a computer interface with a keyboard, you can improvise ...”

I added that one can improvise, “not simply with the harmonies and the melodies and the chord structures, but with a pitch bend setting, that gives you unprecedented freedom from traditional tonal constraints.” 

 

I was going to use the phrase “banging out melodies and chords” on the piano, but thought better of that formulation.  But why should I?  If you bang things out, and “bumble,” and especially if you record it with your computer software, you can often find passages, melodies, harmonies and “musical events” which are worth keeping for future acts of composition.  Isn’t this the very essence of most of what we call “improvisation?

 

But before responding to more of what you said, Janet, I want respond to what Socrates has posted, and challenge what appears to be his premise.

 

Socrates asked, “Or are we in danger of by-passing completely the said modes?”  I would like to know if that is a serious question or merely a rhetorical one.   When you listen to the music which dominates our airwaves-- TV shows and mainstream radio music programs, and even our classical music stations (which seem to be vanishing around the nation)-- do you really see evidence of the danger you ask about?  Do the majority of songs, musical pieces on cable and satellite tv, or cable and satellite radio, indicate any weakening of the influence of traditional harmonic modes?   I have the impression, Socrates, that you are simply joking.  Do the majority of music videos available on youtube or vimeo (or other social media that rely on sound) appear to reflect a change in attitudes towards traditional tonality?  [I admit, more videos of works by Pierre Henry, Peter Schaeffer, Bruno Maderno, Iannis Xenakis and Luigi Nono {or from alternative cultural traditions} are available, but the total number of such is not overwhelming the rest by any stretch of the imagination].

 

Frankly, I think the programmers are still too hesitant to play early 20th century works by Honneger, Prokofiev, Darius Milhaud and even Francois Poulenc.  In the US, it’s a kind cultural myopia that even keeps US mainstream radio stations from playing popular songs from Algeria, India, China or Africa (or even Europe and Latin America)—in spite of the fact that American songs are played on the airwaves in those countries.  We know that has absolutely nothing to do with the overall “quality” of American popular music.  It’s simply a product of cultural imperialism. 

 

Socrates, you say, “I think there should be complete freedom in choosing one's own compositional processes,” and I agree. That is exactly what Euro-American mainstream culture (or any domineering culture) does not appear to want to encourage.  You ask, “out of the four composers you referred to, could one of them write a tonal/modal melody to save their lives?”  Of course they could and they did.  Certainly you know they could, but your question appears to reflect an adverse judgment that runs contrary to your belief that people should be free to choose their own compositional processes.

 

I am speaking generally when I ask this question.  Not about any particular person.  But generally, when a person asks whether Penderecki could write “tonal melody,” are they reflecting a cultural bias against music which falls outside of a certain preconceived notion of what constitutes melody, music and tonality?

 

 

When the question is asked by a musician, does it sometimes reflect the championship of a very limited system of sound choices?  I mean, does it reflect a bias for the diatonic system that our high schools, our  university education systems, our culture, and our highly commercialized media tend to favor?   

 

 

Hi Ondib.

I was not talking about just the two scales, major and minor and their pre-dominance in western music.

I agree that we are not in any danger of missing them.

My question was rhetorical but referring to the pan-modal system of the East ie,  Greek, Byzantine, Turkish, Arabic, Persian Indian, Chinese.

I think that here we have already (as a western music civilization) by-passed those musical cultures without knowing much about them or exploring them adequately, which in turn makes our own musical universe poorer.

Anyhow this subject is vast, and I regret, I don’t really have the time for lengthy discussions, but I hope we can come back to it at some future point.

 

On the second item, I want to re-assure you that I am not biased for or against any system of composition, they are all equally acceptable to me. Artistic result is what counts in the end .But  I must say, I am not so sure as you about the four composers mentioned in relation to their" tonal" knowledge or abilities. It may also be rhetorical as a question, but I don’t know of any tonal music or melodies that these four composers wrote, so my question, although perhaps it may sound ridiculous to you, still remains unanswered.

If you know of any melody or other tonal material by any of these four composers could you enlighten me, please?

I admire all four of them four their work, but still my question stands and it has to be answered.

Could they survive for example as composers under a fascist regime where only tonal music (in a very strict sense) was held in esteem and allowed? I think, for example, that Bartok, Shostakovich, or Frank Zappa could, but could any of the four you mention?

Thanks for your reply. It will be an interesting thread to me if it gets involved with tonality/modality in depth.

Regards.

Socrates, This statement jumped of the page at me when I read it.

  "Artistic result is what counts in the end'.

Yes, we can construct a work in many ways ,shapes and formats,

and we can dissect and analyze their components , but I will agree

that in the end, after all is said and done, a work of art is and has to

be greater than the sum of it's parts.

This, to me is the essense of Art and 'good' music.        RS

My description of my "bumbling method" seems to have been woefully inadequate, as it bears little relationship, if any, to "improvisation". My “bumbling method” is probably more closely related to your analogy of sculpting. My post also seems woefully inadequate at conveying certain points, none of which was actually to discuss my composing methods in particular.

Your topic here is broad:
"The Discussion of Major and Minor Modes – Are we in danger of restricting our vision of what constitutes good music? – How many ways are there to compose?”


Here are just a few of the thoughts I had about the topic before I chose to initially enter the discussion:
Are the questions asked to be considered strictly within whether we use Major and Minor modes, or not? Is the mention of Major/Minor modes actually symbolic of what’s also known as Western European Tonal Harmony/Voice Leading practices in what’s called The Common Practice Era? Is the danger of restricting our vision contained in limiting ourselves to any particular way of composing? Does the danger of restricting our vision found only in the act of composing? What if a composer chooses a certain method (say, limiting themselves to either Major or Minor scale modes) but is a voracious listener of all things “music”. Is this composers vision still restricted? How important is it for a composer’s vision of music be/not be limited? Or is the discussion about “composers’ vision” as a whole, as opposed to an individual composer? What is the danger in the a limited vision of a composed piece? Would an unlimited vision of music prevent a composer from ever composing a completed piece? Is there a common definition for “music”? for “good” music? Should “good” music be any composer’s goal? Or should the goal of a composer be to take some satisfaction in the act itself? or to produce produce something that “feels” right to the composer? or to satisfy outside influences (either by adhering to a method, or appealing to an audience)? Perhaps those are definitions for “good music”? Perhaps there are many definitions of “good music”?


I don’t expect you to answer any of the above questions. I posted them merely to illustrate a sampling of the endless avenues of thought your topic provides for me, and the difficult task of responding in a focused, coherent, and communicative way. I don’t intend to address all my questions either. I forgive myself for the failure of my first post to convey any of which I had hoped, and for the possible failure of this and future ones. But I shall try again, anyway.


So, here’s my next attempt. I’m giving a mind dump of my thoughts. They are all my own opinions, and not intended as a lecture containing facts. I apologize if the following sounds as though it is anything other than my subjective thoughts:


Methods of creating, and the accompanying skills in utilizing those methods are tools we use to create (whether the creator is a composer, writer, knitter, sculptor, parent creating an environment for offspring to thrive,  a group acting as creator of a theatrical or other type of production, etc.).

Besides the tools of method/skills, the creator also needs materials to create with. For example, all kinds of materials can be used in sculpting: wood, clay, metal, paper and paste, etc. The tools needed to create using these materials are just as varied: knives, hands, welders, etc., as are the “methods/skills” needed to manipulate the physical tools.


I suspect the materials available to the creator necessitated the invention of tools needed to manipulate them. Then the tools starting being used in new ways. For example, a chainsaw might have been developed to cut down trees to create a clearing in land. Someone else used this as a sculpting tool for sole purpose of artistic expression.


A sculptor using a chain saw is limited to certain materials, such as a felled log or ice blocks. A sculptor who’s chosen tool and methods involve the sole use of his/her hands, is also limited to certain materials, such as clay, or paste and shredded paper. In this day and age, a sculptor need not be limited to physical tools like a chain saw or only hands, or to materials only found in one location. Materials can be shipped almost anywhere, so can physical tools. Techniques and methods can be share via the Internet, or traveling to a teacher.


I have to decide on a definition for “vision” to continue, as there are many possibilities.  I’ll use one that makes sense to me in this application:  A creator’s “vision” is what s/he aspires to within the medium s/he is creating.


I happen to believe there is a host of things that affect vision/aspirations. These include the methods/materials available, and the skills at using them.  The desire to mastering a new skill creates new aspirations each time one is mastered. Inspiration can spark new or expanded vision/aspirations. Inspiration can come from discovering a new method, such as the composition methods you mentioned above. Someone new to Western European Tonal Harmony/Voice Leanding can have an explosion of expanded vision/aspiration when discovering it, as another can have in discovering atonal composition techniques/methods. Vision/aspiration can also come from completely outside sources, such as exposure to war, religion, the birth or death of child, etc.


I also believe it’s possible to create without any vision or aspirations whatsoever. Creating for the pure Joy it. The feel of the wet clay squishing between fingers, or the beauty in a sound created when the fingers tumble down the length of concert flute, are enough on their own to inspire creation. The result may be a total surprise to the creator, but serve as an vision/aspiration to another.

When I create music with my flute, I often have a vision, or aspirations, and often I don’t.


I have some performances coming up in the Irish band I play with. We’ll be playing in a few nursing homes and assisted living centers for the St. Paddy’s Day Season. When I create the music during my practice for these performances, my vision/aspirations include feeling at ease with the physical act of playing so that I can be unaware of it, and free to respond to the audience and my fellow band mates while I play. My vision/aspirations also include the effect my playing contribution within this group has on the audience. I cannot begin to describe what it’s like playing for a group of Alzheimer’s patients, who appear catatonic when we arrive, and then awaken in full vibrancy when they here Danny Boy, and sing along with vigor.


Often times, I have no such vision when I play. I play for the tactile sensations that need to be satisfied, fingers cascading down the keys, or my lips aching to be pressed against the embouchure plate, subtle changes in breath making unexpected sounds. Pure Joy.


Often when I create, whether playing or composing, I have no concept of whether it is “good” or not, nor do I care. Sometimes I care, but I have parameters of what “good” means, and those parameters are dependent upon my vision/aspirations... which are constantly changing.


The idea that my vision/aspirations would be limited by a particular method, tools or materials is fascinating. I’ve been playing the concert flute for 45 years. I play all kinds of other flutes, and other instruments. I play things that aren’t considered instruments. The more I play and the longer I live, more my vision/aspirations explore new crooks and crannies. And the more I learn abandon any vision for Joy, and choose how I use vision when I do. But I have yet to come close to finding the end of learning something new while I play my flute. I can even find something new and exciting by playing the same note over and over again on the same flute, even after 45 years. (Well, the flute I use now has been for the last 35 years.)


I don’t understand how any method for creating music can become tired and worn out. I can understand how the vision/aspiration of a creator can become tired and worn out, though, but not because of a method, but for lack of inspiration, purpose, or Joy.


So, in this extremely verbose way, I am of the opinion, no, I don’t think there is any danger of restricting our vision of what constitutes good music by limiting ourselves to the use of Major and Minor modes (or any other method(s)). And there are an infinite number of ways to compose, possibly even within using only one method in a lifetime.

Hi Ondib, I basically agree with your idea.

The only problem is that when writing music, a set of rules should exist or at least be created in the meanwhile, otherwise it's just chaos.

I have honestly never heard the names of the most part of the composers you mentioned (this doesn't mean nothing, it's just my ignorance): once I tried to listen to a couple of pieces by Edgar Varèse and I didn't understand anything.

You're right about the "outmoded musical idioms of our age and Western civilization" but this is how our musical taste come from and absorbing new set of musical rules is usually a very gradual process.

I personally feel that using the old composing techniques is more than enough to express myself. However, what sometimes makes me feel limited, is that I would like to have more possibilities in the sound creation field, be able to conceive new sounds: acoustics instruments are more than outdated, while the world of sound synthesis is just recycling the same old sound generation models for the last 20 years.

I just noticed what Janet posted about 3 hours ago, and what Alfred (Alfred La Fleur ) said about a half an hour ago.  I had already written this, so I will post it now, and reply to Alfred’s and Janet’s remarks, later, or on another day.

 

 

Socrates, I accept your correction.  You said, “I was not talking about just the two scales, major and minor and their pre-dominance in western music. I agree that we are not in any danger of missing them.  My question was rhetorical but referring to the pan-modal system of the East ie,  Greek, Byzantine, Turkish, Arabic, Persian Indian, Chinese.”    That’s fine, and I think we agree that there is a great wealth of sound variety that comes from all the traditions you mention, in addition to many Japanese, Southeast Asian, Javanese, Balinese, African and other cultural traditions.   I think the questions you pose at the end of your message deserve a thorough answer, which I will also try to begin to present in relation to some points also made by Bob Porter.

 

You Socrates, ask,  “… I don’t know of any tonal music or melodies that these four composers wrote, so my question, although perhaps it may sound ridiculous to you, still remains unanswered.” -- I don’t think it is ridiculous, though I am still surprised you ask it.   For several reasons.  First, ALL the music they write is tonal.  It is simply not “diaotonic.”  If we go back to 1913, and the premiere of Schoenberg’s “Pierre Lunaire,” we have the first major break between what people have called mistakenly called “tonal” and “atonal” music.  Tonal can only mean music that means tones, and “atonal” can only mean music that does not use tones, which is extremely rare and I am not even sure what would qualify under that.  Schoenberg and his followers called their method of composing “dodecaphony,” or “pantonality,” meaning twelve-tone, or “using all the tones,” (which is also a misnomer, since no music can really use all the tones, at least not in any way that is easily definable—I suppose it can if it starts at the lowest range of human hearing, and goes all the way up past the higher limits  {though tones exist beyond that limit, of course}]

 

What does this mean in common sense terms?  It means that our education systems have merely called one type of music that uses one limited set of notes “tonal” and another type of music that uses another set of notes “atonal,” based on erroneous thinking.  You acknowledge that other traditions which use different “modes” are tonal.   So if other composers that I mentioned—such as the four Penderecki, Ligeti, Xenakis and Stockhausen—do use tones, and are therefore “tonal” to begin with, how are they different an Indian composer, who uses vastly different scales, harmonic systems, or a plethora of note bends and pitch slides?    In any case, I think we might find common ground, since you do allow for a wide variety of different modes; and because you do, that may open the door the invention of new modes, such as those created by Olivier Messiaen and his successors.

 

I agree fully with Roger, when he echoes the phrase, “Artistic result is what counts in the end,” but of course, we have to discuss what that is.  Artistic result is surely something very different from “commercial success,” or “popularity,” to be sure—though I am not sure whether Bob Porter and I entirely agree on that point.  I want to thank Bob Porter, along with Socrates, Roger and Janet for their contributions to this conversation.

 

However, Bob does make some assertions which I would like to question a bit more closely. First let me just say two things about the line of reasoning put forward by Socrates.   1) You seem intent on asking a question about “a tonal melody,” written by the four composers mentioned.  I would wonder what difference that makes, to begin with. Could more than a handful of people here hum or play from memory a single melody written by Telemann or Rameau?  We could ask the same question about thousands of other composers who you would consider “tonal,” even by the standard erroneous definition.  Or we could ask people to hum or play a single classical Indian melody?  Their inability to do so would only indicate unfamiliarity with the medium, but not something about the value, beauty, coherence or integrity of the composition in question.  2)  So you won’t say I didn’t give you any example, I have to point out that all the pieces written during last decade by Kristof Penderecki fall under the old-fashioned definition of “tonal,” which you can listen to yourself, just by going to youtube and typing in Penderecki.  “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” may be his most famous piece, but he has written many other compositions.

 

Now Bob says a lot that merits detailed reply.  Bob says, “I don’t believe that working within a traditional structure should be considered “limiting.”  I don’t see how working with a set of traditionally bound, outworn, over-used set of rules can be ANYTHING BUT limiting.   That is the very definition of “limiting,” is it not ?  If I say, you can only write in the key of C major, and you may not use the notes A, D, F, and G, would you say that “should be considered ‘limiting’?”  I would like to know what you mean when you say, “The main musical language of the West is tonality?”   What music, according to you is not tonal, in the real sense of the meaning of the word “tone.”  Is quarter-tone music, such as that written by Ives, tonal (since it does use “tones”?)  Is pantonal music, in Schoenberg’s sense, “tonal,” since it does also use tones  (less tones than quarter-tone music uses—12 as opposed to 24—which makes it more limited, of course).

 

I want to make it clear, Bob, that I am not trying to predict the future of course of music here.  I agree with the maxim, it is possible to accurately predict anything—except the future.   So I won’t engage in that exercise on this thread, not without recourse to a time machine, anyway.  I think we are both talking about what “limits,” are, and what “restrictions” are, whether imposed by a traditional  diatonic system, a myopic culture, simply habit or a socio-economic system which has elevated profit and crass consumerism to the heights of an orthodox “religious” dogma.    My main question concerns the nature of the limits that are imposed upon composers, either via culture, financial constraints, or subconscious processes.   I can suggest a positive vision of what composers may aspire to, in order to break free from the unnecessary constraints that are heaped on so many composers (and artists, novelists, and creators in general).  But I will save that for a later post.

 

Congratulations to Roger, Bob and Janet for their very insightful and excellent replies. I already feel wiser, well covered and slightly overwhelmed by reading you. I agree with most views expressed and I think Janet rounds it off very well in her concluding statement that we are not in any danger of limiting our vision if we stay with tonality as we know it.

Allowing of course the freedom to every one to stick to their own chosen ways.

I also agree with you, Janet, that systems don't get "tired" or "exhausted" by usage. Only people using those systems do.

So where do we go from here?

I must disagree you here, Ondib. I recall what I was taught while obtaining my music composition degree not long ago (though I am not providing actual references). The definition of "tonal" involves the use of actual pitch. Much percussion is not conisdered pitched percussion, such as the sounds produced by traditional African drumming, which is still considered music. Therefore, traditional African drumming is not tonal music.

Also, the use of the word "tonal" when used in the context of "tonal harmony", specifically refers to the conventions used during the Common Practice Era of  Western European art music, also known as the practice of "voice leading", "tonal harmony" and "Western European Art Music", and "Western European Tonal Harmony. All these terms are interchangeable. When there is discussion of "tonal harmony", "tonal" music is often used for short, and "atonal" is used for music created using systems not related the systems of "tonal harmony".

Granted, the use of the words tonal and atonal may be used as you say, but never within discussions where Western European Common practice period/era tonal harmony/voice leading is part of the context.

Ondib Olmnilnlolm said:

First, ALL the music they write is tonal.  It is simply not “diaotonic.”  If we go back to 1913, and the premiere of Schoenberg’s “Pierre Lunaire,” we have the first major break between what people have called mistakenly called “tonal” and “atonal” music.  Tonal can only mean music that means tones, and “atonal” can only mean music that does not use tones, which is extremely rare and I am not even sure what would qualify under that.

So where do we go from here, you ask? A reasonably good question Socrates.

I was recently reading a little about 'cakewalk' which seems to have developed

from Negro folk songs back in the late 1800's. This apparently gave birth to

ragtime, which eventually lead to jazz and swing. Including the Fox Trot and

a more staccato version called the Charleston, and most likely inspired the

Gershwin brothers. I'd guess these lead to rock and roll which spawned

a plethora of new sounds and innovations. Art reflecting society and society

reflecting art. Maybe it's time to go mining for folk songs and start a new

evolution/revolution or as often happens go retro.    RS

 



Ondib Olmnilnlolm said:

 

 

" Socrates, I accept your correction.  You said, “I was not talking about just the two scales, major and minor and their pre-dominance in western music. I agree that we are not in any danger of missing them.  My question was rhetorical but referring to the pan-modal system of the East ie,  Greek, Byzantine, Turkish, Arabic, Persian Indian, Chinese.”    That’s fine, and I think we agree that there is a great wealth of sound variety that comes from all the traditions you mention, in addition to many Japanese, Southeast Asian, Javanese, Balinese, African and other cultural traditions.   I think the questions you pose at the end of your message deserve a thorough answer, which I will also try to begin to present in relation to some points also made by Bob Porter.

 

You Socrates, ask,  “… I don’t know of any tonal music or melodies that these four composers wrote, so my question, although perhaps it may sound ridiculous to you, still remains unanswered.” -- I don’t think it is ridiculous, though I am still surprised you ask it.   For several reasons.  First, ALL the music they write is tonal.  It is simply not “diaotonic.”  If we go back to 1913, and the premiere of Schoenberg’s “Pierre Lunaire,” we have the first major break between what people have called mistakenly called “tonal” and “atonal” music.  Tonal can only mean music that means tones, and “atonal” can only mean music that does not use tones, which is extremely rare and I am not even sure what would qualify under that.  Schoenberg and his followers called their method of composing “dodecaphony,” or “pantonality,” meaning twelve-tone, or “using all the tones,” (which is also a misnomer, since no music can really use all the tones, at least not in any way that is easily definable—I suppose it can if it starts at the lowest range of human hearing, and goes all the way up past the higher limits  {though tones exist beyond that limit, of course}]

 

What does this mean in common sense terms?  It means that our education systems have merely called one type of music that uses one limited set of notes “tonal” and another type of music that uses another set of notes “atonal,” based on erroneous thinking.  You acknowledge that other traditions which use different “modes” are tonal.   So if other composers that I mentioned—such as the four Penderecki, Ligeti, Xenakis and Stockhausen—do use tones, and are therefore “tonal” to begin with, how are they different an Indian composer, who uses vastly different scales, harmonic systems, or a plethora of note bends and pitch slides?    In any case, I think we might find common ground, since you do allow for a wide variety of different modes; and because you do, that may open the door the invention of new modes, such as those created by Olivier Messiaen and his successors.

 etc, etc "

Ok Ondib, let me re-phrase it so that we can understand each other better.

I did not talk about atonality or Schoenberg's anathema on the word

Your assertion that Xenakis, for example is tonal because he uses tones holds therefore true.

By "tonal" I meant functional western  tonality, harmony, counterpoint etc, as observed in the common practice era, in popular music of all eras and as defined by educational text books.

In that sense (which is the widely accepted), Xenakis or Stockhausen cannot be classified as tonal.

So I ask again:

Could they compose a tune to save their lives?
Sorry for the rough tone of my question, but I want to seriously challenge their knowledge of tonality or any ability they had within its pre-described functionality. I mean, Xenakis while a very lousy student of traditional harmony in Paris , was still trying from even then to write his masterpieces while not knowing how to successfully connect a simple A minor triad to an E major one. I still believe that the man was a genius and that he did compose masterpieces in the end, but within the realms of the musical system he himself discovered and expounded and never within the sphere of traditional functional tonality. He first of all recognized the fact that he could not be any good at it and gave it up honorably.

And thus he saved his life and reputation.

So, my point is: Don’t use a system unless you know what to do with it, and it is not a shame if you don’t. Choose another one that you know or invent one as Xenakis did.

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