Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Jun 19, 2013 in Consonance, Just Intonation, Resonance, The Lattice, The Notes |

The Compass Points

There are two basic directions on the lattice: multiplication and division.

If I start with a note, and then multiply it by 3, or 5, or 7, I will get a harmony note with overtonal energy. Such a note is in the natural overtone series of the original note.

Overtonal energy is stable, restful, it belongs where it is and wouldn’t mind staying there.

If I divide by 3, 5 or 7, I get a completely different kind of note. I call this division energy “reciprocal,” after W.A. Mathieu’s suggestion in his amazing book Harmonic Experience.

Reciprocal energy is restless, unstable. The note wants to move, or for the music to come to it, until it is overtonal.

On the lattice of fifths and thirds, there are two axes, fifths and thirds, and two directions, overtonal and reciprocal.

This makes four total directions one can move on this lattice. Each direction has own characteristic flavor, or energy. I use the following names for these energies, mostly after Mathieu.

  • Dominant = East = Overtonal fifths
  • Subdominant = West = Reciprocal fifths
  • Major = North = Overtonal thirds
  • Minor = South = Reciprocal thirds

Compass Points

Every interval has its own unique recipe of moves in these four directions. The perfect fifth has pure dominant energy, the major third pure major. The minor third, b3 on the lattice, is a compound note — dominant and minor.

It’s interesting to look at the minor third (b3) from the viewpoint of tonal gravity. On the horizontal axis, dominant/subdominant, the b3 is overtonal, stable, restful. On the vertical axis, major/minor, the note is reciprocal, unstable, restless.

Tonal gravity is stronger the closer you are to the center. To make a minor third, you multiply by 3 (an overtonal jump of a fifth), and divide by 5 (a reciprocal jump of a third). I know, 3 generates fifths and 5 generates thirds, a confusing coincidence.

Fifths are closer to the center, harmonically, than thirds are, so the overtonal energy is stronger than the reciprocal.

This makes the minor third a stable note, although less stable than the major third. Songs can end on a tonic minor chord and they will still sound finished.

Next: Leading the Ear

Read More

Posted by on Jun 10, 2013 in Just Intonation, The Lattice, The Notes, Tonal Gravity |


Tonal music is music that has a particular key center, or home note. Not all music is tonal, but most is, worldwide.

The key note is at the center of the lattice of fifths and thirds. All other notes are generated from this one. I call it the 1. It’s also called the tonic. When we say a song is “in the key of A,” we mean that A is the tonic.

This isn’t any particular A. In the key of A, every one of the ten or so A’s within the range of human hearing is a tonic, or perhaps more accurately some octave of the tonic. The tonic itself is an abstract concept, of “A-ness.”  In concert pitch, A is defined as a vibration of 440 cycles per second (called Hertz, or Hz), and any octave of this, up or down, is also a tonic. Thanks to a remarkable (and handy) quirk of human perception, multiplying or dividing a pitch by 2 does not change its essential character. So 220Hz is also an A, as are 110, 55, 27.5 — and 880, 1760 and so on forever.

The tonic doesn’t even have to be one of the 12 equal-tempered notes — it can be halfway between A and A#, and it will still work just as well. The rest of the notes are simply calculated from that home note. The resulting music will be in tune with itself, and will sound fine, even though it has no relation to concert (A=440) tuning. In learning songs from old recordings, I’ve found that many are in between two official keys. The instruments are tuned to each other, but not to any outside reference. They sound great.

The tonic sounds like home. The great driver of tonal music is the sense of departure from, and return to, home.

Be Love, like many tonal songs, starts right off with the tonic. It makes a statement, with the very first note: “This is where home is.”

Again and again throughout the song, the music departs from home, creating tension, and then returns to it, relieving the tension. The following clip contains two such homecomings, at 0:07 and again right at the end.

Then, finally, the song ends with the tonic. Ahhhh. Journey complete, the lattice has been explored, and after many adventures Sam Gamgee is back in Hobbiton.

Not all songs begin and end on the tonic. If you want the song to sound resolved, finished, end it on the tonic. If you want it to sound unresolved, unfinished, end it on another note. It’s a powerful tool. Listen to the end of Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love.

Have you ever had the experience of the audience clapping at the wrong time, in the middle of a song? It’s embarrassing!

Usually it happens when you pause for dramatic effect, and the audience thinks you are finished. You can send a strong signal that the song is not over by pausing on a chord that is clearly not the tonic. Then, when you do want the audience to clap, give them a big tonic chord and they’ll know what to do.

Next: The Compass Points

Read More

Posted by on Jun 6, 2013 in Just Intonation, Recordings, The Lattice, Tonal Gravity |

Be Love

After two years of working mostly with existing material, I’m happy to be writing songs again. This one took me over completely for a few days, and then I spent another couple of weeks recording it and animating it on the lattice.

Be Love is a simpler song than Flying Dream, and I think it does a better job of illustrating what the lattice is all about. A couple of notable moments:

  • Several times, all the notes suddenly collapse to the 1, the note in the center. Check out the feeling of arrival, or homecoming in the music when it happens. It’s especially powerful going into the first chorus at 1:12. This is a real-time demo of tonal gravity.
  • During the verse, the song hangs out in the left part of the lattice, and then for the chorus it moves to the right. This is an example of a change in mode — the song stays in the same key (1 is still the center) but two of the scale notes change. The language of pure music doesn’t translate literally to English, or to emotion, but it evokes its own sensations that can support, or contradict, the words and feelings in the lyrics.

Next: Home

Read More