My new song video, Real Girl, contains many examples of consonance and dissonance, tension and resolution. In my last post, I extracted a phrase from the song and slowed it way down to illustrate how the bass and melody dance, creating and resolving tension in several different ways. Here is the last half of that analysis.
When we last left our heroes, they were on the 4 and b6, quite consonant relative to each other, but still unresolved because the ear remembers where the tonic is. Here is that clip:
Now the melody moves back to the 7. This interval, against the 4, is the dreaded tritone, the devil’s interval, and it’s dissonant indeed.
Then the bass moves up to the 1, lessening the dissonance, and the melody soon joins it, and all is consonant.
But there is still a sense of incompleteness, even though both the bass and melody are smack on the tonic, the most consonant interval of all. What’s up?
The answer is that the ear remembers that the root is still the 4, and we aren’t quite home yet. Getting there requires a cadence, or final resolution. Notice that in this next clip the bass note never moves, but the harmonies and the melody signal that the root has now moved to the 1 and we are home. The bass note has magically changed character.
This melodic passage occurs many times in the song, and it contains a rather dizzying series of tensions and resolutions. My friend Jody Mulgrew, who has an exquisite sense of pitch, experienced actual nausea the first time he heard the song. He told me, “I was wondering how to tell my friend Gary that I didn’t like his new song. Then, before the chorus, it started to sweeten up, and when the song was over I immediately hit the ‘replay’ button. I realized it was just tension and resolution.”
I think my friend was experiencing what I call tonal vertigo. His comment spurred some of my thinking on the nature of harmony, how it may be a byproduct of our orientation software. The “100 girlfriends” section is a roller coaster ride in the tonal gravity field. Here it is in its original form:
Now to slow it way down and take it apart.
The first dissonant melody move is to the 7. The interval is a major seventh, down a half step in pitch, and the harmonic distance is great enough (3×5=15) that the note is quite dissonant. But the bass, alternating between 1 and 5 as so many bass lines do, quickly moves to resolve the dissonance.
Note that there is still an unresolved, unfinished feeling. Even though everything you can hear is beautifully consonant, the ear still remembers that the real root of the chord is the 1. This memory is crucial to tonal music.
The next move creates a different kind of dissonance. This is the tension of reverse polarity.
First the melody moves to the 1. This note is right next to that 5 in the bass, and beautifully harmonious. But there is tension, because it’s a reciprocal note. The way to get from a 5 to a 1 is to divide by 3 — it’s one move to the left on the lattice.
And, in two moves, the melody has covered a lot of harmonic territory, all in the reciprocal, Southwest direction. No wonder Jody felt nausea! It’s an E-ticket ride.
Once again, the bass moves to save the day. The chord changes too — that 4 in the bass is the new root. The melody note magically becomes a minor third, not fully consonant, not fully resolved, but a lot better.
In the next post, the famous tritone! Then full resolution.
Here is my third stop-motion animation of a full song.
Real Girl uses a custom nine-note scale. It occupies the Southeast quadrant of the lattice, the zone of the natural minor, with two added notes — the 7, which allows for a major V chord in the progression, and the 7b5, a blue note that is showcased often in the melody.
This scale contains a sharp dissonance, between the b6 and the 7. I go back and forth between those two notes a lot, with a stop on the 1 in between to help ease the transition.
Watch how the melody and bass chase each other around. In the next few blog posts, I’ll slow this dance down, and show how the polarity flips create tension and resolution. When the melody is below and to the left of the bass, the energy is reciprocal, tense. Then one or the other moves so that the melody is above and to the right, the energy becomes overtonal, and the tension resolves.
Another fun thing to watch is the alternating bass. Roots and fifths are right next to each other on the lattice. The red lens swings like a pendulum throughout the verses.
The 2- is a common melody note in my songs, and in the blues. It goes well with the blue note 7b3 — there is an extremely common melody that goes 7b3, 2-, 1. It’s a darker, more dissonant note than its comma sibling, the 2.
The b7 is dissonant and gorgeous — check out the sequence at the end of this post.
Each note is a compound of three legs on the lattice — two fifths, or a factor of 9, and a major third, a factor of 5. By the logic of the last post, the short leg should predominate, which would make the 2- slightly overtonal and stable, and the b7 slightly reciprocal and unstable.
I’m setting up here for a map of the tonal gravity field. I think I can put some numbers on this stuff. Coming soon. I’ll use that new song animation as a basis — it’s full of fleeting dissonances and polarity flips.
The 7 has its mirror twin too, the b2-, at 112 cents. Its ratio is 1/15.
Here is how they sound:
For me, the pattern continues. The 7 is stable, but less so than the notes we’ve heard so far, and it’s getting dissonant as well, because it’s farther from the center. The b2- is both dissonant and unstable.
These notes each traverse two legs of the lattice, a 3 and a 5. The 7 is two legs “up,” or multiplying, and the b2- is two “down,” or dividing.