Here’s a different version of my song, The Cove. The original recording is on the Flying Dream CD. I sang this one in a lower key, to leave room for two harmonies above. I found some adventurous harmonies, especially ninth intervals. I’d like to make a movie of this one; it lives deep in the southeast, minor/dominant quadrant of the lattice.Read More
Working with this song has taught me a lot about leading the ear.
Different parts of the lattice have different sounds. The upper right, the northeast, is major scale territory. Music in this zone sounds major, you know, that uplifting, stable, “happy” majorness. The northwest region, up and to the left, has a darker, dramatic sound, not like minor, but with its own flavor. It shows up a lot in rock. A great example is BTO’s Taking Care of Business. The progression is I, bVII-, IV, I. (I use numbers for notes and roman numerals for chords.)
I wanted the song to start in the northwest for the verse, and then move eastward for the chorus, and then go back again, and I wanted to choose notes that would lead the ear on the journey.
Here’s the beginning. The chords plant a flag in the Northwest.
The music stays there for a while, and then it starts to move. The chord progression changes, and the guitar melody reaches out to the east and starts to rope in more territory.
Finally, right before the chorus, the V chord takes the song firmly into dominant territory.
Notice how the melody leads the way into the far east. When the melody goes to the 2, in advance of the chord progression, it sets up tension. The tension is resolved when the root moves up to the 5 and creates a more consonant interval.
One of the pleasures of these lattice movies is watching the fleeting, exotic harmonies that are formed as the melody dances around the basic chords. This chord is a type of sixth chord.
When 4 is the root, 2 is its sixth degree. I call the interval between 4 and 2 a Pythagorean sixth, because it is generated entirely by multiples of 3 — a characteristic of Pythagorean tuning. The ratio, octave reduced, is 27/16. It sounds different than the 5/3 sixth, and is tuned sharper — 906 cents instead of 884.
The Pythagorean sixth chord leads the ear to the east. The tension of the 2 in the melody is resolved by moving all the music up to meet it.
Now there’s a new tension, against the tonic, which is in the back of the listener’s mind all the time. I will want to resolve this tension by collapsing to the center, but first I want to increase it as much as possible. I want to dive into the chorus from a great height.Read More
There are two basic directions on the lattice: multiplication and division.
Overtonal energy is stable, restful, it belongs where it is and wouldn’t mind staying there.
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
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 EarRead More
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: HomeRead More
I believe that the great driving force in tonal music, that creates the drama and story of the music itself (independently of any lyrics), is the longing for home.
Home is the tonic. If a song is in the key of A, all the A’s in their various octaves will sound like home.
Although there are many exceptions, most music begins on the tonic, to show the ear what key the piece is in, and ends on the tonic, to bring the listener home again. In between, the music wanders, out and back again, creating tension and resolution.
One of the beauties of the lattice is that it shows a clear graphical display of this tension.
It’s as though the tonic creates a sort of gravitational field around itself. It acts a lot like real gravity. The chords and notes move in this gravitational field, like planets and moons around a sun. The gravitational field follows a few basic rules:
- Movement away from the center creates tension; movement toward the center gives a sense of resolution.
- Notes that are overtonal from the center, generated by multiplying, located to the right and up, will feel more resolved. Notes that are reciprocal, generated by dividing, to the left and down, will feel unresolved.
- The closer you are to the center in your journey, the stronger the sensations of tension and resolution are. The field is stronger closer in, just like real gravity.
- The closer together two notes are, the more consonant, or harmonious, they will be when sounded together. The farther apart they are, the more dissonant they will be, the more they will clash.
Roots generate local gravitational fields. I think of them as Jupiter to the tonic’s Sun. When the root is on the 5, for example, it shifts the gravity field to the east on the lattice, and the 2 and 7 become harmonious, consonant notes, rather than dissonant ones. The tonic still has great influence, so the entire chord feels unresolved — a 5 chord pulls very strongly toward the 1 chord, a property that is heavily relied upon in Western music. As long as the 5 is the root, though, the 2 and 7 will be consonant harmonies, because they are close to the 5 on the lattice.
Here is a movie to show how that works. The music starts with a tonic chord. Then, one at a time, the 2 and 7 are introduced. These notes are dissonant, and create a sense of tension against the tonic.
Then the root moves to the 5, and the character of the 2 and 7 changes. Now they form a major chord based on the 5, a harmonious configuration. They have become moons of Jupiter. Hear how the dissonance goes away? But there is still plenty of tension, as now there are three notes venturing away from the center, pulling the ear back toward home.
Then the root moves back to the 1, and the 2 and 7 collapse back in toward the center. There is a sense of arrival.
This movie illustrates another observation: consonance / dissonance and tension / resolution are not the same thing. They both relate to distance on the lattice, but they do not necessarily track together. When the root moves to the 5, the dissonance goes away, but there is a new tension, a drive to resolve toward the center. The ear remembers where home is, and longs for it.
These principles can be consciously used to create desired effects when writing and arranging. Resolution and consonance give the music beauty, and tension and dissonance give it teeth.
Next: CadencesRead More