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Tonality - A force of nature?


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I often see debates about tonality being a part of human's natural perception of music. Modernists often say that the Diatonic scale is also not really natural, because it's derived from the circle of fifths rather than the overtone series, or that ethnic music from other cultures is atonal , but that's not really true. I think that it's pretty obvious that tonality is a force of nature and that therefore atonal music ignores the way human beings usually percept music(which doesn't mean that atonal music is necessarily always bad, but it's IMO not "THE way to go" or the "future of music" like some modernists believe, ).

How else could you explain that:

- The Indians have always used the Diatonic modes or diatonic-like scales like harmonic-minor?

-That the Eastern Asian people use Major,minor and Dorian modes in pentatonic form?

- That Native Americans use the major pentatonic scale

- The peoples from the middle east use the diatonic scale and diatonic-derived minor/phrygian-like scales?

- That African tribes know the Pentatonic and Diatonic scales?

(yes, i know that they their scales are not exactly identical to our diatonic scales, because they also use microtones, but they are still pretty similar)

What do you think about this?

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I didn't mean to provoke anyone, I was just curious about your opinions. I didn't see this topic brought up in another thread, sorry if you feel offended!

Not offended, it's just that I have the feeling nobody wants to talk about it anymore considering that this same thing has been addressed OVER AND OVER AND OVER again. Look it up.

Unless you have something NEW to say about it, just read the older threads. The search function is your friend.

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From this thread http://www.youngcomposers.com/forum/what-tonality-atonality-means-me-17942.html

we learned that musical terms 'tonal' and 'atonal' have very diffuse meanings. It is unfruitful to discuss 'tonality as a force of nature' unless we know exactly what you mean by 'tonality'.

If you are arguing that ethnic music music is 'tonal' because they employ scales, it would be a totally new, unheard of definition of 'tonality'.

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Yeah I almost thought I should mention it. In some cases you could discuss if these kinds of ethnic music really employ a "tonic" but they definately use mostly scales with 5-7 notes and they resemble the diatonic scale,wich is quite remarkable. However, a lot of this music also has a tonal center which is especially obvious in Indian music.

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Yeah I almost thought I should mention it. In some cases you could discuss if these kinds of ethnic music really employ a "tonic" but they definately use mostly scales with 5-7 notes and they resemble the diatonic scale,wich is quite remarkable. However, a lot of this music also has a tonal center which is especially obvious in Indian music.

Tuning is totally different, the use of the scales is totally different. According to your definition, Schoenberg, Berg, etc would also be "tonal" since they use diatonic and chromatic scales in A440 concert tuning, using even traditional instruments! Hell, so would Penderecki or Stockhausen's music from the 60s, etc etc.

It's a non-argument unless you specifically define how much of it is coincidence and how much you're overlooking for it to be "good enough" to count as "tonal." Honestly Indian music sounds NOTHING like western traditional tonality to me, no matter how you slice it. You can find a similitude, but so can you with anything regardless of how entirely different these things are.

The key is narrowing it down to details, since "tonality" is a gross generalization of thousands of different styles and tendencies in the western traditional canon which might as well extend to include the 20th century later on, who knows. The point is, not only are the examples you gave at best only comparable if you start ignoring all the other differences, but they then prove nothing since they are more different than alike. Having a scale in common is nothing like having the same usage of it.

Case to point: If Indians were doing I-V-I cadences (with all that implies, yet having no real contact with the western tradition what so ever), that'd be something. Otherwise? Yeah we can find similar overall things in just about every culture, but does that really mean anything when this similitude is only superficial at best?

PS: Nevermind that the whole thing always reeks of euro-centrism. Why aren't the Indians instead saying their music is truly "natural" while the western canon is an abomination? You could make the same argument with any other old culture with musical tradition, regardless of which, but they can't be all "true natural music" since they're all plenty different. It's a badly constructed argument, in any case.

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I often see debates about tonality being a part of human's natural perception of music. Modernists often say that the Diatonic scale is also not really natural, because it's derived from the circle of fifths rather than the overtone series, or that ethnic music from other cultures is atonal , but that's not really true. I think that it's pretty obvious that tonality is a force of nature and that therefore atonal music ignores the way human beings usually percept music(which doesn't mean that atonal music is necessarily always bad, but it's IMO not "THE way to go" or the "future of music" like some modernists believe, ).

How else could you explain that:

- The Indians have always used the Diatonic modes or diatonic-like scales like harmonic-minor?

-That the Eastern Asian people use Major,minor and Dorian modes in pentatonic form?

- That Native Americans use the major pentatonic scale

- The peoples from the middle east use the diatonic scale and diatonic-derived minor/phrygian-like scales?

- That African tribes know the Pentatonic and Diatonic scales?

(yes, i know that they their scales are not exactly identical to our diatonic scales, because they also use microtones, but they are still pretty similar)

What do you think about this?

way to learn something about music before making a well-informed and helpful post, thanks for that.

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Case to point: If Indians were doing I-V-I cadences (with all that implies, yet having no real contact with the western tradition what so ever), that'd be something. Otherwise? Yeah we can find similar overall things in just about every culture, but does that really mean anything when this similitude is only superficial at best?

Well wait a minute.

Indian music, at least as far as my research has gone, does have something of a v-i relationship. Many ragas use Pa (the 5th) as the samvadi, or secondary tone of the scale. A great many use Ma (the 4th), which may also imply a v-i kind of thing. Clearly that's not all of the world's music, but there are distinct similarities across cultures.

DAI's got a bit of a point: many cultures came to an equivalent of 12-tone music with 7-note scales. On the other hand, the ways they came to that point are extremely different, not to mention that I can already think of a countercase for him: the [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P

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Well wait a minute.

Indian music, at least as far as my research has gone, does have something of a v-i relationship. Many ragas use Pa (the 5th) as the samvadi, or secondary tone of the scale. A great many use Ma (the 4th), which may also imply a v-i kind of thing. Clearly that's not all of the world's music, but there are distinct similarities across cultures.

DAI's got a bit of a point: many cultures came to an equivalent of 12-tone music with 7-note scales. On the other hand, the ways they came to that point are extremely different, not to mention that I can already think of a countercase for him: the [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P

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What are you all talking about? I was never talking about the tuning, but about scales. And I was not saying that classical Indian music sounds like traditional western tonality, but that it uses the diatonic modes, just like many other cultures all over the world use the diatonic and pentatonic scale. And that the tuning is different or that some notes differ by a microtone doesn't really say anything , the scales still have a pretty comparable structure and they definately sound a lot alike. And you think seriously that all these cultures using comparable 5 or 7note scales is just coincidence? I just wanted to say, that you cannot abandon diatonicism , it has been around for thousands of years all over the world, people from everywhere love it's sound and I don't think this is coincidence. -_- Since I know from some Modernist composers that they are AGAINST the diatonic scales(or scales other than the chromatic scale in general) and think that it has no place in 20th/21th century music.

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Try again, they have no diatonic function.

The slendro doesn't have even 7 notes, much less the 12 necessary for your comparison. The 5 notes are spread evenly across the octave.

Glossing over the microtonal details is also a bit of a problem. Doing so puts the music in a Western perspective, not a culturally relevant one. That's not a problem in and of itself, especially for composition, but when you try to make blanket statements like "x is natural," you have to look at the culture's perspective.

And since I can't resist:

Nothing is natural or right in art. We're composers, that's true, but we're of a larger set of creators: artists. Now, you can say that there are some artists that go against the "natural" order of things, but those artists are still acting "naturally" while coming to different conclusions.

Breaking from nature is a natural act for humans; therefore art, which is solely a cultural (ie human) artefact, cannot have appeals to natural order.

Back on topic:

This "natural order" is also a bit suspect if the order does not make sense across species. I would argue that frog songs are not diatonic/tonal. In the same way, an expansion of the meaning of "natural" would include sounds found in nature; rain is darn near close to white noise -- hardly diatonic in nature.

blahblahblah

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What are you all talking about? I was never talking about the tuning, but about scales. And I was not saying that classical Indian music sounds like traditional western tonality, but that it uses the diatonic modes, just like many other cultures all over the world use the diatonic and pentatonic scale. And that the tuning is different or that some notes differ by a microtone doesn't really say anything , the scales still have a pretty comparable structure and they definately sound a lot alike. And you think seriously that all these cultures using comparable 5 or 7note scales is just coincidence? I just wanted to say, that you cannot abandon diatonicism , it has been around for thousands of years all over the world, people from everywhere love it's sound and I don't think this is coincidence. -_- Since I know from some Modernist composers that they are AGAINST the diatonic scales(or scales other than the chromatic scale in general) and think that it has no place in 20th/21th century music.

No comment.

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- The Indians have always used the Diatonic modes or diatonic-like scales like harmonic-minor?

-That the Eastern Asian people use Major,minor and Dorian modes in pentatonic form?

- That Native Americans use the major pentatonic scale

- The peoples from the middle east use the diatonic scale and diatonic-derived minor/phrygian-like scales?

- That African tribes know the Pentatonic and Diatonic scales?

What? :O

Also, music by definition (assuming this is a widely accepted definition of music) is "conscious organisation of sound(s) in time". Therefore, music is something that is inherent to humanity and not the rest of the nature. Sounds do exist, but music doesn't. Even Cage's 4'33" which is the sounds around you - Cage organised those sounds in that time-frame, otherwise those sounds wouldn't have existed as a piece of music.

So music is by definition not natural.

If you want "music that abides and relates to natural laws of physics and partials of sound waves", then I think the closest answer is Spectral music, although - the way Spectral composers look at sounds might be more "natural" (in terms of physics), but what they do with these things is absolutely arbitrary. So again it's unnatural.

What kind of naturality are you looking for?

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by natural I meant that these scales seem to be very inherent to human's sense for music, since they are used even by cultures that didn't have contact with each other (eg. pentatonic scale

being used in africa,Asia and by NativeAmericans)

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He's describing "natural" as if it naturally comes about by means of evolution. Akin to language, or culture as a whole, certain human characteristics have developed evolutionarily for whatever purpose, like music. It is interesting that so many isolated cultures would devise very similar systems - like the pentatonic scale.

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by natural I meant that these scales seem to be very inherent to human's sense for music, since they are used even by cultures that didn't have contact with each other (eg. pentatonic scale

being used in africa,Asia and by NativeAmericans)

OK, here's the deal. A pentatonic scale isn't The Pentatonic Scale. That is to say that a pentatonic scale does not mean anything other than a 5-note scale. I'd think just by listening -- and please provide stuff to prove me wrong, I'd love to see it -- that the microtonal differences lead to differing scale functions. This would be akin to saying that D dorian and C major are the same.

That a number of cultures arrived at their musical system in the same way Pythagoras did isn't surprising. It's also not exactly universal, which would be a major strike against your thesis.

And then you have the issue of the lack of relevance that history has on post-modern music, and if that's a product of evolution or not. I love bringing him up, mainly because I don't read many history books, but this is Spengler's thesis.

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By Pentatonic I usually mean scales like CDEGA, of course I know that there are other 5-note-scales for example minor(CDEbGAb) and dorian(CDEbGA) pentatonic scales in eastern asian music.

What do you mean by "pentatonic function"?

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From the point of view of western-centric anthropology, ethnic music is GOLD because it's akin to having independent evolutionary trajectories. What would have happened if we could go back 2000 years, for example, and let history restart its course? Would we end up with the same order of developmental eras (medieval, rennaissance, baroque, classical, romantic, etc.)? Well, look no further - your answer is in ethnic music.

As evolution of ethnic music was insulated from western music (prior to globalization at least), what we have is multiple trajectories of musical developments as a result of cognate human intelligence. Similarities between ethnic and western music (e.g. 7 scale degrees, cadences) should be appreciated within this context.

For perspective, I find it absolutely fascinating that Eudoxus (Greece, 3rd century BC) and Liu Hui (China, 3rd century AD) independently arrived at the Method of Exhaustion, which is the seminal idea behind Calculus.

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