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So, had an interesting event to witness in the shoutbox this evening. One member made the statement that there is either Tonality or Dissonance. So, I give this to you -oh great forum peoples:

Do you believe that music is either 'tonality or dissonance'?

If so, why?

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Tonality or dissonance doesn't make any sense at all. Nearly every piece of music tonal or atonal has dissonance in it. I've never heard a piece with absolutely no dissonance except perhaps those by minimalist composers like Philip Glass, who's music I enjoy, but the bottom line is tonality doesn't mean no dissonance in the slightest.

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Not again... after so many years I come back to see the same old stuff?!?!

Anything to do with tonality, or dissonance, or atonality, or whatever you want to call it is simply: tools! Some work better for some workers, others work better for other workers! You can't make a house with only a hammer in your hand (unless you didn't have any other equipment in which case you would be forced at that) . You can't make anything beautiful with only a buldoser (?sp?) at hand... So you need everything and anything. Just learn about it and use it as you please (and of course I'm not talking to J. right? ;))

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Not again... after so many years I come back to see the same old stuff?!?!

Anything to do with tonality, or dissonance, or atonality, or whatever you want to call it is simply: tools! Some work better for some workers, others work better for other workers! You can't make a house with only a hammer in your hand (unless you didn't have any other equipment in which case you would be forced at that) . You can't make anything beautiful with only a buldoser (?sp?) at hand... So you need everything and anything. Just learn about it and use it as you please (and of course I'm not talking to J. right? ;))

Definitely agree here, Nikolas! it gets tiring and old. Alas, I saw it in the shoutbox just this evening. My first thought, after seeing the comment, was: So you only use consonance in your music? How boring. These are all tools now a days - and should be regarded as such regardless of whether you work in a tonalist or atonalist (how I hate that word) aesthetic.

For myself:

I think it's more important to just compose what you hear and work to expand your own personal language as best you can. Learn about the other 'tools' at your disposal - they help in realizing your own thoughts and ideas.

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I think the person in the shoutbox might be thinking of consonance and dissonance. Dissonance means that it has a need to be resolved with consonance and can be found in all music whether it has a tonal centre or not. Also consonance in my opinion doesn't only appear in tonal music as atonal music can have a feeling of resolution after something dissonant.

The person could have also been thinking of "tonal or atonal." The difference here is that tonal music (usually) has a tonal centre (except perhaps wagner's Tristan und Isolde and a few late works by Liszt) but there is always going to be some sections that have a feeling that they need to be resolved (dissonance to consonance). Atonal music uses all twelve chromatic notes with no hierarchy as tonal music does, but it doesn't necessarily always have a feeling that it needs to be resolved as I have stated above.

So in short, music always has both "consonance and dissonance," but music can be either "tonal or atonal."

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Tonality or dissonance doesn't make any sense at all. Nearly every piece of music tonal or atonal has dissonance in it. I've never heard a piece with absolutely no dissonance except perhaps those by minimalist composers like Philip Glass, who's music I enjoy, but the bottom line is tonality doesn't mean no dissonance in the slightest.

Actually, violadude, there are in fact elements of dissonance in Glass's music. Can you think of any piece of his that has sections in it that feel like they need to be resolved at all?

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No. I don't think that you can say "This piece is dissonant, this one is tonal" because tonal sections and dissonant sections occur in many pieces. Now, some exceptions, of course. Mozart's pieces for the most part are tonal, but that doesn't say that Mozart should determine the whole classification of classical music.

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I think where some may be confused, is not the existence of dissonance (in an explicitly tonal piece) but the saturation of dissonance (in a work where tonality is more obscured). Music like Bartok's 4th String Quartet or Perle's Piano Inventions might understandably come off as non tonal to less informed ears (the latter composer actually devised a system for himself in creating tonal music with sets, though not through simultaneities that past composers have exhaustively strived for, but through various hierarchies within a single set).

I'm not sure that is where the confusion exists to be honest. Look at Mozart's Dissonance Quartet, for example. The opening is very dissonant -and inspired a whole slew of later works by other composers- yet, the work is one of his most popular quartets. So, I'm not sure a 'saturation of dissonance' is really the confusing point.

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Even so, Phil... When Bartok and other composers utilize a harmonic construction that contains dissonance more than consonance, they do so in varying degrees. What I mean by this is that they will utilize dissonances to create tension similarly to the way earlier composers would create tension using consonance/dissonance. I hope that makes sense.

At any rate, I think it's important to note that I'm not really arguing with you here.. I'm just stating that earlier composers (especially Mozart) did utilize dissonance to a degree that in a way parallels the modern composers usage.

One other thing I want to state, especially for younger composers, while theory and a good knowledge of understanding how other composers works is important... it's even more important to just write. Think of the theory and knowledge.. but don't let that dictate what YOU want to say. Sometimes, it can be debilitating to your creative processes as you may feel like you can't 'live up' to the expectations you created by that knowledge/theory.

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Anyways, back to the discussion that was taking place: can we agree that saturation of 'dissonance' can lead more assuming listeners to false conclusions about whether tonality is present?

I believe if you had read what I wrote.... you would see that I did say:

I think it's important to note that I'm not really arguing with you here....

That does mean that we are in agreement on this... otherwise I wouldn't of typed that.

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The way I've always seen it is Dissonance acts as a foil for consonance. Music that is all consonance is boring, as is music that is all dissonance. It becomes a matter of how much is used to foil the other. Its just a harmonic way to showing tension and release, a basic phenomenon in all music.

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Actually, violadude, there are in fact elements of dissonance in Glass's music. Can you think of any piece of his that has sections in it that feel like they need to be resolved at all?

I haven't heard much Glass actually. That's why I said perhaps instead of definitely.

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I haven't heard much Glass actually. That's why I said perhaps instead of definitely.

Aha I see. If you listen to some more of his music I think you might possibly hear quite a bit dissonances in his music, especially in pieces like Einstein on the Beach and some of his pieces from the mid to late sixties.

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Even so, Phil... When Bartok and other composers utilize a harmonic construction that contains dissonance more than consonance, they do so in varying degrees. What I mean by this is that they will utilize dissonances to create tension similarly to the way earlier composers would create tension using consonance/dissonance. I hope that makes sense.

At any rate, I think it's important to note that I'm not really arguing with you here.. I'm just stating that earlier composers (especially Mozart) did utilize dissonance to a degree that in a way parallels the modern composers usage.

One other thing I want to state, especially for younger composers, while theory and a good knowledge of understanding how other composers works is important... it's even more important to just write. Think of the theory and knowledge.. but don't let that dictate what YOU want to say. Sometimes, it can be debilitating to your creative processes as you may feel like you can't 'live up' to the expectations you created by that knowledge/theory.

See, that's the problem with standard music theory. Good theory doesn't dictate anything, it just lays everything out as it is and lets you make the choices. Surprisingly, Piston's book on counterpoint is rather good.

P.S. Can anyone tell me what they think CAUSES tonality? I want to hear all sorts of different opinions; in detail.

If I'm not mistaken, doesn't Schenker believe that all tonality is based on a tonic-dominant relation? I have the perfect disproof to that theory.

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See, that's the problem with standard music theory. Good theory doesn't dictate anything, it just lays everything out as it is and lets you make the choices. Surprisingly, Piston's book on counterpoint is rather good.

P.S. Can anyone tell me what they think CAUSES tonality? I want to hear all sorts of different opinions; in detail.

If I'm not mistaken, doesn't Schenker believe that all tonality is based on a tonic-dominant relation? I have the perfect disproof to that theory.

I'm not seeing how my particular post is supporting your post. The tension/release phenomenon isn't really one that only encompasses tonal music or standard western theory but is something that is present in most cultures around the world. Just because later composers used similar means to the traditional composers doesn't mean they worked under the standard tonal theory.

If anything, I think my last paragraph supported your overall position:

Good theory doesn't dictate anything, it just lays everything out as it is and lets you make the choices.
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