Chapter 11: Major-minor systems 1500-present
12-eq enharmonics vs 53-eq enharmonics
What classical music does best and must always do more, is to show this kind of transformation of moods, to show a very wide psychological voyage. And I think that’s something that we as classical musicians have underestimated. –Michael Tilson Thomas
Europe’s “common practice period” (approximately 1600-1900) is the musical foundation of classical, jazz, pop, and much of world music today. Technically, it’s an approach to harmony where chords are built up from their bass notes (the word “chord” is a shortening of the word “accord,” implying that the notes being sounded are somehow “in accord” with one another). Tonality is a system where all these chords and melodies orbit around a single tonic, or home, note. Within tonality it is possible, even common, to change that home note, and modulate (say, from C to E). But Almost all tonal traditions during the common practice period require that a piece end with the same tonic with which it began. The tonic note is usually paired with its dominant note (C and G, for example) which then become the two ends of a musical seesaw between the tonic (or tonic-related) chords and the dominant-related chords. The tonic chord is reserved for periods of musical rest, and the dominant for periods of musical tension. Music in C major can have chromatic notes not found in the major or minor scales, but the C and G tend to remain as tonal anchors unless the music is moving towards a key change. Four of the six ancient Greek modes are largely abandoned, leaving only the Major (Ionian mode) and various Minor (Aeolian mode-derived) scales. The other four modes become but an occasional spice in the musical mix. The transition to common-practice-period musical forms began before 1600 (during the High Renaissance) and was nearly complete by 1650 (the beginning of the Middle Baroque Period). To an untrained ear, traditional tonal music is what almost everyone is most comfortable with. Any pre-tonal music from earlier than 1500 or so sounds weird to a closed-minded person, or exotic and cool to an open-minded one. After 1900, music that departs from the traditional harmonies and major-minor scales also sounds weird (or cool and exotic) to the inexperiencced listener.
For some styles like early jazz, the departure from the common-practice norms are noticeable but not completely foreign-sounding. For example, the chords pile on ninths, elevenths and thirteenths. They create parallel voicings that are forbidden in common-practice music, which tends to make you feel a little less anchored in the home key than a classical piece would be. They often mask the chord progressions with suspensions and fascinating dissonances. They allow traditionally unresolved chords to hang in their air with no attempt to resolve to the tonic. But when you analyze traditional jazz, at its core you find it to be derived from common-practice methods….
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