Related materials —
MP3s | Music exx. (notation) | New materials | Italian edition (2011)
Back-cover description and comments (blurb)
Dominant, subdominant, perfect cadence, etc. —handy terms when studying the standard euroclassical and jazz repertoires but not much use if you want to understand the tonal idioms of rock, rebetiko, flamenco, son-bolero, traditional music from the British Isles or the Balkans, news jingles, and all those other musics in which final cadences (if any) don’t have to be ‘perfect’, where ‘interrupted cadences’ (if any) can be final, and where a ‘subdominant’ (if any) has no dominant to which it can be ‘sub’.
This book replaces the ethnocentric confusion of conventional music theory with concepts that make sense of everyday tonality —like the melodic hexatonicism of It’s Not Unusual, unusual in music theory, not in real life. The quartal sounds of mountain banjo tuning, corporate jingles, Bartók quartets, TV themes and folk-rock accompaniment are another focus of attention, as are the functions of modal harmony’s chord loops and shuttles, ‘flat two modes’, bimodal reversibility, tonal counterpoise, etc.
“‘Come out of the nineteenth-century music theory closet’, writes Tagg. With his inimitable wit and... attention to detail, he rewrites the rule book and makes you question commonly held assumptions about music theory... In a chapter on ‘one-chord harmony’ Tagg demonstrates tonal elaboration and its relationship to groove and style using sixteen different popular music examples showing how a single chord on a lead sheet does not imply harmonic impoverishment. He also shows how chord shuttles are ongoing tonal states, not the narrative processes that traditional theory would have us believe to be of prime importance. I recommend you get inside Tagg’s terminology, try out his ideas with musical examples of your own and make up your own mind.” (Sue Miller, Senior Lecturer in Music,
Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge)
This book contains 289 music examples, and 113 figures and tables, including complete chord charts and explanations of both lead-sheet and roman-numeral chord symbols. It’s for anyone who can read staff notation and who wants to hear the music of everyday life with open ears and an unprejudiced mind.
Summary of chapters
Chapter 1 (pp. 45-64). There is much confusion about very basic terms in music theory. Note, pitch and tone are three of them. This chapter discusses and defines those terms. Extra attention is paid to cleaning up the conceptual chaos of the words tonal and tonality as they are used in conventional Western music theory.
Chapter 2 (pp. 65-84) continues with notions of pitch, focussing on questions of tuning and the octave. This chapter is the most acoustic-physics-orientated of them all and provides a theoretical basis for understanding how tones (as in ‘tonality’) work.
Chapter 3 —Heptatonic modes (pp. 85-149)— is the first of two about the mainly melodic aspect of modes. It starts with a definition of mode, raises the issue of ionianisation, critiques conventional notions of modality and explains why 7 is such a ‘magic number’ in modal theory. The first half of the chapter is then entirely devoted to the heptatonic ‘church’ modes and includes numerous music examples, as well as a critique of the major-minor ‘happy-sad’ dualism. The second half deals with other heptatonic modes, in particular those containing flat two and/or an augmented second. Some rudiments of maqam theory, including the theoretical centrality of tetrachords, are presented as useful tools in the understanding of modal richness outside the euroclassical, jazz and related repertoires. There is particular focus on the phrygian and Hijaz modes in flamenco and Balkan music, as well as on ‘Bartók modes’, including the lydian flat seven and its similarity to blues modes. The chapter concludes with a 14-point summary and a short ‘what-if?’ thought experiment.
Chapter 4 (pp. 151-178) is about non-heptatonic modes. After a short section on tri- and tetratonic melody, the widespread practice of pentatonicism, mainly its anhemitonic doh-, ré- and la- variants, is discussed in some detail. This section also explains the workings of the two basically pentatonic blues modes. A systematic theory of tonical hexatonic modes comes next, followed by an overview of non-tonical hexatonic modes (whole-tone and octatonic). The chapter ends with reflexions on the perception of modes.
Chapter 5 (pp. 179-203) is on melody. After an exposition of its defining characteristics, melody is presented according to two typologies, one based on contour (patterns of up and down), the other on connotation. Melodic identity is discussed in terms of tonal vocabulary, bodily movement, spoken language, varying patterns of repetition and, using concepts from rhetoric, its varying modes of presentation. The chapter ends with brief section on melisma.
Chapter 6 (pp. 205-217) is a short general chapter on polyphony. It starts by clearing up the conceptual mess in conventional Western music theory about what polyphony actually means. After that, various categories of polyphony are defined and explained, including drone-accompanied music, heterophony, homophony and counterpoint.
7 (pp. 219-244) is simply called Chords. After a short definition section, this chapter enumerates, describes and explains how a wide variety of tertial chords can be referred to in two complementary and useful ways: roman numeral designation and lead-sheet chord shorthand. The chapter includes several extensive tables, including:  a table of all roman-numeral triads in all ‘church’ modes;  a chord recognition chart and a key to over fifty lead-sheet chords, all with the same root note. The principles of both roman-numeral and lead-sheet chord designation are explained in detail, complete with anomalies and exceptions.
Chapter 8 (pp. 245-271) is the first of several on harmony. A brief definition and history of the concept is followed by a presentation of (European) ‘classical harmony’. After tidying up another conceptual mess relating to notions like ‘functional’ and ‘triadic’, the essential term tertial is introduced. The basic rules and mechanisms of classical harmony, central to many popular styles, are also presented. Furthermore, the chapter addresses notions of harmonic directionality, as well as the principles of the circle of fifths or ‘key clock’.
Chapter 9 (pp. 273-292) is about non-classical tertial harmony, i.e. third-based harmony that does not follow the euroclassical harmony rule book. After a discussion of non-classical ionian harmony, it explains things like the importance of major common triads in establishing the identity of the ‘church modes’, the option of permanent Picardy thirds in the tonic triad of minor-key modes, and the link between la-pentatonics and dorian rock harmony. There’s also a useful chart of typical progressions in each mode and of some well-known recordings in which they occur.
Chapter 10 (pp. 293-351) is devoted entirely to quartal harmony. After initial definitions it sets out the basics of quartal triads, how they can be designated and how they differ from tertial triads. The notion of tonical neighbourhood is introduced as a way of understanding the fluid tonal centrality of quartal harmony and how that fluidity can be used to generate harmonic movement. The blurring of borders between quartal and tertial harmony as more fourths are added to quartal chords is used as a way of understanding chords of the eleventh and their importance in North American music. Distinction is made between quartal harmony and the quartal voicings of postwar jazz. Numerous examples illustrate instances of quartal everyday tonality, from Bartók to banjo tuning, from Debussy to Stravinsky to corporate jingles, from McCoy Tyner to Joni Mitchell, King Crimson, Oasis and Richard Thompson, etc. The chapter ends with demonstrations of the link between droned accompaniment patterns and quartal harmony, plus an 18-point summary of the chapter’s main ideas.
Chapter 11 (pp. 353-369) is called One-chord changes because it shows how one single chord is, in many types of popular music, rarely just one chord. After refuting prejudices about harmonic impoverishment in popular music and describing the theoretical rudiments of the extended present, one single common chord —G major— is examined in sixteen different popular recordings and found to consist of between two and four chords on each occasion. I argue that the tonal elaboration of ‘single’ chords is an intrinsic part of the musician’s aural work and essential to the ‘groove’ identifying both a particular piece and a particular style.
Chapter 12 —‘Chord shuttles’ (pp. 371-400)— increases the number of chords from one to two. Drawing mainly on English-language popular song, a typology of chord shuttles is presented (supertonic, dorian, plagal, quintal, submediantal, aeolian and subtonic). Examination of shuttles in several songs, including a track from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and the Human League hit Don’t You Want Me Baby? (1981), shows that chord shuttles often involve ambiguous tonics and that no overriding keynotes can be established. I argue that chord shuttles are dynamic ongoing tonal states, not narrative processes. They are by definition non-transitional and constitute building blocks in the harmonic construction of diataxis in many types of popular song.
Chapter 13 — Chord loops 1 (pp. 401-420)— expands the number of chords from two to three and four. After defining loop, the vamp, one of the most famous loops in anglophone popular song, is examined. Distinction is made between loop and turnaround. The chapter ends with an explanation of the gradual but radical historical shift from the vamp’s V-I directionality to other, less ionian, types of harmony in rock-, soul- and folk-influenced styles.
Chapter 14 — Chord loops and bimodality (pp. 421-450)— attacks the problem of understanding how non-classical tertial harmony works, with how the same chord sequence can be heard in two different modes, etc. Starting with distinction and confusion between ionian and mixolydian, this chapter sets out ways of establishing, where relevant, a single tonic for particular sequences, the role of individual chords within loops, etc. It then examines aeolian and phrygian loops, and proposes a model of bimodal reversibility in efforts to conceptualise harmonic practices quite foreign to what is generally taught to music theory students. The chapter’s final section distinguishes between various mediantal loops like the ‘rock dorian’, the ‘folk dorian’, the ‘narrative ionian mediantal’.
Chapter 15 —The Yes We Can chords (pp. 451-478)— focuses on the chord loop used in the online video supporting Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. It discusses the connotative value of the loop and its contribution to creating the sort of cross-cultural unity that the Obama campaign wanted to forge. The main point is that analysing music’s tonal parameters should not be an arcane technical exercise foisted on music students but instead a contribution to answering the basic question of music semiotics: ‘why and how does who communicate what to whom and with what effect?’.