TONICS - Why Musicians Should Laser Focus On Them...

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by AxemanVR, Sep 10, 2021.

  1. kbold

    kbold Friend of Leo's

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    Meanwhile the bass player is plonking away at the tonic .... occasionally venturing out to the 5th or 3rd.
    Gosh, if the bassist is feeling rather Jaco-ish even a 6th or 4th. (Eeek ... was that a b5 the bass just played??)

    But usually sticking to the tonic. Gobbling up all those seagulls.
     
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  2. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    I’d just add (and this is totally relevant to our current thread)..

    Despite a vast range of diverse musical styles, all share one absolutely amazing cosmic characteristic:

    The concept of a Tonic!


     
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  3. ndcaster

    ndcaster Doctor of Teleocity

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    actually, no

    modal music's point of rest is called a "final"

    and I'd suggest that "tonic" is not so important as "the relationship of a fifth"

    in my view, music is essentially about motion and managed dissonance -- not "rest"
     
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  4. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    I don’t think I’m talking about what you’re talking about...

    Besides the fact that modal music is layered over the “equivalent of a Tonal Center”, whether or not one “rests” on it is irrelevant, the 5th is only a 5th because it’s a 5th from some sort of Tonic-like focal point and Music doesn’t dictate whether that Tonic-like concept “is” or “isn’t” - the physics of sound dictates it.

    What I’m talking about is how any pitch is repeated at a higher or lower frequency as one ascends or descends along a linear sonic path. It’s an actual physical attribute of sound - not a theoretical one.

    The Tonic may be called different things but the phenomenon that naturally occurs in the universe exists whether the music wants to acknowledge its existence or not - and just because it got named after us humans came along doesn’t mean we invented it.

    It’s a cosmic barrier that can’t be avoided no matter how much theory one throws at it and you can’t just say it doesn’t exist just because a human construct says it doesn’t.

    All music is forced to work within or around its limitations whether we like it or not.

    It “is” and no amount of theoretical mumbo jumbo can “un-is” it...


     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2021
  5. jaxjaxon

    jaxjaxon Tele-Meister

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    The Tonic is the Key and the root is the base note of a chord. You can play a C chord in the key of C and you will be playing both the tonic note and the root note. Or you can play the Am chord in the key of C and the root will be A but you are also playing the tonic as the 3rd, Or you can play Am in the key of E and you would be playing the tonic as the 5th. This is how I understand the difference between the two words.
     
  6. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    The “function” of the “C” in an Am chord (as it relates to the Key of C Major) is that of a "minor 3rd" to the Root "A" - not any function of the Tonic.

    Just because that Am has the “Tonic Note” in it doesn’t afford it any special privileges to the Tonic, especially considering the fact that a G7 chord (again in the Key of C Major) has a much greater pull to the Tonic... and there’s no “C” note to be found anywhere in it...

     
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  7. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    There's plenty of atonal music since 1900. Some of it by me.
     
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  8. voskarp

    voskarp Tele-Holic

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    But... g) "All of the above" also includes f) "None of the above"... I'm confused.

    Music theory is too complicated... I'm more into the "I can fly"-attitude to music.
     
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  9. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    `
    Some would argue that true atonal music is a myth - not only because it’s so difficult to avoid the Tonic over a long period of time, but also because human hearing has supposedly been conditioned to perceive a Tonic whether one is present or not.

    In other words; Purposely avoiding the Tonic can actually call attention to it.

    The truly gifted atonal composer has to be particularly clever in not only avoiding the perception that even "an inkling of a possibility" that a Tonic is lurking anywhere around the entire duration of the piece BUT also has to create something that is musically interesting as well - a feat that’s obviously very difficult to pull off.

    The only atonal works I’ve come across that I found musically palatable were actually smaller sections of atonal phrases mixed into more traditional tonal music (Emerson Lake and Palmer comes to mind). Otherwise anything I’d consider to be “true atonal music” turned out to be tedious and nerve wracking in the end (or, even when it was "good" it became "too much of a good thing").

    So, at the very least, it’s extremely difficult to write music that people actually want to hear which doesn’t cross paths with the Tonic at some point..


     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2021
  10. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    My dad used to work with a fellow who went by Ski. Short for Damarosky or something like that.

    On the subject of changing name spellings when immigrating to the US, there were two families in town, the Mackis and the Makis. On immigrating, there were two brothers who shared the same last name and spelled it the same. At customs, a clerical error altered the spelling of one.
     
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  11. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

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    What you are saying does not correspond to my experience.
     
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  12. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    Well, if you are indeed the rare proponent of “true atonal music” then I suppose its futile to convince you otherwise, although I am a little curious about which part of my response that doesn’t correspond to your experience.

    1) Is it the part where "true atonal music is a myth"?

    or

    2) Is it the part where "it’s extremely difficult to write music that people actually want to hear which doesn’t cross paths with the Tonic at some point"?

    If it's the first one, then I totally agree that is debatable, but, if it the second one? Well, I think it's fair to say that people who claim to really enjoy "true" atonal music are in the extreme far-off outlier minority.

    Most so-called "atonal" music I've heard still has a sense of tonal center that it dances around, so how one defines "true atonal music" is also at the crux of this debate.

    I also find that a lot of atonal music kind of starts sounding the same, in that, the very need to avoid the tonal center forces the composer to take specific measures to, of course, actively avoid the tonal center, which in turn makes the music sound like the composer is obviously trying to actively avoid the tonal center.

    Regardless, I think most people would consider atonal music to be a bit "nonsensical", "crazy sounding" or even "creepy". Hardly something you'd want to use to "set the mood" on a first date anyway.

    As for me? On the most part I can find something I like from any style of music, but, if stranded on a desert island I'd take tonal music over atonal music any day of the week...




     
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  13. BigDaddyLH

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  14. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    `
    Interesting, but jarring... fairly unpleasant with a "grating on one's nerves" appeal. And perhaps a bit apocalyptic? I'd say it works well if a person is too happy and finds a need to be depressed.

    Thanks for presenting that piece, although I can honestly say that it won't be on my "desert island" list...



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  15. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Tele Axpert Ad Free Member

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    B-but what's the tonic? And then, of course, there are works for percussion.

     
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  16. AxemanVR

    AxemanVR Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    `
    Oh, it's one of those ambiguous points...

    Actually, I heard a very distinct Eb to F at the very beginning of the piece, which did stick in my head. It also seems to shift to D about 8 minutes in - but all that is purely subjective I must admit - although I highly suggest trying to play Eb, F or D along with that piece and see if it fits (well, at least until the "straight up noise" parts begin).

    Side note: One could also argue that some atonal music has tonal centers that just jumps around a lot.

    Okay, aside from all that, of course arguing a "theoretical" point is somewhat pointless, because it's difficult to prove that a Tonic was literally established in that piece since it was purposely created to be as obscure and undefined as possible - to the point of even droning. The only thing worth arguing is whether most people even considers it to be "music" or just a bunch of "sound effects" (not to mention whether anyone would want to listen to it outside of some apocalyptic movie soundtrack) - but that's not the question being asked here now is it...

    My definition of a "Tonic" in Post #84 was arbitrarily used as a "descriptor" to point out the "physics of sound" and, when I implied that all music must adhere to that reality in Post #82, I meant that All musical sounds are either in or around what has been given the label of an "Octave"... the Octave representing a baseline pitch, along with the same pitch that is reproduced at higher and lower frequencies in either direction - those pitches being dubbed here as "Tonics" for all intents and purposes.

    All music at least falls within one Octave or another, therefore there has to be some boundary where it either stays within or surpasses that Octave range.

    So, in that sense, the first discernable "tone" in that piece at least establishes a "baseline" for tonality. But since that piece purposely stayed within a very narrow "tonal range" - not including what I'd consider to essentially be "noise" (and, lets face it, most of it is just pure noise), traditional resolution obviously doesn't readily apply. But I submit that the "droning" sound still doesn't reject the notion of a tonal center either. In fact it seemed downright Modal in that respect.

    Whether the composer chooses to apply the literal use of the word "Tonic" or not, there is some "Tonality" to the piece, despite not have a "theoretically established" focal point - other than "iteration" (repeating the same sound), which actually does apply to droning.

    Anyway, if you want to argue whether the initial tone in that piece is a baseline "Tonic" or not, I'd say it's certainly debatable at the very least, since that entire piece is purposely borderline noise on the most part, yet with a definable drone here and there.

    Either way, it obviously sticks within a fairly narrow range (unless you account for the screeching noises) leaving very little reference to go by, therefore, assuming the possibility that this can marginally be considered "music" by at least "one person in the world", then I suppose, "technically speaking", it could be seen as something that resembles music which has no Tonic.

    So you win!

    Wait... what did you win again?

    Anyway, besides the fact that I personally heard a clear tonal-centric "Eb" and "D" in the droning of that piece, this example none-the-less still effectively supports my other assertion that "it’s extremely difficult to write music that people actually want to hear which doesn’t cross paths with the Tonic at some point".

    So what's ultimately the most debatable here is whether it really matters to most people if it has a Tonic or not, since most of them might want to kill it with fire and be rid of it forever anyway.

    *P.S. I actually rather liked it, but am only stating the facts as I see them...



    `
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2021
  17. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Telefied Ad Free Member

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    One could argue and be correct, that the tonal center of a piece of atonal music is the motivation the composer kept at the forefront of his mind for the entire time spent writing it.

    And in fact, the tonal center is the entire reason for atonal music.

    Sort of a lets not let the elephant in the room, there is no elephant, the room if 100% elephant free, how do you like this elephant free zone.

    I say this having been in a free music quartet where no tonal center was a goal, one we all agreed to.
    A composer if the only thinker in a piece, but there we had four make it three since the drummer really had no tones.

    Atonal music is like making out without having sex; like an object falling toward earth but not hitting, like lightning looking for a ground, like a magnet in a machine shop with no metal filings stuck to it.

    Where does the tonal center exist?
    In the music or in the listener?
    Is it possible for a "musical" piece of atonal music to make three listeners choose three different tonal centers in their natural gravity toward a tonal center?

    Back to situations other than composer controlled "music", my experience is that we can work hard in concert to avoid structure, but like the falling object, the kids making out, and the magnet in the machine shop, an event ripe to happen, dammit it happens!

    So if the motivation behind the attempt prevent the inevitable tonal center from manifesting in music is the composers goal, then the tonal center lives in the goal of avoiding it.
    Like a fish bowl in the ocean, where the ocean is the composers head full of music, keeping the fish in the bowl while the bowl is in the full potential of music that also exists in the listeners desire for resolution.

    I was playing cello in the free music quartet so had the option of true avoidance by simply playing out of tune.
    The tenor player was a madman who didn't talk much but was a monster player (RIP Zack).
    The violinist we should have sent packing, but I'll admit, he was quite atonal.
    And dammit if we didn't keep noticing unwanted structure including tonal centers emerge from the glorious din.

    I've played with two other "violinists" who were capable of true atonal in a collaborative art setting.
    I mention collaborative because as soon as more than one mind is making choices, the GOAL of "atonal music" turns into a sort of army against an ideology.
    Ideologies like music having a tonal center are so ingrained that only a dictator can kill off all tonal centers before they emerge.
    Dictator AKA composer.

    An early and ongoing musical influence has been bird songs. My first instrument was flute which I dropped quickly then picked up from time to time and found a fine piccolo cheap in a pawn shop, which was wonderful for bird song reenactment.
    I think solo piccolo can be fully atonal and also musical, but because the listener, who is inevitably a collaborator, can hear that as music without trying to define a tonal center.
    I can't really bring up all my experiences where I might have experienced freedom from center, and I'm not certain but it's possible that seeing Cecil Taylor live playing without any compositions, one might have to answer "I don't know" when asked "what's the tonic?".
    I've listened to a lot of Ornette and never liked him much but I understand there could be several different tonal centers at the same time, which is a lot like no tonal center, IF, you try to join in.

    Now if Andy Goldsworthy pieces were recorded, something like an ice sculpture melting in the forest, that could possibly be music, plus sorta musical, and also 100% atonal. Not even gonna touch the meaning of "musical" as applied to "music" because I've already beaten that horse for art's sake.
    Unfair that listeners hear waves or rainfall as pleasant but find atonal music grating. (please don't miss irony being my tonal center)

    But wait! Ever listen to the sounds water makes?
    Tonal centers are hiding in there and you will identify them!
    If you hear a dripping faucet and can identify a tonal center, yet the dish, the faucet, and the water, had no intention of creating a tonal center, where does the tonal center exist?
     
  18. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Tele Axpert Ad Free Member

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    Iannis Xenakis was a major 20th century composer. I am sure Larry could speak to that. From Wikipedia:

    Alex Ross wrote that Xenakis "produced some of the rawest, wildest music in history—sounds that explode around the ears. Rarefied methods were employed to release primordial energies."[38] Ben Watson expressed admiration for the "terrifying emotional impact of [Xenakis'] sonic objectivity", describing his music as possessing "truly majestic otherness. It is an alien shard, glimmering in the heart of the West."[39] Tom Service praised Xenakis' music for its "shattering visceral power" and "sheer, scintillating physicality", noting its "deep, primal rootedness in richer and older phenomena even than musical history: the physics and patterning of the natural world, of the stars, of gas molecules, and the proliferating possibilities of mathematical principles."[9] Service described Xenakis as a composer "whose craggily, joyously elemental music turned collections of pitches and rhythms and instruments into a force of nature, releasing a power that previous composers had only suggested metaphorically but which he would realise with arguably greater clarity, ferocity, intensity than any musician, before or since," and suggested that his music is "expressive: not in a conventionally emotional way, perhaps, but it has an ecstatic, cathartic power. Xenakis's music – and its preternaturally brilliant performers – allows its listeners to witness seismic events close at hand, to be at the middle of a musical happening of cosmic intensity."[9] Service concluded: "it took Xenakis for music to become nature. On holiday in Corsica, Xenakis would pilot his canoe into the teeth of the biggest storm he and his paddle could manage. When you're listening to his music, you also go out there into the eye of a musical storm that will invigorate, inspire, and awe. See you out there..."[9]
     
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  19. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Telefied Ad Free Member

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    I think (there's the first problem!) that society has a cognitive dissonance around the fact that music is both art and entertainment.

    Sort of a sliding scale where a bad bar band trying to play covers just like the record and doing so badly, that would be the entertainment end of the scale.
    Or better still AKA even further down the scale, is the piano bar I drive by where adequate piano players singing badly play sing along '80s pop tunes with 100 drunks singing along. They literally murder music hour after hour.
    100% entertainment, 0% art.

    Then some music is far enough to the art end that almost all listeners who need the entertainment component to enjoy music, a small portion of music MIGHT be 100% art and 0% entertainment.
    I'm not sure that can happen though, since I find art music,if good art, to be entertaining, even if not at all enjoyable in the sense that most music fans find music enjoyable.

    I've been to art shows and music shows where my inner judge proclaimed "this is not art".
    That judgement was usually unfair, but visceral.
    I've had many impassioned discussions with artists about what is art and what can we exclude.

    A problem with an exclusionary attitude is that it is bad for art because we need time to get used to "new" forms of artistic expression.
    As for music, I've consumed and played a lot that the masses would discount while the few really enjoy.
    Another sliding scale of sorts is that while few want entertainment-free art-music, few produce it, so the numbers can work.
    The masses discounting art music means nothing, unless you are trying to reach the masses.

    There is a parallel between the art vs entertainment and the structure vs non structure, or tonal vs atonal.
    Atonal might also present a sliding scale if the music is collaborative and an accidental tonal center manifests then gets cancelled.
    (entertainment requires identifiable structure to be universally or widely enjoyed)
    Or if two opposing tonal centers exist in one piece.
    Maybe I'm wrong on that last suggestion though?
    Atonal is zero, and any number above zero is not zero.

    Much like I never cheat on my wife vs I seldom cheat on my wife.
    Ultimately I gave up on atonal and free as ideals in music.
    However, it was a valued part of my musical journey, and further enhanced my view of the role of tonal center in music as guidepost to help the listeners find their way.
    One big reason an audience is a critical part of music, when not working off blueprints.
    They tell us, moment by moment, how much reassurance they need and how much abstraction "the listener" can tolerate.
    So it can be argues that the relationship between artist and audience directs the music itself, and becomes part of the music.

    I've seen audiences walk out mid show many times!
    Cecil most knew what to expect.
    Steve Lacy solo toward the end of the show, started making what could be described as animal noises.
    Wonderful and I sat alone a few feet from the stage after IIRC the entire audience left.
    So just me and Steve in the 1369 Jazz club, kind of sad that even Jazz fans are that shallow.

    Similarly I brought a new GF to a Billy Bang trio show over on West 4th St.
    She was a RISD grad painter whose work was pretty abstract, should be cool, right?
    Billy seeing that we were the only patrons at the show, came over to our table and played like the madman he was, whole body vibrating as he tore it up. This poor girl was mortified.
    Bass & drums, I can't recall if the bass player provided a tonal center in the trio.
    I love Billy and have seen him many times with Sun Ra but cannot listen to the one album of his I own.

    Numerous other shows I've seen audiences leave, once at Harvard's Sanders Theater, when John Zorn, Bill Frisell and Robert Quine.
    I'll admit, that pickup trio did IIRC manage to totally avoid any recognizable tonal center.
    Because it was at Harvard, the big hall was full rich society types in fur coats and fine suits, with many sparking diamonds on display.
    Only took a few minutes for easily 3/4 or the audience to walk out looking upset and offended.
     
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  20. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Telefied Ad Free Member

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    Never heard the name but the music sound familiar as I listen now.
    (My wife asked if it was Stravinsky)
    I have to say though, I keep identifying tonal center.
    Anyhow, thanks for posting the elephant we keep avoiding in terms of to tonic or not to tonic.

     
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