Beyond the Common Practice Period

This week the focus of my reading was on function in music beyond the Common Practice Period (CPP) – modern pop music, jazz, blues, that sort of thing. Functional Tonality is one of the things that defines music of the CPP, so often people disagree with using functional terminology (Roman numerals, often) for music that does not fit the classic definition of tonal. [This often stems from everyone having a different definition of tonal.] However, in my experience, there are a wide variety of musics that don’t have V-I cadences that still have a pull to a central tonic, that feel incomplete if ended on the “wrong” chord. I would like to be able to use FA to explain how these musics/chords function to pull to tonic, but I’m still slightly unsure of how to accomplish the labels clearly and simply.

A very useful article that I found thanks to a class from last spring is “Triadic Modal and Pentatonic Patterns in Rock Music” by Nicole Biamonte. She cites and uses ideas from an article by Agmon (that I read for my Harmony section) and describes how modal and pentatonic systems can enforce tonics. “In many cases, chord hierarchy and function are established or clarified by other musical parameters such as phrase structure, hypermeter, rhythm, texture, consonance, and contour.” A further idea is that the leading-tone pull that we rely on to make Dominant sound dominant is partially due to adjacency and scale completion. Therefore, the pitch in a scale/collection that is one below tonic may act as a leading tone, even if it is more than a half-step away. The triad on the lowered 7th scale degree often substitutes for D in modal contexts, and in some pentatonic contexts 6 does as well.

This leads to a IV chord acting as a dominant, which can be seen in Blues music as well. When IV acts as dominant, sometimes this can lead down a trail of dualism, which may or may not come in handy. It is yet to be seen. A discussion of IV as dominant in Rock music is found at The Cadential IV in Rock: , written by David Temperley. I found his discussion that went into defining cadences quite interesting. Overall the article is focused on form a bit more than I am. He disagrees with a use of a Predominant type label often, saying that dominants and tonics are clearer functions, and using P signals CPP ideas/ideals. I don’t think he’s unflexible; here’s one quote that I pulled: “But clearly, we must be skeptical of any wholesale application of common-practice functional labels to rock harmony.” Wholesale application of anything is probably never a good thing, but I think that functional ideas can help us understand, play, and memorize modal and pop music too.

In a slightly different context, James McGowan writing “Riemann’s Functional Framework for Extended Jazz Harmony,” thinks that Predominant chords are important, common, and identifiable. The primary P in jazz is a ii instead of a IV, but it definitely has its own character. McGowan is arguing against seeing jazz as only chains of dominants merely because it is even more falling-fifth based than CPP. He also considers how to handle extensions. I felt this article started on the right track but didn’t really go far enough. The idea of having a scale/collection/extended tertian harmony as Dominant could definitely help me figure out my labeling problem.

I feel my strongest arguments for FA in pop music are experiential. I feel wrong when “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons ends on the wrong part of the chord cycle, even if it has only 4 chords, and none of them look like V. When I’m playing “In My LIfe” by the Beatles [badlly] on my guitar, I can memorize the chord structure because T-Tr-P is a logical progression, because double dominant chords go to D chords – even if the D is actual the “wrong” representative of the D class of function. Memorizing 8 pages of folk/fiddle grove accompaniment is impossible [for me] without understanding how the harmonic cycle and functions work.

This type of thing won’t be the main chunk of my dissertation, but if I have to have articles on more than one topic in the future (for tenure or whatever), pop music is definitely my second favorite thing.

Personal note: looking forward to recruiting this year’s freshman for the FA revolution. Teaching triads and RNs starts next week!

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