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MODERN TONAL HARMONY

Taking advantage and enjoying harmonic resources of music depends on our auditive capacity. In other words, on our natural aptitude to perceive, integrate and evaluate simultaneous combinations of different sounds. Therefore, harmony may be defined as the human ears ability to synthesize simultaneous sounds. It is not about a mere sensory discrimination, but about brain processes that organize stimuli of auditive sensations making them comprehensible. The brain integrates musical stimuli in significant units which are subject in a way to cultural and educational factors conditioning, or to the assimilation degree that musical resources have reached in a specific culture throughout its historical evolution. Consequently, the problem with harmony must be addressed from its cultural perspective history. A successive combination of sounds generates melodies; its simultaneous combination -the sound chords- is a fundamental element of harmony. When combining two different sounds simultaneously one obtains a musical interval. The intervals characteristic for audition is its fusion quality or discordance with which they are perceived, the degree of acceptance or tolerance which is commonly paired to an affective connotation that leads to qualify sound effect as pleasant (consonant) or unpleasant (dissonant). Objectively, we will say that a combination is perceived as having a greater or lesser degree of tension in comparison to others: understanding by this the easiness or difficulty with which audition integrates sounds to form with them homogeneous units. It is important to say that this integration process keeps the exact order set by natural harmonics sequence, which starting from unison and octave, progress orderly by decreasing intervals (octave, fifth, fourth, third, etc.) until it reaches very small interval measures. However, to generate a sound chord, the combination of at least three different sounds is needed. In its simpler expression, such combination is obtained from the superposition of thirds intervals (for example: do-mi-sol, re-fa-la, sol-si-re, etc.). Formation, order and application of chords in our western music have been a result of a large evolution process from the music of ancient Greece up to our days. In Greeks classic music, from which our musical system comes from, there was no simultaneous combination of different sounds. It was sung in unison and octave which were the only accepted combinations. The evident octave consonance must have been recognized almost immediately when masculine voices were confronted with feminine voices in choirs and with childrens more acute voices. For centuries, neither harmonization nor measured time was needed.

Gregorian chant was maybe the biggest contribution in the first centuries of our era. It was in the music style in which Greek scales were called Gregorian modes (or liturgical modes), successions of tones or half tones in conventional sequences, where it can be appreciated in our musical scale (do major scale, for example). The first attempts to combine different simultaneous sounds are unknown. Birth of harmony, however, may be located in the 9 th Century. The earliest way to join different voices at the same time was called organum, a habit registered by writers of the 10th and 11th Century, that consisted in adding two or three voices to an original melody at a distance of one fifth and one fourth in between moving in parallel. On the 11th and 12th Century an attempt was made to overcome this styles monotony granting more freedom to the combinatio n of voices: the composer took the main melody (cantus firmus) and added a part that was sung freely, being able to differ in rhythm and imply other intervals besides the fourth, the fifth and octave. It was called discant (separate chant), a style that allowed the intervention of third and sixth intervals forbidden then for its apparent dissonance according to the level of auditive integration of the time. Assimilation of the third interval gave birth to the first chord that was able to combine a main sound simultaneously with its fifth and third. This step is attributed to the Englishmen of whom it was said that their popular chants were harmonized with thirds. The formation of the first harmonic triad was obtained advancing towards the fifth harmonic of the natural series (or third interval). It was called perfect major chord (do-mi-sol) and perfect minor chord (do-mi bemol-sol), formed by the alternate combination of two thirds, a major and another minor. These were the fundamental harmonic units of our western music until the 16th Century. History of harmony development offers a progressive and continuous change perspective on the human ears aptitude to integrate in homogeneous units , sound produced simultaneously following the order signaled by natures harmonics. This way, more complex chords emerged that were considered auditively unacceptable in other times. In the 16th Century, Claudio Monteverdi, an Italian composer scandalized his contemporaries introducing for the first time a four sounds chord known today as a dominant seventh chord (sol-si-re-fa), accessing the next natural harmonic. This sound chord implied a new interval incorporation in harmony, besides the seventh interval (sol-fa),diminished fifth (si-fa) considered then as highly dissonant (the famous triton three tone interval- named by some as diabolus in musica the devil of music- for its association with the devils trident). In the romantic period and towards the end of the 19th Century, the use evermore frequent and free of chromatism in chord sequences and in tone change -mainly in Wagners music- began the old harmonic languages transformation (used extensibly in baroque and classical periods), being faithful to one main tone

and its relatively limited chords. An extreme deviation of this tendency led to the emergence of atonal music in the 20th Century. Atonalism, mainly represented by Arnold Schoenberg (dodecaphorism) drifted completely from tonal order ignoring its support base consisting of a framework perception that makes melody design comprehensible. As a language, musical expression requires these structures that are generally shared by members of a specific culture. The main principle on which sound organization rests in tonality is the constellation formed around a central note called tonic and being linked between them by two senses of attraction: a centripetal or of repose sense (over tonic) and another centrifugal or of movement (towards the dominant). This sense of attraction or fundamental polarity unites notes in organic groups giving melodies an intelligible meaning of coherence and continuity. Tonality is a dynamic scheme, a background of apprehended associations unconsciously or intuitively that makes melody understandable, turning it into a means of expression, in a language capable of transmitting ideas and feelings. Significantly, at the beginning of the 20th Century, impressionist musicians (mainly Debussy and Ravel), introduced harmonic innovations in chords structure that led to a broader acceptance of simultaneous sound combinations. This way, harmonic structures formed by five, six and seven simultaneous notes began to be used freely, keeping the third intervals superposition (9th, 11th, and 13th chords respectively) and preserving the natural harmonic series order. Other important contributions included the use of fourth intervals combinations to form chords (innovation introduced by Scriabin). Jazz music took advantage of these innovations expanding vertiginously in North America halfway through the century and keeping its faithfulness to a tonal reference framework concept. Jazz took the use of harmonies considered before as dissonant to a broader level of acceptance, especially in its greater development period in New York City. Arrangers and composers, linked directly or indirectly with European traditional music, enriched their musical language extending their resources until covering the limits reached by the human ear evolution in the simultaneous sound combination, without quitting the fundamental framework set by tonality. This is the base for what we understand as MODERN TONAL HARMONY, an extensive good use of innovations carried out by the tonal frame represented by the seven notes of the musical scale. In a broader sense and beyond its gestation and development in the bossom of jazz music, Modern Tonal Harmony integrates itself to all musical expressions of any gender that is faithful to the major-minor system (diatonic, in general) of traditional harmony that has prevailed in our western music throughout its millenary evolution.
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