I’m interested in finding out what are the current proposed theories surrounding the expectation + release behaviour of functional harmony.

From what I reckon, functional harmony seems to be a human construct but one that we’ve learnt to anticipate and thus eventually enjoy but I’d like to know if there’s something deeper to it than just that?

P.S I’m not asking about the scientific basis of consonance. I am more interested in knowing why voicing, inversions and dominant - tonic relationships work.

1 Answer 1


I know you don't what a scientific explanation, but it is a scientific topic and is not culturally constructed. The science dealing with this is called psychoacoustics. While scales can have different cultural meanings, consonance and dissonance, and thus harmony are the product of how cilia in the ear vibrate at different harmonic intervals. The resolution of dissonance to a consonance can be explained psychoacoustically. In the West, the main way functional harmony has changed in culture is it becoming more free, especially with the use of dissonance and means of resolution. The reason other cultures do not always have this is that polyphony is rare in folk music—examples are in Pygmy and Georgian folk music.

  • You misunderstood. I’m not swaying away from a scientific explanation; in fact, that’s actually what I needed in the first place. I was just specific about not wanting to know about sensory consonance because I’ve read immensely about it within the realms of cultural relevance and diversity and none of it adds up to forming a full basis of 18th century rules of functional harmony. Oct 6, 2020 at 16:21
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    Then are you asking a historical question? The evolution from sacred monophony to the 18th century is pretty clear and took centuries. Intervals were initially highly restricted in Medieval music once polyphony came about, and you can read a text like Gradus ad Parnassum to see how people thought of resolutions as a transition from imperfect to perfect consonances. Also, a lot of the rules were formulated retroactively and were only initially grasped intuitively. Oct 6, 2020 at 16:26

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