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I'm in the process of learning the tonal music composing.

For the sake of an exercise, I wrote this little Ländler in Cmaj moving to Amaj, then to Amin and then back to Cmaj.

While I find the harmony and the melody pleasant, I have some difficulties to explain the tonal changes of the piece with the tonal philosophy.

Landlër 2 Score PS: Don't look at my not-so-standard rhythm signature. It is out of purpose for this question.

I see 3 "modulations":

  1. Measure 5 : from Cmaj to Amaj. It looks correct to me: The G chord of the Cmaj tonality moves to the E chord of the Amaj tonality, which are
  • One third away

  • One common note (the B)

  • A chromatic movement (from the G to the G#)

  1. Measure 13: from Amaj to Amin, its minor tone through the help of the 5th degree of Amin, the E chord of measure 12

  2. Measure 17: from Amin to Cmaj, its major relative tone through the help of the 5th degree of Cmaj, the G chord of measure 16

Nevertheless, what puzzles me is the part from measure 5 to 8 :

While the left hand is playing a E(7) chord, the right hand is more in a E phrygian scale (and even (if we consider the G#) in a E phrygian dominant scale (the scale formed by 5th mode of the A minor harmonic scale)). It is not so contradictory. But also maybe not so tonal-compliant.

So my question is : Can we (and how) explain this piece in a tonal philosophy ? Are the "modulations" I deduced such as I saw them ? If not tonal-compliant, what should I change to make it tonal-compliant ?

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  • What does "tonal-compliant" mean? I will hint that Bars 5-8 actually sound like they're in A minor to me instead of A major due to C and F being used while E major chords are playing, but Mozart was pretty tonal and swung from home to tonic minor of dominant to dominant (e.g. D major to A minor to A major) all the time.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 6:58
  • > What does "tonal-compliant" mean? I've difficulties to grab exactly what "tonal" music is about. The measures 5 to 8 sounds like being in A minor, you're right. But what about that G# in the bass ? As the 7th degree in a minor scale is a moving degree (pardon my probably incorrect denominations - I'm really new in that composition approach), the G# could be considered as the major 7th of the A minor scale, and then considered as correct ?
    – lvr123
    Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 11:12
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    It's certainly not atonal! You can worry about whether does things perfectly "by the book" of standard tonal practice, but there's no question that it has "tonal areas" that "tonicize" certain notes, places where you have that sense of groundedness that says what dominant is and what tonic is. Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 14:45

2 Answers 2

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What do you mean with the term "tonal philosophy"? I mean music can be tonal in many ways or in many styles; does the term "tonal philosophy" refer to a certain tradition or style?

Anyway, regarding the modulations:

Bar number 1-4 clearly appears as C-major.

After that follows four bars built on an E-major chord. This could make the listener assuming that you are modulating to C-major's relative key, which is A-minor. It is emphasized because in bar number 7 and 8 you have a C natural and an F natural. So in the bars 5-8 the melodic line has no sharps but all naturals.

Thus the assumption that the music is modulating to A-minor makes sense.

Then in bar 9 an A-major appears which could be regarded as a little surprise if you expected A-minor. So it is A-minor's parallel key.

In bar 13 A-minor appears instead of A-major so we are back at the original key signature with C-major's relative key A-minor.

Then in bar 17 we are back at the original key C-major.

There are some interesting odds and ends with the bass notes. They are often different than the chords. In bar 2 an F chord with G in the bass. Bars 8-16 with A as a pedal point.

I guess that those bass notes are there for the reason that you want the music to sound that way. And that brings me to your questions regarding "tonal philosophy" and "tonal-compliant". I mean if you want the music to sound the way it is written then the music is OK, but if you want the music to appear in a certain style or follow a certain tradition you need to define or elaborate on what you are going for.

Regarding the term "tonal-compliant". If you mean whether the modulations fit the overall tonality of the piece then you could look at it this way: The key is C-major. Then the relative key A-minor fits very well with that. And A-minor's parallel key A-major fits well with A-minor. So I suppose you could call the piece "tonal-compliant".

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  • Sorry for the late reply - I just discovered your analyse now. For measures 5 to 9, you opt for a modulation in Am. How does the G# at the bass fit into this Am ? Could it be seen as a kind of (long/sustained) chromatic passing tone from the G of the measure 5 to the A of the measures 9-16 ?
    – lvr123
    Commented Dec 29, 2023 at 23:18
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    @lvr123 The G♯ in the bass is part of the E major chord. In A minor the note G♯ is the leading note leading to A, so it appears frequently in A minor, thus it fits in A minor. At the same time the bass part makes a (long/sustained) chromatic passing tone as you mention: G - G♯ -A. You can find many examples of music where there are both horisontal lines (melodic lines) and a vertical line (the chords) at the same time. If you can combine the chords with a horisontal line (besides the main melody) it is often a great result. Commented Dec 30, 2023 at 20:30
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The L.H. harmony in 5-8 alternates between E5/G# and E/G#. There's no 7th.

Yes, it's a bit 'outside' compared with the rest of the piece. The G# bass note connects the preceding G with the following A. Nothing wrong with chromatic melody notes, but there doesn't seem to be any melodic unity with the rest of the piece. It's not atonal, but it certainly clashes with the more straightforward harmonic context of the rest of the piece.

Your harmonic description of the rest is OK. All perfectly within the realm of 'tonal'.

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  • You mean that in the 5-8 measures a 7th should be more present in order to emphasize the role of Dominant of that E chord ?
    – lvr123
    Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 21:06
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    No. I'm just saying that you said it was "a E(7) chord"". It isn't. Look, I was being polite in my answer, and I try very hard not to stifle creativity. But if this was an assignment with the aim of demonstrating tonal harmony, and I was marking it, I'd have found it difficult not to assess that section as just plain WRONG!
    – Laurence
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 12:30
  • Got it for the E5/G# vs.E7. You said also "I'd have found it difficult not to assess that section as just plain WRONG!" Could you elaborate ? I'm here to learn, and this piece is just a try-out exercise, so I won't be offended by any constructive remark ;-)
    – lvr123
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 15:01

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