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Lets say I play a big chromatic chord (Like a tone cluster) - After hearing that chord, I have a tonic (Fact). My question is - will everybody get the same tonic?

If there are multiple tonal centers which you can get from one chord (Example: Symmetrical chords), is the new tonal center 'choice' affected by the previous tonal center?

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  • Do you mean a chord such as C, E♭, F#, A? These chords are in a sense symmetric. The inversions of this chord are just transpositions of the chord (the same chord moved up 3 semitones). So, in isolation, each note is in a sense equal. However, chords generally do not stand in isolation but have some context.
    – badjohn
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 8:19
  • Because there is always a tonal center (in 'atonal' music the tonal center changes a lot), dim7 chords always have a context (could be one of the notes, could be a half-step above a chord tone). I want to know if we all hear the same tonic if we hear the same recording of a chromatic chord (and if not - do we hear the same tonic if we all had the same previous tonic).
    – user39637
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 8:25
  • I agree that any chord which is not played in complete isolation has "a context" (that is almost a statement of the obvious!) but the notion of a "tonal center" is a theoretical construction. If your favorite theory says tonal centers always exist, that's fine, but other theories might disagree.
    – user19146
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 9:46
  • I am talking only about things that I can hear - and I clearly perceive a tonal center.
    – user39637
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 9:53
  • You may interpret something as tonic. That doesn't mean everyone does. Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 11:09

2 Answers 2

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Not in my experience as a music teacher. Perfectly intelligent students, upon being presented with such a cluster, will look at you in incomprehension and/or suggest various different pitches as the tonic.

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  • Various different pitches randomly or which they actually hear as the tonic? Did you establish a previous tonic?
    – user39637
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 8:47
  • 1
    Yes, and no, #user39637. Not a lot of difference. Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 8:55
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Lets say I play a big chromatic chord (Like a tone cluster) - After hearing that chord, I have a tonic (Fact). My question is - will everybody get the same tonic?

No - some chords (like a major triad) do quite strongly point to a single root note (which might then be perceived as a tonic), but others (when you consider the superset of their harmonics) might not. Factors like how loudly the listener hears each note, and the timbre of each note, will play a part.

You also have to consider ear training. It may be that people with less 'trained' ears will be less likely to 'hear a tonic' (as they're less familiar with the concept), but then someone with a lot of musical experience might hear a major chord and also just think "that's a major chord - it doesn't establish any tonic on its own".

is the new tonal center 'choice' affected by the previous tonal center?

You'd imagine that there's a presumption towards the centre staying the same, or moving to a related centre, in the absence of evidence to the contrary. But once you're into chord progressions, all sorts of other factors come into play, like the timing and accenting of each chord - one could play exactly the same sequence of chords and elicit different ideas of the tonic from a listener. And again, different listeners will hear differently - some may be more given to 'hanging on' to a previously-established tonic in their minds.

Another factor is that a trained listener can choose to hear a tonic - if you play them a C major chord, they'll be perfectly capable of 'imagining' that the tonic is D, and hearing the C chord against that.

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  • Can you confirm as a trained listener that you can choose to hear a tonic?
    – user39637
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 8:33
  • @user39637 I could definitely do it if played a single chord. I'm not sure I could do it in every circumstance, but then I'm not that well trained! Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 8:36
  • I have a very good perception of tonality (scale degrees), and I don't know how to do that. Could you clarify on what you're doing?
    – user39637
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 8:41
  • @user39637 I guess it all comes down to being able to hear a note in your head 'strongly enough' that you can hear it alongside real notes you're hearing. If you can't do that, you can always try singing the imagined tonic, and then progress to imagining it. Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 9:48
  • @user39637 "Can you confirm as a trained listener that you can choose to hear a tonic?" Nobody else can confirm it to you, because "what I hear" is an entirely subjective phenomenon that is personal to me. Many of the statements in this thread seem to suggest that you haven't realized that, and what seem like "facts" to you are not necessarily "facts" to other people.
    – user19146
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 9:49

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