So this may be because a lack of understanding on my part when it comes to tension and release. But for some odd reason I just can't get my ear to work with me on it. So, when it comes to tension and release of the major degrees (etc) I have a pretty good understanding. For example the most obvious is how the fifth dominant chord let's say G7 of C wants to resolve to the tonic. All degrees have a certain amount of tension and release (that I'm still a little fuzzy on and I would love some help) but when changing to the different modes do these tensions and releases change? Obviously the degrees change and so do the notes within them when building chords. Would the second degree in let's say C Phrygian have the same amount of tension as the second degree in C Ionian? But when in a mode like Lydian the second degree is dominant therefore wouldn't that be the degree/chord with the most tension unlike the second degree of other keys? I'm just very confused on the whole matter. I understand chord construction and I love writing modal progression (I find simple Ionian and Dorian/Aeolian to be a tad bit boring). Also I know music is all about tension and release but I just haven't been super informed on the topic. Help would be greatly appreciated and a listing of tensions or an in depth explanation would do wonders. Thank you!

  • Cope covers tension in "Computer Models of Musical Creativity" and I believe he follows Paul Hindemith, if you want some more reading.
    – thrig
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 17:10
  • Oh, much appreciated. I'll be sure to check it out. Thank you.
    – MusicMan
    Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 1:17

1 Answer 1


This is interesting: A Theory of Tonal Hierarchies in Music. Take a look at the section on page 76 (no, it isn't that long; it starts on page 51), which talks about tension. It's very deep stuff, but also very well written. It has a lot of data on experiments conducted on the psychological effects of various tonal relationships,and, while it doesn't talk specifically about modes other than major and minor, you should be able to work out some of your own ideas based on the interval relationship they do talk about.

This excerpt will give you an idea of the style:

The third proposition is that statistically frequent patterns in the music should, in most cases, be reliable guides to the listener for abstracting the tonal hierarchy. This proposition would predict that listeners are able to orient relatively rapidly to the style-appropriate tonal hierarchy, and that perceptual judgments should converge with statistical distributions of tones and tone combinations. The psychological challenge with which the present chapter is concerned is the isolation, direct measurement, and quantification of tonal hierarchies.

You wanted in depth; this will give it to you. :)

  • You sir, are an incredible person. I cannot thank you enough for this. I have dug around and sadly the internet is a terrible place for things like this. You have my sincere thanks and I will read every word of those pages and add them to my own personal studies on the matter. I'll be sure to really take it all in. If you have any other wonderful studies on deep theory please be sure to let me know. Again, thanks. I'll vote your answer but first I want any and all insight from others on the site. I'll give it a while.
    – MusicMan
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 9:23
  • You are very welcome. I found that by remembering a discussion about chord progressions vs. chord regressions in freshman theory back in 1974. So I googled "chord progression regression." One of the links had Krumhansi's name, which I then googled, and up it came. :)
    – BobRodes
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 9:52
  • p.s. A classic study on this sort of thing is Emotion and Meaning in Music, by the godfather of the subject, Leonard B. Meyer. That was one of my college textbooks, and I confess to having read perhaps 10% of it. "Vectors that produce musical affect" is one of the things that sticks in my mind all these years later.
    – BobRodes
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 17:17
  • Oh wow, how much did your time in college benefit your knowledge on theory? Are there any other college books you'd recommend? I'll definitely check them out. I've been dying to speak with someone like you and am eager to learn all I can. The 70's were a great time, haha.
    – MusicMan
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 18:15
  • Also, I just looked into that book. I can buy it for around $25 which is a steal. I was expecting some sort of college text book but this is a great small study I can easily dive into. Thank you so much yet again, friend.
    – MusicMan
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 18:19

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