I have an assignment for a composition class in which I have to compose a tonal piece with no tonal centre (in the context of Dmtri Tymoczko's theory and what he underlines as the 5 principles of tonality).

My approach to doing that was trying to compose something that, to my ear, would lead to an ambiguity about where the piece would "want" to resolve.

I really don't have much foundation on harmony, so I showed it to a friend of mine more acquainted to it and, in his analysis, he told me this part kind of gravitates towards F minor.

My question is: what strategies could I explore and what could I do differently from what I have done so to achieve something closer to a true lack of tonal centre while still being tonal?

Here's the audio clip of the part I have composed and, here below, its sheet music.

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    I'm intrigued by the idea of "tonality without tonal center," but it sounds inherently contradictory to me. Could you give me a link or reference to where Tymoczko explains the concept? – Pat Muchmore Jul 1 '17 at 14:28
  • Straigth from his book: "The word “tonal” is contested territory. Some writers use it restrictively, to describe only the Western art music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For them, more recent music is “post-tonal”—a catch-all term including everything from Arvo Pärt’s consonances to the organized sonic assaults of Varèse and Xenakis. This way of categorizing music makes it seem as if Pärt, Varèse, and Xenakis are clearly and obviously of a kind, resembling one another more than any of them resembles earlier composers." – Piêr Jul 1 '17 at 17:30
  • "“Tonal” can also be used expansively. Here, the term describes not just eighteenthand nineteenth-century Western art music, but rock, folk, jazz, impressionism, minimalism, medieval and Renaissance music, and a good deal of non-Western music besides. “Tonality” in this sense is almost synonymous with “non-atonality”—a double negative, most naturally understood in contrast to music that was deliberately written to contrast with it." – Piêr Jul 1 '17 at 17:31
  • "The expansive usage accords with the intuition that Schubert, the Beatles, and Pärt share musical preoccupations that are not shared by composers such as Varèse, Xenakis, and Cage. But it also raises awkward questions. What musical feature or features lead us to consider works to be tonal? Is “tonality” a single property, or does it have several components? And how does tonality manifest itself across the broad spectrum of Western and non-Western styles?" – Piêr Jul 1 '17 at 17:32

If by centrality one means a particular key such as F minor then generic advice to avoid or weaken the sense of that key would include:

  • Inversions: weaken chords by placing the root note not in the bass, e.g. from the bass up <e g c> instead of <c e g>. Consider also doubling the 3̂, e.g. <e g c e> which is usually frowned upon in traditional harmony.
  • Diminished: in F minor the chord <g bes des> or ii˚ is quite distinctive; avoid it, or use it with diminished chords from other keys (tritone sub? modulation?).
  • Harmonics: avoid conventional progressions, most especially dominant sevenths to tonic (which Robert Fink touched on). These could be weakened via V-III instead of V-I and also with inversions.
  • Rhythm: especially avoid V-I motions on strong beats to avoid the rhythm reinforcing the harmony; if you need a V-I put it on an off-beat, or as an accent or grace note.
  • Sequences: certain harmonic sequences have less of a "goal" than others e.g. the ascending fifths sequence (bass goes up a fifth, down a fourth, wash rinse repeat). Consider also panning (parallel harmony) or whole-tone scales used by e.g. Debussy.
  • Modulate: to avoid sounding like a particular key, move to some other key. A spiral canon would be one way to do this.

Seems like it's really just the last two chords that pull you back into (sounds to me like) Bb minor. I'd avoid the I-V or V-I root progression in the final bars.

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