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Does the 7 resolve more strongly to the 'lower' tonic (1) than the 'higher' tonic?

I used the word resolve as the octave notes are different despite being the same name.

My ear says going from B to lower C has more 'finality' (which I am calling resolve) than from B to higher C which sounds to me more like the first two notes of a scale.

closed as unclear what you're asking by David Bowling, Peter, user45266, Todd Wilcox, Michael Curtis May 3 at 17:16

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    No. It resolves most strongly to the one it's adjacent to. – Laurence Payne May 2 at 20:30
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    Are you asking about whether C4 sounds stronger going to C3 or C5, or are you asking if B4 sounds stronger going to C4 or C5? I thought you were asking the latter, since B is the seventh scale degree of the C major scale that would normally resolve to a C of some sort. C4 to C3 (or C5) is not what I would call a "resolution". – Todd Wilcox May 2 at 20:43
  • The question is phrased in a confusing way. especially in that the last paragraph doesn't seem to be about the same as the rest of it. – Tim May 2 at 21:15
  • I am asking why it goes up instead of down. It it solely for the sake of composition? I offer the example of C4 ... does it resolve the same higher or lower? If not then the B also resolves (best) to the lower C, in of itself. – Randy Zeitman May 2 at 21:34
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    I still don’t understand. A C does not “resolve” to another C because there is no tension between two Cs. There is tension between a B and a C. Also in the title you ask about the 7th scale degree. That makes sense. In the key of C the sevent scale degree is B. So talking about the seventh or B resolving makes sense. Talking about the eighth scale degree or the first scale degree (C) resolving doesn’t make sense. – Todd Wilcox May 2 at 21:47
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When talking about resolutions, most if not all times the smaller the distance is the better resolution. In this case hands down the leading tone wants to resolve step wise up, not down a major 7th. That resolution would be jarring to most.

To take a step back, there is no difference from a harmony perspective from any octave equivalence in terms of generic harmony so 1, 8, 15, ect are all treated as the root note your scale/key so the idea 8 would be weaker than 1 is not correct in general terms and in this case 7 will really want to go to 8.

  • You seem to be saying what I said - the reason is compositional. But in an isolated situation would you prefer C4 to resolve to C3 or C5? – Randy Zeitman May 2 at 20:37
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    Either. Without knowing more about the scenario, there's not enough to say one way or another. Jumping an octave if not handled with care can be quite jarring up or down so I'd be more concerned about that. – Dom May 2 at 20:40
  • Play it on piano and see for yourself. I think it's clear that a note resolves better to its lower octave than higher. – Randy Zeitman May 2 at 21:36
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    @RandyZeitman It's not conclusive without flow and context. One of the most famous melodies of all time does the opposite (some where over the rainbow). I'm not saying you can't perceive it as better, but there's not a general consensus on this and it's opinionated. – Dom May 2 at 23:14
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The question is, does the 7 actually, technically, resolve more strongly to the 'lower' tonic (1) than the 'higher' tonic but compositionally it sounds better to resolve to the upper tonic?

I don't understand your distinction between what's "technically" right and what's "compositionally" right. In music, composition comes first, and theory is used to describe the composition.

So the reason we say that the 7th scale degree resolves up to the 1st is because that's how composers have traditionally resolved the 7th scale degree.

For example, ignoring the 7, if C4 (middle C) resolves more strongly to C4 than C5 then it would stand to reason that B actually resolves better to the lower tonic but it's always listed as going to the higher tonic because it's more compositionally useful.

This is not a good example because there is no tension between octaves. The concept of resolution in Western music theory is based on the idea of tension between the various notes. If you feel that C4 to C3 is stronger than C4 to C5, then you can certainly use that preference to influence your personal compositional style, but it is not something that has yet been incorporated into standard music theory.

  • "technically" right means the note in isolation. Why do you say there's no tension between octaves? Why would there not be tension between any two waves that aren't the same. – Randy Zeitman May 2 at 23:16
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    @RandyZeitman the frequency ratio between octaves is 2:1, so there is no interference between the two notes; and the ratio between C4 and C3 is the same as the ratio between C4 and C5, so there is no way to rank ascending versus descending octaves. – Peter May 3 at 1:26
  • Well yes, there is no phase interference. There is amplitude interference. Higher notes are louder as they have more power. Treble 'breaks through'. Guitar players often only need little amps on stage, 5-10 watts, while bass players need more. – Randy Zeitman May 3 at 13:55
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It's kind of analogous to ionic bonding in chemistry. Take Sodium (Na) and Chlorine (Cl), for example.

Generally, students acquire the misconception that when Na and Cl react to form NaCl (commmon table salt), Cl simply removes an electron from Na, forming Na+ and Cl-.

But that's not strictly true.

Electrons actually exist in probabilistic regions, meaning there's a certain chance that an electron is in any position, rather than a defined, singular location. Because of the Octet rule (and/or other reasons), the chlorine atom - having 7 valence electrons - much more often takes on an 8th electron rather than losing all seven to go back to 0 valence electrons (which would then mean that it actually had 8 again, but you get the idea). Applying this to NaCl, the individual chlorine molecule attracts the electron so much more strongly than Na that the electron is extremely likely to be "part of" the chlorine atom at any moment. This inequality is so pronounced that we observe the Cl ion to have a negative charge. This post has some more in-depth information, as does the rest of its host question.


To bring this rant back to Music Theory, no, there are no hard-and-dry rules on how the 7th degree, or any scale degree, resolves. But we observe that nearly every time, the 7th scale degree resolves to the octave rather than all the way back down to the lower octave. A bunch of explanations exist for this, and as others have noted, smaller movements tend to be observed as "smoother" resolutions, but my point is that the 7th degree is commonly said to resolve up to the octave because that's how it happens nearly every time. If you feel it works better down to the octave, by all means give it a try, but recognise that you may be mistaking the resolution's effect with that of the effect of having the lower bass note, and that you may achieve effects that you did not intend or did not desire.

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    I'm taking this answer with a pinch of salt..! Except that the question itself is based on a questionable premise. And, at the end of the day, it's all in the ear of the beholder anyway. you're right than mostly the leading note resolves upwards. maybe that's why it's called the leading note? 'Salltoo much for me. +1. – Tim May 3 at 7:29
  • @user You seem to get it. What I'm trying to say (over and over) is that I think the notes, in of themselves, resolves far better lower ... but that doesn't serve how melodies work. Above Peter says there's no interference between C4 and C5 as they're octaves. That's true frequency wise but not amplitude wise. Unless the two notes are the same ƒ there's a difference, perhaps not "interference" if that only means phase-interference. – Randy Zeitman May 3 at 14:00

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