3

I'm 2 years into music theory. Today, in class, I was part writing in the key of Cm. When I got to the V7 chord, I was corrected because I wrote a Gm7 (Vm7). Now, I'm aware that the V chord in a major/ minor has always been dominant, and therefore I've learned it that way. This is an elementary mistake for me. Yet it got me thinking about the way we're taught that diatonic chords, the entire basis of a key, is deemed arbitrary or inferior because a specific tone (7th) sounds stronger when it's raised a half step. If I want to raise the 7th I'll call for a harmonic minor; to me they're not interchangeable, so "it's assumed harmonic because it's minor" isn't an explanation. If so, it'd change more than the V chord. I get it, our culture and our beloved genres use this V7 chord, but it's disregarding the fundamental 12 tone musical scale. Why do we learn a system only to then change it down the road due to preference?

  • 1
    I'd be arguing with your tutor, if they said it's wrong! Fair enough, it's more normal and convincing to use V rather than v, but as far as wrong is concerned... Isometimes think tutors just 'go by the book', which is not how music has ever worked !! Go back and challenge them! (There is v, from the natural minor, which stands with a right of its own). – Tim Jan 30 at 9:39
  • 1
    "Diatonicism" ... is that a religion or a philosophy or something? ;) Calling chords or notes diatonic is way to describe interval patterns. "I'm playing diatonic triads" or "I harmonize the melody with diatonic sixths" It's like calling numbers odd or even or rational or irrational. A way to categorize and describe things. But maybe the mistake was mixing capital and lowercase V? Like, lowercase v means minor, V means major. Anyway, the tonic note is more relevant in the definition of key. The scale can change temporarily and it's still said to be in the key. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jan 30 at 9:49
  • I think you're mixing diatonic and chromatic in your question. You're absolutely right that many compositions move away from the diatonic (only 7 out of the 12 notes), but they generally stay within chromaticism (the 12-note scale). Except when they don't, like in the case of blues guitar. The so-called "blues curl" is a microtonal expression where you tend to raise the minor 3rd a quarter tone to bring it close to the major 3rd. Unfortunately, I don't have an answer for your question. I think that diatonicism is a guideline, but nothing more. – mkorman Jan 30 at 10:13
  • 1
    A long time ago the harmonic minor was simply minor. You are wrong to think that using thus version of the scale is not an explanation. We absolutely follow diatonic rules in western music, cumulative over the centuries there is probably more diatonic than rule breaking music. – ggcg Jan 31 at 5:28
  • Diatonicism may be an unreflected theory or doctrine of some teachers or a misunderstood concept by students of music theory and practice in history. – Albrecht Hügli Feb 20 at 9:42
2

Today, in class, I was part writing ...

As Tim’s and other answers say:

In music - like in most situations of life - first was practice and then theory! First were the modes, the tetrachords and later the accidentals came up and the theory of lead tones and functions was created or invented.

Why do we learn a system only to then change it down the road due to preference?

I think we have to recognize what for we are taught the rules in music theory and why we are asked to follow them:

  • The historical aspect explains how the tetrachords and the accidentals, the tonality of major/minor has been developed.

  • The institutional aspect means that we will be tested in exams about our knowledges concerning the rules and practice in different styles and eras.

  • The professional aspect affords that we are grounded on the subject and material we eventually may teach when we become theory teachers ourselves one day.

  • The practical aspect may be that we know what we do when we compose music and are competent when and how and why we use a certain harmony, borrow chords, and are aware of the prison we are in or if we want to break out.

    • one useful and practical effect is that our musical ear will be trained

    • that are we enabled for discussion, critic and questioning, just like we do here.

Stupid - when we have teachers who don’t have this perspective and lack this horizon and background.

| improve this answer | |
0

Diatonic as a term is nebulous. Some say it's only related to the major key notes, others are happy to include the minor key notes too.

For those happy in the latter category, they must accept that there are more than one set of notes which correspond to 'minor'.

That, to me, means there are 9 notes which are all acceptable to use (and can and will be used) in any minor piece. No 'rules' will have been broken, and as long as the composer is happy with the sound, that's that.

We humans love to make up 'rules', etc, and put things neatly into categories. Hence diatonic. But in music, thank goodness, rules don't (or shouldn't) rule. They may be useful as basic guidelines, and as such, are quite helpful to beginners, to 'keep them safe'. As we study music, it soon becomes apparent that the 'rules' are there to get broken, often. Bit like life?

| improve this answer | |
0

The 12-tone scale will not give you the sense of tonality that you are associating with diatonic. I think you are thinking of the 8-note scale.

Why are non-diatonic notes and chords used? For interest, for harmonic movement, and for better melodic lines. Most songs do not stick with just the basic key. Secondary dominance (V/x, vii/x) chords are often used. The V7 in harmonic minor could be called a borrowed chord from the major. The major IV in melodic minor could be considered a V/vii (minor of the natural minor). The dominant V7 adds a stronger harmonic movement because of the leading tone. However, it is not always used in minor. In many cases, especially under a descending melodic line or in places that are not cadences, the minor v is used. Using non-diatonic chords does not disregard the fundamental scale. They are enhancements.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    '8-note scale' - interesting..! – Tim Jan 30 at 11:18
  • When you say that "The major IV in melodic minor could be considered a V/V", the closest I can think of is that you mean V/V/III. Is that indeed what you mean? – Dekkadeci Jan 30 at 11:54
  • 'Major IV in C mel.min. is F major. V/V in that key would be D maj. Not the same. – Tim Jan 30 at 12:26
  • @Tim, you are right. I got mixed up while I was "talking" to myself. – Heather S. Jan 30 at 16:13
  • I edited my answer. The Major IV could be considered a V/vii (the vii of the natural minor.) Or, it could be considered borrowed from Major. But the point is that the chords all relate, even if they are not all diatonic. Plenty of reasons to use non-diatonic notes. – Heather S. Jan 30 at 16:19
0

Today, in class, I was part writing in the key of Cm. When I got to the V7 chord I was corrected because I wrote a Gm7 (Vm7). Now, I'm aware that the V chord in a major/ minor has always been dominant, and therefore I've learned it that way. This is an elementary mistake for me.

Of course writing a Gm7 in the key of C minor isn't wrong in itself - it's diatonic to the C minor scale, after all.

It may be that you or your teacher were wanting to aim for a certain more specific style or effect in which the major V7 was more appropriate, in which case you might call the Gm7 a 'mistake'.

Yet it got me thinking about the way we're taught diatonic chords, the entire basis of a key, is deemed arbitrary or inferior because a specific tone (7th) sounds stronger when it's raised a half step. If I want to raise the 7th I'll call for a harmonic minor; to me they're not interchangeable, so "it's assumed harmonic because it's minor" isn't an explanation.

There are lots of way to construct melody and harmony that sound subjectively good.

Sticking to a set of notes and chords constructed from the diatonic scale can sound great.

Using notes and chords without restricting yourself to the diatonic scale can also sound great.

Very often, melody and harmony regarded as 'minor key ' does not stick to a 7-note diatonic scale. The three 'versions' of the minor scale allow possibilities beyond the strictly diatonic.

but it's disregarding the fundamental 12 tone musical scale.

As other posts have said, I think you mean the 'fundamental 7 note' scale, i.e. the diatonic scale.

But there's nothing really 'fundamental' about the diatonic scale. it's a scale that allows a certain set of possibilities.

Why do we learn a system only to then change it down the road due to preference?

Arguably, any teaching that leads the student to believe that the diatonic scale is 'fundamental' is poor teaching. It is culturally important; it allows a fantastic set of musical possibilities, and it is the basis of our notation system. But there's no real reason to consider it a fundamental principle of music.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    I disagree that the diatonic scale isn't a fundamental ...of nearly 1,000 years of western music. If you want to discuss some other style of music that's fine. But you are using Roman numerals in your answer. The Roman numerals that only go I to VII, because they represent the diatonic degrees! – Michael Curtis Jan 30 at 22:08
  • @MichaelCurtis Just as (as I mentioned) our notation is oriented around the diatonic scale, I agree that so is much of our terminology. The OP's question, though, seems ultimately to be about What notes can I choose?, and I'm not aware of any reason that the diatonic scale represents the fundamentally 'correct' answer to that question. I wouldn't dispute that it is the basis for many culturally-specific assumptions, nor that there are many reasons why it 'works' well as a basis for both melody and consonant harmony. – topo Reinstate Monica Jan 30 at 23:00
0

I'm updating my answer after re-reading the question and the commentary on other answers.

You are leaving out the details of the assignment, but if it was to harmonize something like this...

enter image description here

...it's critical to understand what Roman numeral system is being used.

The more or less modern standard is that upper case is used for major chords and lower case for minor. In the case of V7 that's a dominant seventh chord, not a minor seventh chord which would be lower case as a Roman numeral, like v7. The difference in the symbols and the treatment of the ^7 scale degree are like this...

enter image description here

It seems you misunderstood the meaning of upper case V.

I'll leave my original answer below.


...the way we're taught diatonic chords

To be clear this is the thing often presented...

enter image description here

...deemed arbitrary or inferior because a specific tone (7th)...

I think you are more or less right. Root position triads on all the scale degrees doesn't represent very well actual harmony practice. But, it's inferior to what?

I offer this as the antidote, a superior presentation of actual harmony practice: the Rule of the Octave.

enter image description here

Historically the rule of the octave was a basic way to teach harmony. It was part of the figured bass system used during the Baroque and Classical periods.

Instead of treating each tone of the scale in the bass as a chord root, the rule of the octave in essence used root position chords on the tonic and dominant only and uses mostly first inversion and some second inversion chords on all other scale degrees in the bass. The direction of the bass is important. Notice the difference in harmonization of the mediant and subdominant degrees when the bass is ascending or descending.

Important to your specific question about minor key harmony, notice the minor example is not three different kinds of minor scales. That is because in the classical major/minor system there are not three different minor scales. The is only minor key. The rule of the octave show how to handle both the linear and harmonic aspects of minor key music in a very concise exemplar.

Why do we learn a system only to then change it down the road due to preference?

I suppose the real answer lies in the continued development of music after the Baroque and Classical era. When new artistic paradigms emerge the historic tendency was to reject old methods. They stopped teaching the old way to make something new.

But that explanation doesn't offer much practical help. I think the important thing to understand is the major/minor system has always been a flexible system of diatonic with characteristic chromatic inflections.

Also, don't mistake this as some kind of classical music technicality. The last rock song I looked at which displays this principle of tonal flexibility was Metallica's The Unforgiven. It changes between plain diatonic and the raised seventh in minor to create a proper dominant.

Of course it doesn't help students that while a huge variety of super common music displays this characteristic tonal flexibility most textbooks start with diatonic harmony and then save the chromaticism and minor key harmony for a second stage or advanced level. It takes about a year to get there in a typical curriculum. Meanwhile the music you hear all the time is rarely purely diatonic!

| improve this answer | |
  • The figured bass examples are rife with parallel octaves and fifths. – phoog Jan 31 at 9:03
  • 1
    @Phoog, that particular example comes from Robert Gjerdingen's Monuments of Partimenti and is based on a figured bass from Fedele Fenaroli. It is not a composition or voice leading diagram. In modern terms it just tells the root, quality, and inversion of the chords in context with bass motion. If you want to avoid the parallels, just modify the realization or use another rule. You can easily find many other examples of the rule. – Michael Curtis Jan 31 at 13:48

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.