So in functional harmony there are 3 categories. Tonic, Predominant and Dominant.

The following are the chord numbers that belong to each category..

  • Tonic = 1, 3 and 6 chords.
  • Predominant = 2 and 4 chords.
  • Dominant = 5 and 7 chords.

My question is as follows,

Out of each category, which chords have the least to most tension? For example, the 1 chord would have less tension than the 6 chord.

That's basically it, I'm seeking a ranking for least tension to most tension between the 3 groups within themselves and also relative to the other groups.

  • 4
    What will you do with any information?
    – Tim
    Feb 28 '20 at 8:45
  • 3
    I think your idea that everything could be mapped to this mythical "tension" is a misconception. Anyway, there are only 6 possible ways to order the numbers. 1-2-3, 1-3-2, 2-1-3, 2-3-1, 3-1-2 and 3-2-1. You could exhaustively try all six possible orderings and empirically find out if any of them work for your purpose. Feb 28 '20 at 8:59
  • 7
    Highly Dependent on The Chord Played before The Chord. Playing 4th After 3rd might Create 4th a "Tension" but playing 4th After 1st will make it otherwise. Feb 28 '20 at 9:04
  • 5
    Tension also involves inversion and root movement. It is not simply "this chord does this." Everything is about context.
    – Heather S.
    Feb 28 '20 at 12:30

First of all, it's really weird to see "subdominant" called "predominant" and chords being numbered with Arabic numerals instead of Roman ones...

Chords aren't people that you can rate on a scale out of 10 to signify how likely you are to bang them at any given time. Every chord, in the right context and the right inversion, is bangable, as people in the comments have already pointed out.

Chords don't exist in a vacuum. They are usually supported by a melody and surrounded by other chords, which can significantly change how "stable" they sound (which is a subjective notion anyway, given how quickly music is becoming more "dissonant" as time goes on).

Inversions and pitches used and how the roots of the chords move significantly affect melodic chord "stability". A IV->I progression with roots in the same octave sounds more "stable" than a similar progression where roots are 1+ octaves apart.

Like any other theory, functional harmony has its drawbacks. I6 and III7 chords don't quite fit into it.

The only way I would ever judge a chord's stability is by looking at the intervals between every note pair within it (I believe there's some studies on that out there with "consonance" ratings for chords). To give you an example:

  1. XMaj (X being any root; with 0 being the root, the formula is 0-4-7, each following number denoting how may semitones a note is away from the root):
    • 0-4: Major third (imperfect consonance)
    • 0-7: Perfect fifth (perfect consonance)
    • 4-7: Minor third (imperfect consonance)
  2. Xm6 (0-3-7-9)
    • 0-3: Minor third (imperfect consonance)
    • 0-7: Perfect fifth (perfect consonance)
    • 0-9: Major sixth (imperfect consonance)
    • 3-7: Major third (imperfect consonance)
    • 3-9: Augmented fourth (strong dissonance)
    • 7-9: Major second (weak dissonance)

As you can see, all the intervals in an XMaj chord are consonant, and an Xm6 chord contains 2 dissonant intervals. In that sense, an XMaj chord is a lot more "stable" than an Xm6 one.

I hope this answers your question to some degree.

  • 1
    That's... an interesting analogy (is StackExchange supposed to be family-friendly?)
    – awe lotta
    Mar 2 '20 at 4:45
  • @awelotta, I certainly hope not! I will rephrase the analogy if needed though.
    – Pyromonk
    Mar 6 '20 at 9:51

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