(musTh212) Harmonic Progression and Tonality

This a quick condensing of Chapter 5.

Progression and Harmony

There is no common language for harmonic progressions in the 20th/21st century. Most composers that use tertian harmonies avoid root movements by fifth, and rely mainly on progressions that provide unexpected surprises.

Some composers avoid focusing on the harmonic aspect, preferring to focus on linear counterpoint. Other composers (like Hindemith) devise their own regular harmonic progressions.

Establishing a Tonal Center

Absent dominant to tonic motion, the most common way to establish tonality is tonic by assertion. Kostka refers to to pieces with tonic established by means other than functional harmony as having pitch-centricity. Since not a lot of people use this term, I’m going to stick to using tonal center.

Tonic by assertion can be established in a number of ways, including:

  • reiteration
  • return
  • pedal point
  • ostinato
  • accent
  • formal placement


Related to polychords, polytonality combines two (usually) or more distinguishable tonal centers. Since the usual number of tonal centers is two, the term bitonal is often used.


Atonality is the absence of a tonal center.


Personally, pandiatonicism is one of my least favorite theory constructs. The traditional definition for pandiatonicism is a musical passage that uses only the tones from one diatonic scale but does not but use traditional harmonic progressions or dissonance treatment. By this definition much of the work we’ve looked at this semester qualifies in some way as pandiatonic. Often the term is used to refer to music like that in example 5-8 (Stravinsky), where simple melodic figures make it hard to distinguish any one tonal center among possibly many.


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