What is tonality?

  • (noun): Any of 24 major or minor diatonic scales that provide the tonal framework for a piece of music.
    Synonyms: key


Tonality is a system of music in which specific hierarchical pitch relationships are based on a key "center", or tonic. The term tonalité originated with Alexandre-Étienne Choron (1810) and was borrowed by François-Joseph Fétis in 1840 (Reti, 1958; Simms 1975, 119; Judd, 1998; Dahlhaus 1990). Although Fétis used it as a general term for a system of musical organization and spoke of types de tonalités rather than a single system, today the term is most often used to refer to Major-Minor tonality (also called diatonic tonality, common practice tonality, or functional tonality), the system of musical organization of the common practice period, and of Western-influenced popular music throughout much of the world today.

Read more about Tonality.

Some articles on tonality:

Tonality - Theoretical Underpinnings
... Tonality allows for a great range of musical materials, structures, meanings, and understandings ... Tonality has a hierarchical structure one triad, the tonic triad, is the center to which other chords are supposed to lead ... Music notation was created to accommodate tonality and facilitate interpretation ...
Late Works Of Franz Liszt - Technique - Tonality
... Liszt lost interest in the question of tonality—a question which, for Liszt, was long standing ... like a Schonbergian tone row, that would become a logical replacement for traditional tonality ... such a row would be part of the historical process from a "unitonic" (tonality) moved to a "pluritonic" (polytonality) and ended in an "omnitonic" (atonality), where every note ...
Authentic Mode - Tonality - Hierarchy of Tones
... Given the confusion between ancient, medieval, and modern terminology, "today it is more consistent and practical to use the traditional designation of the modes with numbers one to eight" (Knighton and Fallows 1998, 256). ...
Ballets By Claude Debussy - Musical Style
... Rudolph Reti points out these features of Debussy's music, which "established a new concept of tonality in European music" Glittering passages and webs of figurations which distract from occasional absence of tonality Frequent use of parallel chords which are "in essence not harmonies at all, but rather 'chordal melodies', enriched unisons" some writers describe these as non-functional harmonies Bitonality, or at least bitonal chords Use of the whole-tone and pentatonic scale Unprepared modulations, "without any harmonic bridge." He concludes that Debussy's achievement was the synthesis of monophonic based "melodic tonality" with harmonies, albeit different from those of "harmonic tonality". ...