Learn And Understand What Is Tonality In Music

Music is deeply embedded in our lives, and it can influence the way we feel. It has such immense power that we can understand the essence of a song just by its music even if we don’t understand the words. Right now we don’t need to go into the depths of how music is important to us, though.

But, this is why everything that you watch, whether it is a TV commercial or a game, has background music added to it. The ads and movies would seem barren without a soundtrack. The music helps us believe the thing that they are showing, and helps us relate to it.

Similarly, if you are playing a game, the music will tell you what kind of situation you are in right now, whether it is a win-win or a tricky scene.

But the question is, how does our mind understand what music is implying which emotion? How do we know that this specific piece of music means the character is happy? Why can’t it imply that he is sad? All these answers lie in tonality.

Learn And Understand What Is Tonality In Music

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Tonality explained

Tonality in music is a way of organizing all the musical compositions around a central note. This central note is called the tonic. Any music that you listen to closely will return to a central, focal tone after a certain period of time. This feature is called tonality.

Speaking more specifically, tonality is the relation between the notes, chords, and the keys. Tonality has been the most dominant factor since long and continues to be so till date.

Another way of putting this would be that tonality is the nature of the tones and the harmonies in music. It is what differentiates happy music from sad ones, cheerful tones from ghastly ones. Of course, it would look absurd if you were watching a sad scene, and the background played a happy cheerful tone, won’t it?

Major-minor tonality

This is a system in which the notes of the major and the minor scales, along with the optional auxiliary, also known as chromatic notes, are used to compose melodies. The combo of major and minor scales is known as diatonic scales. Each key contains a hierarchy specific to itself that has strong as well as weak relationships notes and chords. They are related to the keynote, also known as the tonic note, and to the chord that is built on that specific note, also known as the tonic chord. Moreover, the different keys can be closely or remotely in relation to the principal or the tonic key.

A feature to be noted about this system is that the notes and the chords belonging to a specific key can create tension or put an end to it as they drift away from or move towards the tonic note and the chord. Similarly, any change or movement that is away from the tonic key can create tension that will be resolved by modulating back to the tonic note. This principle became the key to 18th century musical forms including the sonata.

Learn And Understand What Is Tonality In Music

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Early days of movies

Music has always been a chief part of the movies since long. They have always conveyed to the watcher what exactly is going on in the scene. And no matter how the scene is, the music can portray a different situation.

Suppose, the protagonist just lost his mother. Normally, people would say that sad music should be played. But what if the producer plans to pick music that will show determination? This will, of course, infuse a sense of determination and strength in the character as well as the viewers.


Tonality has a special group of notes. This is called scale. Now, the scale is a way that the notes are arranged. This specific arrangement tells us how we can identify which scale it is. There are two types of tonalities in western music-

  • Major tonality
  • Minor tonality

These have already been mentioned earlier. We will take a quicker look at them now.

Major tonality

This comprises of the major scale. It is usually thought of as the cheerful, bright, glorious, joyful and happy music. Songs that reflect happy and gay moods are major tones. Most of the pop songs, especially the ones composed by guys are major. They use it to woo the girls in the teenage so that their music becomes a hit.

The reggae songs also use this concept. They will give you the feeling that you are relaxing on an island.

Even if you are not that into song, you must have come across the major tones every day. Ever seen commercials? Don’t you always get the feeling that product must be good? Did you ever wonder why? Well, it is because of the music. They all use the major tones that cheer your moods up, and you think that using these products will yield positive results.

Learn And Understand What Is Tonality In Music

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Minor tonality

Well, these are just contrary to the major tones. These represent the sadness and sorrows. You must have seen in the movies that if a sad song is being depicted, the background music itself portrays the same. The music makes you sad, at times cry. All this is the magic of minor tones.

Similarly, the sad songs are based on minor tones. If you are very lonely and in solitude, these songs will make you even more melancholy. Bet you didn’t know this whenever you played that sad song, right?

Tonality in Baroque music

We are discussing the time before renaissance. The music used to be based on modality then. Then it gradually moved on to harmony and further to tonality. Thus, the Baroque period witnessed the evolution of music as we see it today. The music, also known as Baroque music broadened the scope of music. New techniques of playing the instruments were invented. Music notations changed. Opera, cantata, sonata, concerto and oratorio came into existence.

Why use tonality

With the discussion above, it must have been clear that why we ned tonality in music. But let us shed some light separately on that too. We have already seen that music is a blend of notes and chords. Thus, we can differentiate between pitches depending on the central note, or the tonal center.

Now, developing tonality is a task in itself. But once you can achieve that, it becomes much easier for you to be in tune while singing. If you can follow the tonal center and recognize it, it will help you a lot in learning new styles of music. Children too can learn music easily if they have spent enough time listening to different types of songs since childhood.

Learn And Understand What Is Tonality In Music

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The nature of the music is a characteristic of the tonality. It gives us a sense of the kind of mood the music wants to portray. We get the exact idea of what the music wants to tell us. It helps us distinguish one emotion from the other.

Therefore, if you are interested in pursuing music as a career, it is essential that you understand tonality. Unless you can convey to your audience the message that you have correctly, all your talent and work at the home recording studio will go to waste.

Lastly, music is food for the soul. Keep it pure and your soul will be healthy.

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