tonal gravity

Tonal what? Tonal gravity? Like physical gravity? Yep, but with aural sounds and intellectual expectations. In this text, the term "tonal gravity" is used like the term "physical gravity", implying the physical force of motion that surrounds us in our everyday world. Physical gravity is what makes the apple drop downward eh? Yep. So, if tonal implies sound and gravity implies a physical force of direction, can we combine these two terms to create a phrase that implies a directional pull of sound? Absolutely.

So what does tonal gravity do for the creative artist? Well, this "pull" is essentially the motor for the creation of musical tension and release, the essential dynamic found in so much of the American music we love. Artistically, we simply come to terms with certain aural gravitational phenomena based on our own experience, then use this directional force to create and release tension in our art. Like physical gravity but with sounds. And as with physical gravity, tonal gravity can be just as physically compelling. Ever feel like dancing when your favorite tune comes over the air? This is just one of the wondrous artistic abilities that elevates and enlightens mankind, enriching the human consciousness for all to share. Cool with this?

This next idea is a musical example of harmonically directional tonal gravity. The creation of simple artistic tension to a cadential release in bar 4. Example 1 in C minor.



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If by hearing this you get a sense of pull which arrives at the last pitch, that's tonal gravity. Easy enough huh? Is it in the shaping of this tonal gravity that help creates the various styles of American music? Pretty much.

Like our solar system, the closer to the established tonic or tonal center ( our sun ) we hang musically, the stronger the pull towards this center. Conversely, as we move further away from the center, the pull of tonal gravity is gradually reduced, encouraging an expansion of our melodic and harmonic choices within the tension and release dynamic.

One way to musically reduce this sense of tonal gravity is by moving into what players term the upper structure, which refers to the upper pitches of the arpeggio, created from any given chord or melodic resource. Here is an example of moving from the tonic center into this upper structure, then back. Example 2.

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Getting a bit out there? Oh well, it happens. So, like the planets, the closer they come to one another the stronger the pull eh? Thus, the closer our pitches are to the root pitch of the music, which in the above idea is C, the stronger the tonal pull to that chosen tonic pitch? Pretty much. Cool with this? 

So why important? Well, depends on your musical style. Blues and rock players like the tonal gravity to be nice and heavy and usually rather obvious in it's direction in the music. Folk and pop music often use different degrees of tonal gravity to enhance the story being told. For the jazz artist, understanding and controlling tonal gravity is pretty much where it's at. Charlie Parker, the father of modern American music, was among the first of the improvising players to successfully create musical lines using the upper structure pitches within the principles of tonal gravity. Oftentimes using a diatonic arpeggiated figure to "launch" into the upper structure of the harmony, once there, the lack of tonal gravity allowed for Mr. Parker to explore and create some rather modern sounds and colors. He basically revolutionized the music of his times by his ability to "defy" tonal gravity. Like Michael Jordan in basketball? Yep, lots of air and hang time. 

Interesting in that Mr. Parker's rhythm sections were oftentimes covering the lower, more tonally based changes to support his adventures. Perhaps also interesting is that one way that Mr. Parker often linked degrees of tonic and upper structure tonal gravity were by articulating the blue notes, which whenever sounded, pert near instantaneously grounded the music back towards the tonic or tonal center of the music being performed, re-establishing a comfortable sense of tonal center. The following idea seeks to illuminate the above verbiage in a jazzy musical idea. Example 3.

launching with arpeggio landing with the blue notes tonally back home

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Pretty slick huh? There is a naturally occurring tonal gravity within the sounds created from within the equal tempered system. This gravity is organically based on the overtone series. Once understood and under control, how we utilize this natural aural gravitational force and then suspend, accelerate or ritard tonal gravity is all part of the maturing process of the player. Mixing in the blue pitches simply enlarges our palette as well as providing potential grounding points for our improvisations. Creating the sense of forward motion with our rhythms adds an equally if not greater power of physical force than the pitches themselves. Combined together, there is some serious potential for the creative artist to get feet a tappin. Ah, the power of the muse, tonal gravitational pull shaping the emotional tensions within our artwork, so very cool yes? Cool with the ideas here?

Where to next?
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Other artistic considerations? How about artistic techniques?

I have missed more than 9000 shots in my career, I have lost almost 300 games, on 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot ... and missed, I have failed over and over in my life, that is why I succeed. Michael Jordan.