~ tonic / One / Ionian / ~

i ~ I ~1

~ a tonic chord type ~

'... the root centering pitch of our tonality ...'

~

Evolution of the artist. Understanding and accepting this theoretical idea of 'One' can become a game changer for the newly emerging theorist. For it centers a person's thinking around the one pitch in a song that unifies all the rest. From One we can measure and build it all. Thus around a single pitch, our tonic note One, we can build up songs in all of our styles.

That we can apply the ideas surrounding One to all of our American musical styles and depending on the gig and those involved, communicate our version of the music to be played while enabling us to quickly find the common ground among the players involved, helping to get the music started and everyone on the same page. Examine the letter name pitches in C major. Example 1.

scale # degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
C major scale
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
chord # / quality
Imaj7
ii-7
iii-7
IVmaj7
V7
vi-7
vii-7
VIII
diatonic 7th chords
CEGB
DFAC
EGBD
FACE
GBDF
ACEG
BDFA
CEGB

An Essential tonic scale shape. As so many of our early melodies flow to and from our tonic, having tonic centered scale shapes really helps to get the pitches under our fingers. Think to master this shape if you've not already done so. Pitches of the C major scale, tonic pitch to tonic pitch, in 5th position with a suggested fingering. Example 1.

One to Eight and back to One. Hear the resolving sense of the pitches with the shape? For some reason it feels as if that shape has been around for us for a very long time. And isn't this shape a core 'box' scale for the blues? Tis is indeed. For this single shape can become the center for blues guitar melodies.

Finding One in the theory. Know the letter name of the key of the song you're playing? That letter name, or the pitch and sound it represents, we theorists know as One. The first chord in a chorus of a traditional 12 bar blues? We'll know that as a One chord. The resolving chord of our various cadential motions? A One chord.

And crazy as it sounds, each of our broad categories of style can each have a distinctive sound shaping for One, as endlessly varied in artistic expression as the many players who sound One to center their musical arts.

Is this like rhythm's downbeat on one ? Pretty much, especially as the 'one' in rhythm is the first beat of a measure we usually call the downbeat. That this One just happens to get sounded on that 'one', the downbeat, is just not a total coincidence.

Becoming one with the tonic. As soon as we pick a key and launch into something, the letter name of this key becomes numerically labeled One, often termed among theorists as the tonic pitch of the key. One and tonic; we can use these same terms equally for both the relative minor and major environments. Common enough too in talking the blues.

Just as a one off, its the same music theory and vocabulary here in Anchorage as Seattle, LA, Austin, NYC to London and further points beyond right? To like Greece 2500 years ago? Pretty much. Even earlier? Regardless, the following chart helps spell it out using just the white keys of the piano. Example 1a.

scale degrees
tonic / 1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
C major scale
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
A minor scale
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A

So no, not all that complicated with letters :) And that's a good thing. Aural arrival at the tonic usually implies a resting point in the music, tonic is also that deeper sense of home and center in our songs, stories and tales. Conjuring the more direction sensed music in between resting points is of course the other half of the magic. For surely getting there can be half the fun.

Dig the following classic American melody, beloved and covered by everyone who could. Acoustic guitar wizard James Taylor's rendition is especially memorable. In the key of C major, this next line starts and ends on One, the tonic pitch letter named C. The words imply it was originally a banjo tune. Into the wayback for ex.1b.

Got this line under your fingers? Perhaps to learn it here if need be. For there's an easy capture of the jaunty swing character of our earliest American verve in Stephen Foster's classic "Oh Susanna." Built right in.

While advancing cats might use more than one tonic pitch in a song, as many jazz standards feature two, three or more key centers, most of the folk, blues, rock and pop tunes we love usually feature just one tonic pitch. For improvisors, this stylistic breakdown creates the two core EMG approaches to soloing; using one parent scale improvising 'over' a chord progression or multiple parent scales while working 'through' the chord changes. Is this the 'over the river, through the trees thing ...'? Yep.

Tonic symbology / capitalized / Roman #'s. Depending on how much you've been able to survey this text, you've probably figured out by now that I always try to use a capitalized letter when designating a number as a scale degree, i.e., One. This is just my way of keeping it all straight in our discussions.

That said, we theorists have also historically used Roman numerals to describe in numerical characters the root motion of chords. Upper case numerals denote major triads while lower case traditionally denote the minor triads and extensions. This numeral designation was the standard in my theory classes at college back in the 80's. Example 1c.

Roman numeral designations of the diatonic chords of C major
I
ii
iii
IV
V
vi
vii
VIII
Roman numeral designations of the diatonic chords of A minor
i
ii
III
iv
v
VI
VII
viii

Melodies. In thinking of melodies, we might say that the majority of our melodies end on the tonic pitch or One of our key center. While there's endless variations of this idea as we move through the musical styles and songs, too many essential melodies close out on the tonic pitch to not be familiar with. Do our chord progressions follow a similar scheme too? Pretty much.

Modes / Ionian ~ Aeolian. In thinking of groups of pitches and the common major / relative minor pairing of key centers, we associate the Ionian mode with One in our major key centers and usually just call this grouping our major scale. The Aeolian mode is One in minor, its basic grouping of pitches commonly creating the natural minor scale or grouping of pitches.

Streamline the theory. Further, our tonic pitch / One's tonal centering attributes are so essential in our music theory system that we theorists assign what we term a chord type to One, based on its historical prominence, harmonious nature and flexible pitch construction.

In 'Essentials', we distinguish just three unique chord types with One being the most restful center. Evolving players often use these chord type classifications to help understand, learn and manage the vast array of chords available to the evolving artist of today.

Where in the music. We'll find the One / tonic everywhere in all of our musical styles. For like our solar sun, our numerical One is the center of our local musical universe. It is the source of our tonal gravity and we'll measure all interval distances from our tonic pitch. So every where the sun shines in our American music, we'll find the tonic / One at its center.

Where in history. We've just got to try and believe the idea of a tonic pitch, centering whatever pitches were available goes all the way back in time. There is that old cave bear flute that was found in Slovenia few years back. And if that's any indication of our pitch history, then our centering on our tonic note is pretty well covered historically.

The interval of One. The theoretical distance between two of the same pitches is termed a perfect unison. Termed perfect due to its purity of sound, and unison as the pitches are of course the same pitch. We'll see this unison in other spots in the music. Even though theoretically there is no distance or interval between the pitches, we do need a proper way to identify it by name, thus a perfect unison, One to One. Example 2.

Key center. The first pitch of all our various groupings of pitches becomes numerically the number One. As our root or tonic pitch, our melodies and supporting harmonies usually gravitate away from then back to One. The beauty of our musical system of equal temper tuning allows each of the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale to fully function as One.

Melody. The following hook of the classic melody, "Shortnin", portrays the power of the One / tonic pitch in providing a solid and predictable start and closure of the melodic idea. We start and finish on our tonic pitch C. The vast majority of all of the AmerEuro music we love follows this tonic centered tension and resolution of tonal gravity. Example 2a.

hook

Four out of four. Wonderful oldtime American melody. Makes for a fun quote for the jazz players and those so inclined. Notice the tonic / One pitch C in all four measures of the phrase? Such tonic centered melodies are the ones we often learn first as kids as they can be among the easiest to internalize. For those so inclined, shed this melody through the 12 major keys to further sure things up.

Under your fingers. Have you got this melody / scale shape under your fingers? Its fairly straightforward and is built from the pitches of the major pentatonic group. In memorizing melodies such as this one, we can learn and internalize the power of the pitches. And over time, not only create our own powerful melodies but create passionate improvisations too.

Some powerful pitches. Dig the following line in A minor, ancient melody pitches with the power of the moderne. From root pitch One to Five and back. Ex. 2b.

'Are you going ... ?' To "Scarborough Fair." Starting off a song's lyrics with a question ... surely one way to bring in a listener. And as lovely a One to One, tonic centered melody of the minor tonality as ever came to be. One to Five then back home to One, kind of like the blues.

About the harmony / chords. As with melodies, our harmonies usually follow along the same lines of tonal gravity. The One chord functions most often as the beginning and end points of the music. In folk, blues and rock this is nearly always the case. Jazz players will shake things up a bit but generally follow the same basic tension and release guidelines, starting a phrase on Two is fairly common.

Here is the classic One / Four / Five / One chord progression. Surely this chord progression cores most of our American harmony. A cool theory key here is that we get we get this essential motion for both major and minor diatonically in each key center. This diatonic resource harmonizes and creates the major minor weave of chords for most of our children's songs, folk, blues, rock, country and pop. Examine the relative pairing of G major then E minor key centers using root position barre chords sounding One, Four and Five. Example 3.

chord progressions

Pachelbel's Canon in D just might the oldest and hippest cycle for five of these six diatonic chords. A classic winter holiday theme today, we can kibble and bits it up into probably a million tunes. Example 3a.

Classic 70's barre chords and Roman numerals. The last two ideas used the same barre chord shapes that we often hear on the radio everyday. In all of our musical styles, the diatonic One / Four / Five / One / motion is not only as old as the hills but so often right in the thick of it in nearly every song. For example, any song written in the twelve bar blues form is structured this way.

We theorists will often use the Roman numerals to designate our chord progressions; major chords are upper case and lower case denote minor harmonies. Songs written in a minor key follow the same numerical Roman numeral scheme. For those reading here who go on to formal theory studies in school, good chance you'll run into these ancient symbols.

Chord type / One / stability. Based on the quality of triad and added 7th, thinking in terms of chord type is a nice leap forward for the evolving guitarist. So no surprise that the chord built on the first scale degree also creates one of three types of chords. In thinking this way, we look to categorize chords by their interval construction creating similar but different chordal colors that can function the same way.

Thinking by chord type comes in handy with jazz, as tunes often modulate or change keys and conversely, some songs will have long sections of just one chord, which can beg for using a variety of harmonic colors.

Chord type can be a big help to guitarists in that we often need chord shapes with various melody pitches, both diatonic and non-diatonic, in the lead voice. Thus armed we can create our block chord melody arrange-ments that can lay the foundation for all kinds of possible harmonic / melodic tonic solutions.

For the advanced improvisor, thinking along the lines of chord type can help create and catalogue a variety of choices. These we use to create the ever elusive tension / release dynamic by varying our degrees of tonal gravity and tonic stability. Since the One chord figures so much in our music, we be glad of its type for variety. And while the ideas of chord type and 7th chords go hand in hand, examine these various One functioning chords by evolution of musical style. Example 4.

Lastly, while the idea of chord type and its labeling system leans more towards the major tonality and its core jazz cadential motion of Two / Five / One, once the basics of the theory are in place, it all just becomes a background view of the resource, thus the ideas and chord palette generated can apply and works equally well in both relative major and minor keys. In the following example we examine the interval structure and some common jazz shapes for the tonic / One chord type. Example 4a.

tonic chord type intervals
common tonic / One chord voicings

Major triad with a major 7th. From the building block diagram on the left, we can see that the theory core of the One chord type is the combination of a major triad and an added major 7th interval. Only the One chord type will have basic foundation.

Tonic stability. In listening to the voicings, can you sense the stability in the aural colors? They're solids, they create the restfullness within well crafted art while retaining a degree of colortone embellishment. Pretty simply really. The trick is to decide which degree of rest and stability works for the piece and which chordal colors best express the art in your heart at any given moment in time :)

Tonic instability / advanced diminished idea. A rather rare tonic instability can be created by using a fully diminished 7th color as a momentary One chord or tonic. Depending on the artist of course, there are varying degrees of this application of the diminished chord, scale and overall color. It is not totally uncommon to use a diminished scale color for a solo break or strike a tonic based fully diminished 7th chord prior to the sounding of the tonic One chord.

Evolution of instability. Advancing artists have a couple of initial options in advancing this idea. Here we begin the move from in to out. An initial trick is to simply change chord type of the written chord, while retaining the written root pitch. The dominant chord type is the color most often chosen to replace the One or Two type chords in a progression. Love that tritone!

In advanced playing, these V7 chords are often altered beyond recognition and when used effectively in brighter tempos creates music that I think I hear as a 'chromatic buzz.' In this next idea we begin the de-stabilization' process by creating a delayed chord resolution via the diminished color. Example 5.

Jazz. These last ideas and concepts are in the realm of the jazz music and as such become good ways to add an 'influence' to any style. Even jazz? Sure. Lest we forget that jazz was once America's first pop music. For once tonic stability and the relationships between tension, release, balance and form are conceptualized within our intellect, then its game on and sky's the limit for what is creatively possible. Now for what actually artistically works, or what each of us can get to work in our art is ever the challenge at hand.

Old time blues. At the historical core of American blues, it's not uncommon to hear the following tonic / One chord motion. Thinking blues in A, here we simply collapse down our dominant chord voicing to a diminished shape then return to our starting chord all based on A, the tonic pitch of the music. Example 6.

A classic American sound. We hear this type of sound and harmonic motion in the early blues recordings. Keyboard players lifted this of course and gradually the lick made it into the various early rock and roll sounds of the 50's and beyond.

wiki ~ Chess Records

Review. Nice to know where our musical sun likes to hang in our local musical universe eh? Tonic stability. Predictability in the music. Tension and release. Improvisation. Building solos. Just a few of our artistic and theory considerations as we evolve in our careers.

tonal gravity
aural predictability
tension and release
"Let me learn by my own mistakes."
Tamzen Crocker
1
#1
b2
2
b3
3
4
#4
b5
5
#5
b6
6
b7
7
8
b9
9
#9
-10
10
11
#11
12
b13
13
b14
14
15
#15
Footnotes:

(1) Isacoff, Stuart. Temperament ... The Idea That Solved Music's Greatest Riddle, p. 40-42. USA Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 2001