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Music and theory: harmony, dissonance, and tonality

Music and theory and harmony: A descriptive treatment of harmony and dissonance as they are defined under the principles of tonality.

Harmony is the relation of notes to notes and chords to chords as they are played simultaneously.

Harmonic "patterns" are established from notes and chords in successive order. Melodic intervals are those that are linear and occur in sequence, while harmonic intervals are sounded at the same time. Whether or not a harmony is pleasing is a matter of personal taste, as there are consonant and dissonant harmonies, both of which are pleasing to the ears of some and not others.

Music history tells us that the definition of harmony has evolved over a period of time as different music forms have developed. In the Middle Ages, harmony was simply a two-note combination. During the Renaissance, three-note harmony was popular with the introduction of the triad. The Romantic Era expanded chords into four-part harmonies. The only method or technique for music endings was to resolve into a tonic chord built on the 1st and 5th notes of the scale in that key. Contemporary music has broadened the meaning of harmony to accept dissonant chords that never resolve into tonics of the key.

Basic to harmony is the triad mentioned above. A triad is the most common chord form. It is built on the first, third, and fifth notes of the scale and is symbolized in music notation by the Roman numeral I. A triad built on the second note of the scale would include the second, fourth, and sixth notes of the scale, still keeping one scale degree between each jump. A triad built on the second note of the scale is symbolized by the two lower case "I`s," written as ii. Triad chords may be built on all seven notes of the scale (with the eighth note a repeat of the first.) Chord symbols for the triads built on the third through seventh notes of the scale are as follows: iii, IV, V, vi, and vii. Just as the I chord is named the Tonic, the IV chord is also called by the name Sub-Dominant. The V chord is the dominant. And the vii is referred to as the Leading Tone, as it is often used to change (or "lead") into a new key. This organization around tones is known as "tonality."

Tonality provides the basis for the establishment of keys. The I, or Tonic chord, determines the key. For instance, when the Tonic is A, the piece is said to be in the Key of A. Another issue in tonality is major and minor. Pieces built on the tones of the major scale are termed major and those built on a minor scale are said to be in a minor key. Major composers - Schubert, for instance - wrote a variety of music in both major and minor keys. Examples are his quartets in "A minor," "D minor," and "G major," pieces that were melodious and full of modulations from key to key. Some of his more well-known chamber music includes "E major Quartet" and "Allegro in C minor."

Harmony that brings about a concordant or agreeable combination of notes is termed consonant. When chords do not fit into an accepted pattern of harmony, they are said to be dissonant or unstable. Dissonance is often used to create moments of suspense that later resolve into more pleasing tones of consonance. Dissonance is sometimes not considered harmony by some teachers of music, although most pedagogy classifies harmony as dissonant or consonant.

Music is based on structure and order. Harmony, dissonance, and tonality are key elements in that school of thought.

Reflections on Raga Hameer

Last year (1999) I had posted a discussion on Raga Hameer on the Usenet newsgroup rec.music.indian.classical (RMIC). The commentary was dotted with representative sound clips that, at the time, were prohibitively large for most readers to download. The situation has now been remedied by offering the clips in streaming audio. Much of the material has been re-arranged and augmented. Throughout this causerie, M = shuddha madhyam and

Raga Hameer belongs to the class of the grand, basic rAgas and is known to project a vigorous, dramatic mien. It is occasionally referred to as Hameer Kalyan (not to be confused with Hameer Kalyani of the Carnatic paddhati, which is the equivalent of the Hindustani Kedar). As a traditional Hindustani denizen of considerable heft, one finds in Hameer a variety of old Dhrupad, Dhamar and Khayal compositions. Just as Nand is a staple of the Agra/Atrauli diet, so it is with Hameer and the musicians of the Gwalior Gharana.

Raga Hameer is nominally assigned to the Kalyan thAT and employs all the shuddha swaras plus the teevra madhyam. The association with the Kalyan group is debatable since the rAga's structure reveals a significant presence of the Bilawal anga. At any rate, the thAT taxonomy is a secondary consideration; our focus is on the structure of the rAga. The melodic contours of Hameer are vakra and the Arohana/avarohana set serves to provide no more than a silhouette. It must be underscored that the Aroha and avarohana follow from the rAga-lakshaNAs and not the other way around. The Aroha & avarohana set merely indicates the swaras deployed and an approximate sequence of their occurrence. It is not a statement or even a précis of the internal constitution of a rAga. The most that can be said for Aroha and avarohana is that it is sometimes possible for a thinking musician to express a few highlights of the rAga through careful recitation of the sequence.

Nominally we may define the Aroha/avarohana set of Hameer as follows:

S, R G M (N)D, N D N S"::S" N D P, m P G M R, S

The essence of Hameer lies in the curvature imparted to its Arohi prayogas and the crucial role accorded the dhaivat. It falls to the class of abstract rAgas such as Kedar, Gaud Sarang, Nand and so on. By "abstract" we mean that it is not a scalar rAga, amenable to constitution with elemental Aroha-avarohi phrases, that there is more to it than a chaining together and summing up a group of linear tonal clusters. The happy marriage of swara punctuation and enunciation (captured by the term "ucchAraNa") necessary for effective expression of abstract rAgas is attained to by judicious tAleem and long periods of reflection. We shall now examine the lakshaNAs and these pointers in concert with the attached sound files should help clarify the overall picture.

The key idea in Hameer lies in the periodic build-up of melodic stress and its release. The ArohAtmaka attack on the dhaivat tugged with the nishAd inscribes the Hameer signature. To wit,

G M (N)D, (N)D m P

The dhaivat is powerful, a nyAsa swara and a source of the rAga's veera rasa. The pancham is also a nyAsa sthAna and serves as a point of repose, a station for dissipation of the 'tension' built up on the dhaivat.

G M (N)D, D N D P m P, P G M R, R P G M R S S

Notice the approach to the dhaivat via the nishAd. Sometimes, an unornamented linear G M D generates a pleasing contrast. The D-R 'consonance' is often exploited by alternating tonal activity around these two endpoints. The rishab is rendered deergha in avarohAtmaka prayogas and is sought frequently for bringing to conclusion a melodic thought in the poorvAnga region.

G M (N)D N S"

PDPP S", S" (N)R" S"

mPDNS", S" R" S"

These are some of the prescribed modes for an uttarAnga launch.

S", S" (N)D, (N)D N m P, S" (N)D P m P G M R

This is an example of an avarohi prayoga.

A sample chalan of Raga Hameer is now formulated:

G M (N)D, P, G M D N S", S" N D P m P G M R, P G M R S S

Obiter dicta: The teevra madhyam remains confined in the shadow of the pancham and seldom has an independent existence. Some treatments explicity take in the Kalyanic cluster m D N D P (thus strengthening the case for "Hameer Kalyan") but in most expositions the presence of Kalyan is subdued. The reader is encouraged to reflect on the Bilawal and Kalyan angas and their interaction in the context of Hameer. Occasionally there obtains an AbhAsa of the komal nishAd in the form of a vivAdi swara.

This completes our prelude. In a short essay of this type, ancillary details that round off the rAga swaroop have to be left out. Furthermore, the nuance of ucchAraNa can scarcely be conveyed with the written word.

Raga Hameer is represented in popular Indian consciousness by the alltime classic from KOHINOOR (1960) where the formidable talents of master tunesmith Naushad, lyricist Shakeel Badayuni, and the voice of Mohammad Rafi come together in a celebration of Shri Krishna's Leela: Madhuban meiN Radhika nAche re

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