Sectional Tonality and Sectional Centricity in Rock Music.

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Guy Capuzzo, Associate Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: Describing a subset of the rock repertory, Walter Everett writes: Some songs alternate between unrelated key areas, each expanded in entire sections, creating a nontonal whole . . . [Other] songs are structurally diatonic and depend on normal tonal chord progressions, and yet no single overriding tonal center can be appointed conclusively because the song’s various formal sections revolve around separate tonics . . . and closure is not provided by any overall directed voice leading (Everett 2008, 144–45; emphasis added). I have italicized the words “unrelated” and “nontonal” to raise two issues. First, Everett does not mean “unrelated” in the sense of a pair of keys being related. Pairs of keys in these songs are often related—even closely related. Second, as is evident from the last sentence of the quote, Everett’s gauge of tonality is Schenkerian. Scholars including Everett routinely apply other gauges of tonality to the analysis of rock music, such as directional or progressive tonality, so it is reasonable to ask if the songs Everett refers to might be deemed tonal by some other measure (Everett 2004, §14–15; Harrison 2004; Ricci 2000). However, directional tonality accommodates two keys at most and only models songs that start and end in different keys, while the songs Everett describes often feature three or more keys. Further, the two key songs sometimes start and end in the same key. While scholars such as Richard Middleton have noted the tendency of rock songs to pair sections with distinct harmonic languages, and Lori Burns’s analysis of a Tori Amos song proceeds from the premise that “each section of the song explores a different harmonic idiom,” which prompts her to “avoid an ultimate Ursatz interpretation,” the need for a gauge more precise than the catchall category “nontonal” becomes clear (Middleton 1990, 195–96; Burns 2008, 68).

Additional Information

Music Theory Spectrum 31.1: 157-174
Language: English
Date: 2009
Tonality, Sectional Tonality, Centricity, Sectional Centricity, Rock Music, Radiohead, Karma Police, King’s X, Julia

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