Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures

School of Music

Music Research Seminar: Philip Tagg

Research seminar

Troubles with Tonal Terminology

This week’s research seminar in Lecture Theatre 1 of the School of Music will take place at 4.30pm on Thursday 19th February.

The speaker is Prof Philip Tagg (University of Huddersfield).


Dominant, subdominant, perfect cadence, interrupted cadence, etc. —all handy terms when studying the standard euroclassical and jazz repertoires— but not much use if you want to understand the tonal aspects of rock, rebetiko, flamenco, son-bolero, news jingles, traditional music from the British Isles or the Balkans, and all those other musics in which final cadences (if any) don’t have to be ‘perfect’, where ‘interrupted cadences’ (if any) can be final, and where a ‘subdominant’ (if any) usually has no dominant to which it can be ‘sub’. ​

This presentation critically examines the frequently erratic and ethnocentric terms of conventional music theory terminology and proposes concepts that can help us make sense of the wide variety of tonal idioms heard by most people on a daily basis. That includes the hexatonicism of It’s Not Unusual, unusual in music theory, maybe, but not in real life. It also includes the quartal tonalities of mountain banjo tuning, corporate jingles, Bartók quartets, folk-rock accompaniment, TV themes and the Intel Inside logo. Modal harmony, including the ionian, is another focus of interest, especially the role of chord shuttles and loops in providing the tonal aspect of groove.

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