Tonic (music)

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Tonic (music)

Tonic (music)
Scale and tonic triad in C major (top) and C minor (bottom)

In music, the tonic is the first scale degree ( Scale deg 1.svg ) of the diatonic scale (the first note of a scale) and the tonal center or final resolution tone [1] that is commonly used in the final cadence in tonal (musical key-based) classical music, popular music, and traditional music. In the movable do solfège system, the tonic note is sung as do. More generally, the tonic is the note upon which all other notes of a piece are hierarchically referenced. Scales are named after their tonics: for instance, the tonic of the C major scale is the note C.


The triad formed on the tonic note, the tonic chord, is thus the most significant chord in these styles of music. In Roman numeral analysis, the tonic chord is typically symbolized by the Roman numeral "I" if it is major and by "i" if it is minor.

In very much conventionally tonal music, harmonic analysis will reveal a broad prevalence of the primary (often triadic) harmonies: tonic, dominant, and subdominant (i.e., I and its chief auxiliaries a 5th removed), and especially the first two of these.

Berry (1976) [2]

These chords may also appear as seventh chords: in major, as IM7, or in minor as i7 or rarely iM7: [3]

Tonic (music)

The tonic is distinguished from the root, which is the reference note of a chord, rather than that of the scale.

Importance and function

In music of the common practice period, the tonic center was the most important of all the different tone centers which a composer used in a piece of music, with most pieces beginning and ending on the tonic, usually modulating to the dominant (the fifth scale degree above the tonic, or the fourth below it) in between.

Two parallel keys have the same tonic. For example, in both C major and C minor, the tonic is C. However, relative keys (two different scales that share a key signature) have different tonics. For example, C major and A minor share a key signature that feature no sharps or flats, despite having different tonic pitches (C and A, respectively).

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Major scale</span> Diatonic scale made of seven notes

The major scale is one of the most commonly used musical scales, especially in Western music. It is one of the diatonic scales. Like many musical scales, it is made up of seven notes: the eighth duplicates the first at double its frequency so that it is called a higher octave of the same note.

In music theory, a leading-tone is a note or pitch which resolves or "leads" to a note one semitone higher or lower, being a lower and upper leading-tone, respectively. Typically, the leading tone refers to the seventh scale degree of a major scale, a major seventh above the tonic. In the movable do solfège system, the leading-tone is sung as ti.

In music theory, the key of a piece is the group of pitches, or scale, that forms the basis of a musical composition in classical, Western art, and Western pop music.

Tonality or key: Music which uses the notes of a particular scale is said to be "in the key of" that scale or in the tonality of that scale.

In music, the subdominant is the fourth tonal degree of the diatonic scale. It is so called because it is the same distance below the tonic as the dominant is above the tonic – in other words, the tonic is the dominant of the subdominant. It also happens to be the note one step below the dominant. In the movable do solfège system, the subdominant note is sung as fa.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chord (music)</span> Harmonic set of three or more notes

A chord, in music, is any harmonic set of pitches/frequencies consisting of multiple notes that are heard as if sounding simultaneously. For many practical and theoretical purposes, arpeggios and broken chords, or sequences of chord tones, may also be considered as chords in the right musical context.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Modulation (music)</span> Change from one tonality (tonic, or tonal center) to another

In music, modulation is the change from one tonality to another. This may or may not be accompanied by a change in key signature. Modulations articulate or create the structure or form of many pieces, as well as add interest. Treatment of a chord as the tonic for less than a phrase is considered tonicization.

Modulation is the essential part of the mowtown era. Without it there is little music, for a piece derives its true beauty not from the large number of fixed modes which it embraces but rather from the subtle fabric of its modulation.

A secondary chord is an analytical label for a specific harmonic device that is prevalent in the tonal idiom of Western music beginning in the common practice period: the use of diatonic functions for tonicization.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tonality</span> Musical system

Tonality is the arrangement of pitches and/or chords of a musical work in a hierarchy of perceived relations, stabilities, attractions and directionality. In this hierarchy, the single pitch or triadic chord with the greatest stability is called the tonic. The root of the tonic chord forms the name given to the key, so in the key of C major, the note C is both the tonic of the scale and the root of the tonic chord. Simple folk music songs often start and end with the tonic note. The most common use of the term "is to designate the arrangement of musical phenomena around a referential tonic in European music from about 1600 to about 1910". Contemporary classical music from 1910 to the 2000s may practice or avoid any sort of tonality—but harmony in almost all Western popular music remains tonal. Harmony in jazz includes many but not all tonal characteristics of the European common practice period, usually known as "classical music".

In music, the submediant is the sixth degree of a diatonic scale. The submediant is named thus because it is halfway between tonic and subdominant or because its position below the tonic is symmetrical to that of the mediant above.

In music, the subtonic is the degree of a musical scale which is a whole step below the tonic note. In a major key, it is a lowered, or flattened, seventh scale degree. It appears as the seventh scale degree in the natural minor and descending melodic minor scales but not in the major scale. In major keys, the subtonic sometimes appears in borrowed chords. In the movable do solfège system, the subtonic note is sung as te.

In music, function is a term used to denote the relationship of a chord or a scale degree to a tonal centre. Two main theories of tonal functions exist today:

Chromaticism is a compositional technique interspersing the primary diatonic pitches and chords with other pitches of the chromatic scale. In simple terms, within each octave, diatonic music uses only seven different notes, rather than the twelve available on a standard piano keyboard. Music is chromatic when it uses more than just these seven notes.

In music theory, a dominant seventh chord, or major minor seventh chord, is a seventh chord, usually built on the fifth degree of the major scale, and composed of a root, major third, perfect fifth, and minor seventh. Thus it is a major triad together with a minor seventh, denoted by the letter name of the chord root and a superscript "7". An example is the dominant seventh chord built on G, written as G7, having pitches G–B–D–F:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tonicization</span>

In music, tonicization is the treatment of a pitch other than the overall tonic as a temporary tonic in a composition. In Western music that is tonal, the piece is heard by the listener as being in a certain key. A tonic chord has a dominant chord; in the key of C major, the tonic chord is C major and the dominant chord is G major or G dominant seventh. The dominant chord, especially if it is a dominant seventh, is heard by Western composers and listeners familiar with music as resolving to the tonic, due to the use of the leading note in the dominant chord. A tonicized chord is a chord other than the tonic chord to which a dominant or dominant seventh chord progresses. When a dominant chord or dominant seventh chord is used before a chord other than the tonic, this dominant or dominant seventh chord is called a secondary dominant. When a chord is tonicized, this makes this non-tonic chord sound temporarily like a tonic chord.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Closely related key</span>

In music, a closely related key is one sharing many common tones with an original key, as opposed to a distantly related key. In music harmony, there are six of them: five share all, or all except one, pitches with a key with which it is being compared, and is adjacent to it on the circle of fifths and its relative major or minor, and one shares the same tonic.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Andalusian cadence</span>

The Andalusian cadence is a term adopted from flamenco music for a chord progression comprising four chords descending stepwise – a iv–III–II–I progression with respect to the Phrygian mode or i–VII–VI–V progression with respect to the Aeolian mode(minor). It is otherwise known as the minor descending tetrachord. Traceable back to the Renaissance, its effective sonorities made it one of the most popular progressions in classical music.

In music, the axis system is a system of analysis originating in the work of Ernő Lendvai, which he developed in his analysis of the music of Béla Bartók.

In music theory, the half-diminished seventh chord is a seventh chord composed of a root note, together with a minor third, a diminished fifth, and a minor seventh. For example, the half-diminished seventh chord built on C, commonly written as Cm7(♭5), or Cø7, has pitches C–E–G–B:

In music, the dominant is the fifth scale degree of the diatonic scale. It is called the dominant because it is second in importance to the first scale degree, the tonic. In the movable do solfège system, the dominant note is sung as "So(l)".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Parallel and counter parallel</span>

Parallel and counter parallel chords are terms derived from the German to denote what is more often called in English the "relative", and possibly the "counter relative" chords. In Hugo Riemann's theory, and in German theory more generally, these chords share the function of the chord to which they link: subdominant parallel, dominant parallel, and tonic parallel. Riemann defines the relation in terms of the movement of one single note:

The substitution of the major sixth for the perfect fifth above in the major triad and below in the minor triad results in the parallel of a given triad. In C major thence arises an apparent A minor triad, D minor triad (Sp), and E minor triad (Dp).


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