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Introduction to Tonal Reading

In the course Tonal Fundamentals, you learned a series familiar tonal patterns in a familiar order (abbreviated FPIFO, and pronounced “Fuh-Pi-Fo"). Let’s now look specifically at what the major harmonic patterns look like in musical notation.

DO Signatures

Just as we needed a time signature to tell us what to audiate rhythmically, we need a key signature to tell us what to audiate tonally. However, since we are using solfege, it is more beneficial to think about them as “DO Signatures” because that should be their main use for us: to tell us where DO is.

In the case of the DO-Signature below, DO is on the first space from the bottom. Since this note is named F, we will refer to this as F-DO. I have highlighted this space in light gray for clarification purposes.

You can put DO anywhere on the staff, which is one of the amazing thing about learning to read with solfege. The relationships between the notes will be the same, but they just start in a different place. This will become very obvious soon.

Tonic and Dominant Patterns in Notation

The first thing you should realize is that you can think about harmonic patterns happening in two directions: vertically and horizontally. When you conceive of a harmonic function vertically, the individual pitches happen concurrently, and you have a chord (as if you strummed a chord on the ukulele). This is what our initial tonic and dominant chords look like when conceived vertically in F-DO.

You can also conceive of the pitches of these patterns happening horizontally, one after the after, as when you echoed the patterns.

Regardless of whether they are played together (as in a chord strummed on a ukulele) or performed pitch by pitch, they should still be audiated as a gestalt, as one harmonic function.

Movable DO

Once we learn how to read patterns in one DO-signature, the same patterns can be put in a different place, and the relationship between pitches will remain constant. The only thing that will change is where DO is. Once you understand and internalize this concept, music reading becomes a lot easier.

The letters of the musical alphabet answer the question, “Which DO?” Since DO is movable, we need to distinguish between DO-signatures. Letters help us do that. Think of them like proper nouns vs. common nouns: Which boy? Todd.

This is what Tonal Sequence #1 looks like in Eb-DO and F-DO. I hope you see that the patterns look exactly the same, but they are just in different places on the staff. 

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