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Verbal Association, Major Tonality

Watch the video lesson below. The salient text follows. 

Once we can successfully echo patterns at the Aural/Oral level, it’s time to label tonality and harmonic functions with a Verbal Association. The most effective system for labeling tonality is Movable-DO with a LA-Based Minor. In this system, the name of the resting tone changes with each tonality

Tonality Defined

A tonality is defined by its resting tone, its tonal center. Each tonality has a resting tone, a place where the music comes to a logical conclusion through a musical gravitational force. The tonalities are classified and organized in relation to their resting tone using movable-DO solfege. 

Movable-do solfege is very effective because the half step relationship between MI and FA and TI and DO always remains consistent amongst tonalities (with the single exception of the raised leading tone [SI] in Minor). 

It is called “movable-DO” because, as you’ll find out in other courses, you can put DO anywhere, and the relationship between pitches will stay the same. 

As musical citizens, we need to learn certain information about each tonality. We need to learn:

  • the resting tone
  • essential harmonic functions and their associated solfege syllables

In this course, we will learn to audiate only major and minor tonalities. However, as you go through this book, hopefully you are experiencing other tonalities, and are being acculturated to their sound. 

Resting Tone

Good intonation (pitch accuracy, be it singing or on a string or wind instrument) doesn’t happen in a bubble. That is to say, pitches are always correct in relation to another pitch. When you’re first learning to audiate, that pitch will be the resting tone. 

A very useful exercise to jolt your audiation is to listen to a series of patterns, and respond by only singing the resting tone. This forces your musical mind to make comparisons between pitches in relation to your aural anchor, the resting tone. (Be sure to take an audiation breath before you sing.) You did this in Lessons 2 and 3, however you have more context now that we have named the pitch.

Tonal Sequence

Dr. Gordon created a tonal sequence that includes all of the pitches of each tonality. The scale degree numbers for the sequence are 56543271. It always ends on the resting tone. In major tonality, the sequence is SO LA SO FA MI RE TI DO. In major tonality, the resting tone is DO. Therefore, the tonal sequence ends on DO.

Labeling Harmonic Functions, Major Tonality

Now that you have echoed patterns at the Aural/Oral level in both major and minor tonalities, and had experience singing the resting tone using solfege, you are ready to label harmonic functions. We will give syllables to the pitches and names to the same patterns you learned at the Aural/Oral level. 

Major Tonic

Any combination of DO, MI and SO is called a major tonic pattern. It is often called the “one chord.” Or even simpler: “1.” If you were in the key of D, and you were to strum a C chord on the ukulele, you would be hearing a combination of DOs, MIs and SOs. This is the tonic function in major.  

Major Dominant

Any combination of SO, FA, RE and TI is called a major dominant pattern. It is often called the “five chord.” Or even simpler: “5.” If you were in the key of C, and you were to strum an G7 chord on the ukulele, you would be hearing a combination of SOs and FAs and REs and TIs. This is the dominant function in major.

Familiar Patterns in Familiar Order (FPIFO)

In every academic subject, you have vocabulary words that you need to know. The same is true with music. For each tonality and harmonic function, there are pattern sets of musical “vocabulary words.”  Our first set includes tonic and dominant patterns in major tonality. These are the same familiar patterns in the familiar order used in Lesson 2.

Pattern Learning Tools

There are several tools that you can use to help yourself learn these patterns. These tools will become part of your audiational tool kit which you will continue to use throughout this course, and to help you problem-solve out in the real world of music-making. When you listen to the patterns, you should be able to engage with them in several ways:

  1. You should be able to sing only the first pitch of each pattern, and audiate the    rest.
  2. You should be able to listen to a pattern and sing the resting tone DO. 
  3. You should be able to echo the pattern using solfege.
  4. You should be able to name the harmonic function by singing its name on the chord root. Use your chosen verbal association. (You could sing “Major tonic” and “Major dominant” or just simply “One” and “Five.”)

Listen to the patterns and engage with them in the above ways until you feel like you have mastered them. Use the videos below. 

Patterns-Only Video, Key of D


Explore the Purposeful Pathways between tonic and dominant. Sing the pitches you hear in this video:

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