Polytonality: Simultaneous Keys And/Or Chords


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Polytonality: Simultaneous Keys And/Or Chords

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Here is a transcript of the podcast:

Good morning. This is Duane and this is a Good Stuff tip, Stuff You Really Ought to Know. There’s a zillion things in music that you really ought to know. By taking them one by one over a period of time and combining them with the knowledge that you already have, you can make enormous steps forward.

This subject is about polytonality. You can create a dreamlike quality in your playing by combining two keys at the same time. It creates a mood of ambiguity, kind of like a dream. What you do is, you play one song in one key in your right hand and another key in your left hand. The keys that work best, the keys that are a fifth apart, a second apart, maybe a flat third apart. There are other combinations that work too, but you can start with those.

It may seem very hard at first, but you’ll catch on as you do it more and more. This little card has an example of keys a fifth apart. In the left hand (Duane playing piano) and the right hand (Duane playing piano), but together you have this kind of feeling (Duane playing piano).

There’s a world of possibilities waiting for you in the field of polytonality. There really is. It’s an unexplored world. Some people that I talk to think that the world has been discovered, the world of music has been discovered. It really hasn’t. There are uncharted worlds out there and I’ll give you the direction of those uncharted worlds. It’s called polytonality. In other words, combining one key with another key, sometimes three keys at once. The only people that are really doing this are the classical composers and now the fusion people, the people that are combining various kinds of music into a style called fusion. You may know it as contemporary jazz, but it’s really called fusion music. It’s usually jazz musicians who are taking the best out of classical and rock and so on and putting it all together into this fusion kind of music that’s just simply wonderful.

By combining several keys or several different chords together, you have these flavors that just don’t exist in regular music. You can not only do this with whole keys and whole songs, but you can do it selectively with certain chords. You probably do it anyway. Let me give you an example.

(Duane playing piano)
You know that old song, Moon River? (Duane playing piano) Hear that chord? You know what that is? In the left hand I’m playing the F chord and in the right hand I’m playing the G chord. What is that in our format? It’s a second apart. Why I say it’s a second is because G is a whole step above F. It’s like playing the F chord with G superimposed on it.

Voicing has a lot to do with how smooth it sounds. I realize that. The voicing is not the subject of this card. I’ll talk about voicing in another little card, or you can take one of my other courses on voicing or we’ll cover it in lessons or whatever. Once you get the concept of polytonality and you can do it to some extent, then you’ll want to work on voicing. For example, in this particular place in Moon River, in the left hand I have a tenth, a roll tenth which is like my little finger is on F, my index finger is on C above that, and my thumb’s on A above that. In my right hand, I have my thumb on D right above middle C, my index finger on G, and my fifth finger on B.

(Duane playing piano) If you just stop and play that, it sounds dissonant doesn’t it? But, put it in context (Duane playing piano) and there it is again. Listen to this, (Duane playing piano) if that sound doesn’t sound like a normal chord to you, the reason is, it’s polytonality. Again, that’s a second. In the left hand I have a B Flat seventh chord, and in the right hand I have the C triad. See? (Duane playing piano). There I have it again, C over B Flat.

I won’t go on and on, but I just want to alert you to the fact that there are worlds waiting to be discovered by you after you master all the traditional chords. By that I mean all the triads, major, minor, [inaudible 00:05:26] and all the extensions, sixth, seventh, major seventh, ninth, eleventh, thirteenths and the alterations, the flat fifths, the flat ninths, the sharp fifths and so on, all the alterations and the slash chords and the suspensions.

After you master all of that, then you can get into polytonality which, of course, as I said here means combining two or more chords or two or more keys together. Again, you can use it selectively. You can use it in a whole song, or you can just use it on individual chord, kind of come in and out. That’s how I use it unless I’m joking around. I don’t play a whole song in one hand in one key and one in another, but I use it selectively in chords in the context of a song. It can become real useful.

Okay, well that’s another Good Stuff, Stuff You Really Ought to Know. Thanks for the time with me, and we’ll see you next month. Bye, bye.

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