“Making comparisons, knowing what something is not helps us to know what it is…. Imagine a whole world in which everything were purple: purple sky, purple water, purple grass and trees, purple food, everything. anything purple? Would we even coin the word ‘purple’? No, we wouldn’t need it. But imagine, in all that purple, you came across a single yellow flower…. All of a sudden, yellow and purple have meaning. What is purple? Everything that isn’t yellow. And now imagine a multicolored world in which our understanding of purple is dramatically more precise because we now have so much more to compare it with.”– Eric Bluestine in The Ways Children Learn Music (p. 69)
Just as we learn to identify colors by making comparisons, our tonal audiation (i.e., inner hearing and understanding of musical syntax) is greatly enhanced when we are exposed to a variety of tonalities (traditionally referred to as “modes”). If we only hear and sing in major tonality, we won’t have as rich an understanding of what “major” truly is as we would if we heard many other tonalities with which to compare it.
Although most traditional music theory textbooks define tonalities/modes simply as the white keys on the piano between any two octaves (e.g. Dorian is the white keys from D to D on the piano), tonalities/modes are more about the relationship of pitches around the tonal center.
Popular Songs in Varied Tonalities
Below are some songs that are in tonalities other than major or harmonic minor. Click the caption below each video to reveal the answer and more examples of that tonality!