Musicians are Tone Deaf

Right off the top it might not be all musicians. I am going by all the songs I know in the English speaking world. Why the English language? That, as it turns out, is important.

The English language itself has tonality. And it is that tonality, not musical tonality, that has been thrown out.

Firstly, I’ve found that in speech when there is a rise in pitch for the last word at the end of a sentence, it means the sentence is a question and the speaker is expecting a yes/no answer. I’ve spoken English for over 40 years and hadn’t realized that I and English were that leading. But it’s true.

Indeed the yes/no thing is true of any sentence with a rise in pitch at the end. If the sentence isn’t normally a question, it becomes one with that rise in pitch at the end. “You are an enforcer,” with a rise in pitch for enforcer becomes a yes/no question.

Alright let’s look for a real world music example. The only song book I have is “Yes Complete Deluxe Edition”. I do not recommend buying this type of sheet music. Maybe it’s because Yes was a complex band that much of the music is incorrect. I’ve also checked Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and Rush sheet music books like this and they are also incorrect. I’m not sure if just complex music is incorrect. I don’t need so much help for easy music. Is it any wonder that guitar tabs have become popular over the Internet? Also this book is incomplete because Yes insisted on reforming more times. So it does not include 90125 and later incarnations.

So for this example we’ll look at Roundabout, their most popular song from this book. I’m going to look up singing lines that finish with higher pitches, thus possibly making a yes/no question.

“I spend the day your way” ends with a high note so we can make it into the yes/no question that English speech would demand. Whether the answer is yes or no we must decide for ourselves as the rest of the song offers no clues. “Call it morning driving through the sound and in and out the valley,” becomes the next yes/no question. “mountains come out of the sky and they stand there?” and “one mile over we’ll be there and we’ll see you?” and “ten true summers we’ll be there and laughing too?” and “of distant atmosphere?” all complete the yes/no questions of this very long song. So what can we conclude by this?

First of all Yes is very rude. Most times they leave no space for a listener to answer yes or no.

Secondly with Yes’ extremely abstract visions the yes/no thing would seem to comment on the reality of their vision. Despite the band’s name, most people would give a resounding “no” as the answer to the visions.

Roger Dean (long time Yes artist and this year’s Kitchener Blues Festival Artist) seems to have given a “yes” to the question “Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there?” A large portion of his work has been floating rocks and mountains and even some with orderly movement. Indeed I’ve heard people say that the Avatar scenery could be called a rip off of Roger Dean’s work.

Let’s get to the next tonality thing I’ve noticed. Bear in mind that the dialect I speak is the urban Ontario, Canada dialect and some dialects of English might not have the same tonalities. That second tonality is for general questions. When I ask a normal question my pitch goes up for the whole question.

So I’m thinking that falsetto sentences could be thought of as questions.

The seventies was seemingly the era of falsetto so I hope you will excuse me if my examples are from then.

So in the song “Bloody Well Right” by Supertramp, when the background singers say in a higher pitch “Quite right?” and “Right?” they are actually asking a question and not helping to assert the main line.

And of course when mentioning falsetto, how could we not mention the Bee Gees, famous in the mid to late seventies for their entirely falsetto songs? Now, due to me, their songs are famous questions. “Blaming it all on the nights of Broadway?” or “Staying Alive?” are two famous examples.

And actually when I first thought of this topic I thought to look at songs with direct questions in them. Most of them don’t use falsetto or other obvious higher pitch. Like the recent “What Do You Got?” by Bon Jovi. And most questions asked musically are not yes/no questions so looking at the last word’s pitch isn’t going to help. So we are safe to conclude that the title of this post is for the most part, true.

And perhaps this article might spawn a couple experimental songs. Indeed there is more about English speech tonality on Wikipedia and other places on the Internet. So there might be even more to work with than my two main points. And if someone is searching for a name for music that includes English tonality, might I suggest “Questionable Music” as a name for any such genre.

About Larry Russwurm

Just another ranter on the Internet
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