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How to learn functional theory and everyday notation conventions

giacecco

New Member
Hi All,
I have some time off because of the convalescence of surgery, and I wanted to use it to study pragmatic music theory.

A previous question of mine rose a lot of support for how useful pragmatic functional theory is. This is something I learned about indirectly from watching lots of tutorial videos etc, but nothing formal. As a self-taught, I feel that it is time I go deeper, and I would welcome recommendations on online courses or books that could fill in that gap.

I have already done Coursera / Berklee's "Musicianship: Chord Charts, Diatonic Chords, and Minor Keys" and "Musicianship: Tensions, Harmonic Function, and Modal Interchange" that are nice, but - I found - shallow for my needs and unbalanced towards ear training.

Also, I realise that I fall short on lots of music notation conventions, such as the "over" thing (e.g. what does Bb/D mean? I can do Bb, and I can do D, but Bb/D?). I am sure it is not rocket science, but I believe that it would be easier to learn properly than second-guessing a Rick Beato or Adam Neely video 😀

Please help, thanks!

G.
 

sinkd

AARP Curious
One quick answer: Bb/D just means a Bb chord, but with a D in the bass instead of the root (Bb). This makes it a first inversion. Second inversion has an F in the bass. Seventh chords have three inversions beyond root position.

Check out artusimusic.com. I use it in my theory teaching and it has a great listening component (ear training). And enjoy your exploration of music theory!
 

youngpokie

Senior Member
I think you will find a number of resources on functional theory. But it is important that you always maintain some sense of context and big picture so that you can orient yourself better and not get completely lost! And believe me it is very easy to get lost - functional theory is one of several competing theories and there are different approaches to teaching it... So, do not commit blindly and impulsively if you're serious about this!

The background to functional theory is the idea of chords getting strung together in a specific sequence, "functions" that follow each other according to certain logic. Modern teaching spends a great deal of time zooming into the individual chords built on each scale step, studying them in detail, giving them names, explaining how they should behave in relation to the neighboring chords, how best to voice them, etc. So you learn inversions, weird chord naming conventions, voice leading, perhaps even figured bass - all the "properties" of chords and how they connect to each other. At times if feels like it's a study of chords in isolation from music itself. And often it's really boring.

This amount of detail and zooming in can (and often does) lead to forgetting the forest for the trees - that functional theory is about sequencing progressions within a defined time period, i.e. beginning, middle and end.

It is only a bit later on that the zooming back out finally takes places and gradually returns to the bigger picture: a 4, 8 or 16 bar "sentence", "phrase", "period" constructions within which the progressions are created and where some types of patterns are usually placed at the end, some in the middle and so on. Presumably, that's because of the assumption that at this point you are fluent in individual chords and can connect them properly so the bigger picture is finally appropriate.

But if you speak any other languages, see if you have access to German or Russian schools of teaching functional theory - they teach to first mark out the duration in bars and then to build chord progressions starting from the end (cadences). They are also quite good at showing how to extend, embellish and enrich basic progressions into very complex creations. Those systems are a lot more like constructions kits but of course you have to go through the long chord study too. I believe the Russians use this "construction kit" approach to also teach style writing: i.e. how to differentiate and build Classical, Romantic, Modern progressions. As far as I know, no other system uses this "construction kit" approach but I might be totally wrong.

Finally, beware also that there is no standard terminology or naming convention, so there are a lot of terms that sound very different but often mean the same thing. An example is Bb/D and B 6/4 or B 5/3 - different naming conventions to describe chord inversions. If you pick a system, learn its terminology and stick to it.

As for the resources in English:

- ArtusiMusic.com is great as @sinkd says

- There is also a YouTube channel by Seth Monahan and lots by other trained teachers

- If you want to dive deep and learn other things along the way (including ear training, harmonic analysis, etc), you can check out some college level textbooks:

Harmony and Voice Leading (Aldwell)

The Complete Musician: An Integrated Approach to Theory (Laitz)

There are others, but I have Aldwell and Laitz books and they may be a little too much right now. But they do go into great detail on how the two "nuclear" progressions V-I and IV-I are at the heart of Western music and give rise to not only all existing chord progressions but also to ways to organize the "chapters" of a musical work including whole symphonies.
 
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SteveC

Active Member
The best book in German is Hermann Grabners "Allgemeine Musiklehre" - but I think there is no translation. The basic Idea is pretty simple: The Tonica (for example C-Major) is your relaxing point. Every step away from the Tonica creates tension. Physically the Quint is the interval with the lowest tension (after the octave of course), that's the reason why the upper and lower quint are the nearest neighbors. Upper quint is the Dominate(in this example G-Major) and lower quint is the Subdominante(F-Major). The next interval with a bit more tension is the Terz. In German we call the minor Terz relation Parallele and the major Terz relation Gegenklang. The Parallele of the Tonica is A-Minor. Parallele of Subdominante is D-Minor and of the Dominate E-Minor. This are the basic functions. C-Major T (Tonica) D-Minor Sp (Parallele of the Subdominante) E-Minor Dp (Parallele of the Dominate) F-Major S (Subdominante) G-Major D (Dominante) A-Minor Tp (Parallele of the Tonica).
Sorry for my bad English-German mix :emoji_cold_sweat:
 

sinkd

AARP Curious
The best book in German is Hermann Grabners "Allgemeine Musiklehre" - but I think there is no translation. The basic Idea is pretty simple: The Tonica (for example C-Major) is your relaxing point. Every step away from the Tonica creates tension. Physically the Quint is the interval with the lowest tension (after the octave of course), that's the reason why the upper and lower quint are the nearest neighbors. Upper quint is the Dominate(in this example G-Major) and lower quint is the Subdominante(F-Major). The next interval with a bit more tension is the Terz. In German we call the minor Terz relation Parallele and the major Terz relation Gegenklang. The Parallele of the Tonica is A-Minor. Parallele of Subdominante is D-Minor and of the Dominate E-Minor. This are the basic functions. C-Major T (Tonica) D-Minor Sp (Parallele of the Subdominante) E-Minor Dp (Parallele of the Dominate) F-Major S (Subdominante) G-Major D (Dominante) A-Minor Tp (Parallele of the Tonica).
Sorry for my bad English-German mix :emoji_cold_sweat:
This explanation is spot on, and a great mix of traditional Funktionsteorie and some of the Riemannian relations. I am worried that all of this is a bit too much of an answer for the OP, however. :geek:
 

Dewdman42

Senior Member
The stuff from Berklee that you want to digest is the section showing the arrows and brackets that resolve different kinds of chords from one to another and why. This all ultimately usually breaks down to tritone resolution and the myriad of variations of that. As others have said..there are different schools of functional theory...you studied Berklee's, which I happen to think is pretty good and you can still get more mileage out of it. A traditional university would use a different way to explain a lot of the same stuff... Berklee's happens to be good for address pop, jazz and other contemporary forms of commercial music using modal interchange etc. most university text books use a different way to describing most of the same stuff...and USA tends to use a different form then in Europe. I'd pick one and stick with it a while, there is a lot of depth to plumb out of Berklee frankly...stick with that for a while....

when you say its too shallow for your needs, what do you mean exactly? Where were you wanting for more? Look into reharmonization strategies and get lost in that. Get lost in the different modes. Get lost in Berkley voice leading strategies. if there is a specific area where you think its too shallow, be more specific... This is not nuclear science to be honest. There is no magic bullet of information...
 
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