Harmonic attraction and functional discharge



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Daniel Harrison’s Harmonic Function in Chromatic Music, a Renewed Dualist Theory and an Account of Its Precedents (1994) offers a revised theory of harmonic function in which the interaction of individual scale degrees communicate functional relationships based on their memberships within the tonic, dominant, and subdominant triads, respectively. According to the theory, functional discharge, which Harrison describes as the sense of tonal energy moving from one functional state to another, is the product of individual voice leadings rather than of root progressions.

While Harrison provides logical and convincing evidence based on speculative theory to support his views, since the publication of Harrison’s book, further theoretical research has surfaced concerning tonal attraction between musical entities. Fred Lerdahl’s Tonal Pitch Space (2001) develops a quantitative model of how listeners perceive the relative strength of different chord progressions that is congruent with research by others in psychoacoustics.

The indisputable web of connections between the psychology of how we hear music and the development of function theory begs the question of how Harrison’s revised function theory and Lerdahl’s theory of tonal attraction relate to one another. Through their own distinct methodologies, they each readdress the original question of how tonal connections are made and perceived. This dissertation investigates the connection between the psychology of how we hear music and function theory through comparisons of melodic and harmonic attractions in progressions that communicate a change in function.