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Old 04-05-2005, 03:20 PM
paperbackwriter paperbackwriter is offline
Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: Connecticut
Posts: 1,698
Explain atonality slowly, please

I've tried reading about this, but not had much luck. I've tried listening, but I can't figure out what characteristics set apart tonal from atonal music.

Let me say what I know, or think I know, and the music experts here can take it from there.

First of all, music theory articles haven't helped. They read like post-modern literary analysis: either they are written to obfuscate more than illuminate, or they have been written with a jargon that the writer assumes the reader knows and understands. Hopefully, there's a way that a former 2nd Trumpet in high-school can understand.

I've listened to Schoenberg and seen a ballet scored by Philip Glass. I'd call them both modernistic, but I don't see anything else in common. Schoenberg seems dissonant to me; I assume that would be what happens when tones are put together into chords in ways I'm not used to hearing? Glass had none of that harshness, however; it seemed more a very distant cousin to Tubular Bells.

So, music geniuses, want to give Atonality 101 a shot?


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