Faculty Advisor

Block, Geoffrey

Area of Study

Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Publication Date

Summer 2011


The syntax of common practice tonality creates the potential for expansive musical works, with almost guaranteed gratification for the listener through a harmonic interplay between tension and resolution. The evolution of common practice tonality from the older system of modes spans the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. With a focus on the seventeenth century, this study endeavors to clarify how, when, and, to some extent, why the monumental shift between modality and tonality occurred. A discussion of crucial differences between the two systems of musical organization—mainly the melodic basis of the modes versus the harmonic basis of the tonal major and minor scales—serves as the starting point for analysis. Following is an examination of figured bass practice as well as music theorists’ increasing acknowledgement of a tonal system in order to shed light on how contemporary tonal developments were understood. Finally, an analysis of music highlights sixteenth-century tonal seeds and shows how composers from Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) to Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) developed discreet tonal regions and linked them through directed harmonic motion to establish tonal hierarchies locally and globally. Ideally, this project does justice both to the breadth and specificity required of this expansive topic and serves either as an extended study for a music survey course or as a springboard for further focused research.


Collins Memorial Library Research Practices Award, 2011


University of Puget Sound