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lesson: 27

title: the tonic

level: beginner
style: heavy metal rhythm
instructor: ky macpherson

hey kids, today i will introduce you to a very important concept in

music ... the tonic. and although we are focusing on heavy metal in
this lesson, it is essential to understand the concept of the tonic to
write any kind of music.

let's start right off with some musical examples! the following examples
are in the key of e minor.

i i i vii i

notice how there is a sense of finality after the final chord. this is
caused by moving to the root chord, the e5 chord. the root chord is also
called the "tonic." compare that sound with the following sequence
of chords:

i vii ii

notice how much different the second example sounds. it would sound
very irregular to end a song this way, because this sequence of chords
leaves a lot of unresolved "tension." how do you resolve this tension?
by moving to the tonic, of course!

but it is important to understand that this tension can be useful.

i vii iii ii vi
d|----------------0----|----5---5---5---4----|----5---5---5-- etc.

maintaining the tension gives the song a sense of movement. and a

song without movement (and thus tension) would be a very boring song!
now i hope you have a grasp of the special properties of the tonic.

now let me introduce you to another special chord: the dominant.

the dominant is the v chord, the chord whose root is a perfect fifth
above the tonic. resolving to the dominant also gives a sense of finality,
although not as strong as resolving to the tonic.
i vi v

listen to this example, and then listen to the one at the beginning of
the lesson again.

now for some general rules:

1. a song should begin and end on the tonic.

2. the song should end by hitting the tonic on the first beat of a measure.
3. the lowest voice in a song (i.e. rhythm guitar for heavy metal)
should end the song on the tonic that is the lowest note played by
that instrument in the song. in simpler terms, you should end the song
by moving down to the tonic.

of course, as with any rules, these are commonly broken. however, if

you want to write a song that sounds good, you should keep these rules
in mind.

i am using the concepts of tonic and dominant in the context of chords,

but it is important to realize that these properties also hold true for
single notes. thus a guitar solo should also begin and end on the tonic.

now it is time to see these ideas in action! we are now going to examine
some excerpts from a song called "evil dead" by the group death. i am not
suggesting that you rush out and purchase a copy of this song ... it is not
necessary that you have heard it before. i chose to include this song
because: (1) it is simple, and (2) it illustrates the principles i have
presented in this lesson. the song is in the key of g minor.

tune down: (6)=d

the song begins with the cool g-minor lick i gave you way back in my
first lesson being played over the progression:

i vii vi v

notice that both guitars begin on the tonic. the progression i-vii-vi-v
has a nice sound, and you will find it in other songs as well.

now we will skip all the way to the end of the song:



the song also ends on the tonic, moving down. notice how the tonic is
avoided, but the dominant is heavily used in the measures just preceding
the end of the song.

i hope you found my lessons to be entertaining, and i hope you learned

something too! this is my last lesson for now, although maybe in the
future i will cover some more advanced topics. take care, and good luck!

ky macpherson (kmacphe1@ua1vm.ua.edu)
"to me, gorbachev always looks like a man who just had his accordian stolen"
- lazlo toth
(i am currently moving so don't expect a quick response!)