A generative grammar approach to diatonic harmonic structure

Authors: Martin Rohrmeier
Publication:  In Proceedings of the 4th Sound and Music Computing Conference, Lefkada, Greece
Publication date:  2007.
Pages:  97-100.
Link:  http://bit.ly/aoE7Ev
Abridged Abstract: This paper aims to give a hierarchical, generative account of diatonic harmony progressions and proposes a generative phrase-structure grammar. The formalism accounts for structural properties of key, functional, scale and surface level. Being related to linguistic approaches in generative syntax and to the hierarchical account of tonality in the generative theory of tonal music, cadence-based harmony contexts and its elaborations are formalized.

This was one of those articles I had to read about 3 or 4 times before it started to make sense to me (the figures and tables helped). It’s an interesting way to think about harmonic analysis, particularly because it takes context into account. For instance, the author’s rules call a I-IV-I progression essentially just one instance of tonic harmony. Similarly, a iii-IV progression, where the the iii chord is “dependent” on the IV chord, would be treated simply as a subdominant harmony. This way of examining harmony may not be unprecedented, but what’s interesting is the way the author expands on these ideas in an attempt to explain harmonic syntax.

I think it may be entertaining to freak out my high school theory students with this article at the beginning of next year.

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