Yin & Yang - Tension & Resolution, Part 1
August 1st, 1995 - Guitar World
by Trey Anastasio
Guitar World is proud to welcome our new
columnist, Phish's Trey Anastasio. Trey can
be heard on Phish's new release, A Live
ANY MUSICIAN, REGARDLESS of the style of music he or she plays, can benefit
greatly from a deeper understanding of _harmonic tension and resolution_.
Over the next few months, I hope to shed some valuable light on this subject.
First and foremost, keep in mind that the principles of Western harmony
to all Western musical styles - from Bach to Pantera, the building blocks
the same. This is why it's important to distinguish between _style_ and
_content_. For example, stylistically, Jimi Hendrix and Wynton Marsalis
polar opposites, but the musical roots of both may be traced to early
American blues and gospel. Their styles are very different, but their
influences are similar.
I can't stress one point enough: _Don't let style scare you away
You may not like a musician's style, but the content of his music might
something you can apply to your own style. I generally don't like pop
music, but that wouldn't keep me from taking one of those patented
country vocal harmonies and putting it over a demented heavy metal vamp.
that horrible thought in mind, let's talk about content.
In my opinion, the whole basis of Western music, regardless of style,
revolves around the V ("five") chord resolving to the I ("one") chord. In
musical terms, this is called _tension and resolution_, or, put simply,
movement and rest. My personal definition of tension and resolution is
at any given time, you're either playing _on_ a chord or _to_ a chord.
either in "tensionland" or "releaseland."
That said, I'd like to discuss what I believe to be one of the most
important harmonic concepts in music - the _tritone pronciple_ - which
applied to any style you're playing, be it rock, jazz, country or blues.
Here's the tritone principle in a nutshell: the third and the lowered
seventh of a major scale (the tones that define the dominant-seventh
sound) form an interval of a flatted fifth, also called the _tritone_.
the notes in a tritone are equidistant (at equal intervals from each
they can function as the third and the lowered seventh in two different
also a flatted fifth apart. Let's look at the G7 shape in Figure 1.
that, in addition to the root, all it contains is the third (B) and the
lowered seventh (F). If you flip the function of these notes - that is,
the lowered seventh the third, and the third the lowered seventh - you'll
a dominant-seventh chord, the root of which is a tritone away from G, in
case Db. With Db as the root, the B (or Cb) functions as the lowered
while the F functions as the third (see Figure 1A). So, in essence, one
shape has two dominant-seventh functions.
Now let's take this principle a step further. We know that a dominant-
seventh chord functioning as the V wants to resolve to the I chord (or root).
The same goes for a tritone. Check out Figure 2 - if you move the B note
half-step to C and F down a half-step to E, you'll get the root and third of
a C chord. By simply moving two notes, you produce a complete G7-C cadence.
And _that_ is the V-I resolution. And remember, since a tritone also
functions as a dominant-seventh chord a flatted fifth away, you can lower the
B note a half-step to A# (Bb) and raise the F a half-step to Gb (F#) to
create Db7-Gb resolution, as in Figure 2A.
By adding "color" and "tension" tones to the basic tritone, you can
instantly create sophisticated-sounding dominant-seventh chords... without
needing to memorize thousands of chord shapes from a book! Figures 3-3C
depict some common dominant voicings that resolve to the I chord. After
learning these, try to figure out some cool V-I cadences of your own. See ya