Teton Sioux Music and Culture

By Frances Densmore | Go to book overview
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The purpose of this chapter is to present in descriptive and diagrammatic form1 the more important data contained in the tabulated analyses immediately preceding.

Table 1A .--In this table the songs are grouped according to tonality, which is defined as "the quality or peculiarity of a tonal system." (See p. 12, footnote.) The first step in analyzing a song is the determination of the keynote or tonic by observing the tones which occur in the song and their general progressions. The next step in the analysis is the determination of the tonality. In ascertaining this, if the song contains several tones, we observe especially the pitch of the third and sixth above the keynote, as these tones are a semitone lower in minor than in major tonality. The sixth is absent from 138 of the songs under analysis, while the third is absent from only 17 songs; the third is therefore the principal factor in judging the tonality of a

FIG. 1 . Tonality.

song. If the third is four semitones (a major third) above the keynote, the song is said to be major in tonality, and if three semitones (a minor third) above the keynote, minor in tonality. Classifying the songs according to this basis, we find 50 per cent major in tonality and 49 per cent minor, 1 per cent being irregular in form. (Fig. 1.)

We usually associate a minor key with the idea of sadness, but this association of ideas does not appear to be present to the same degree in the mind of the Indians. It seems more probable that a preference for the major tonality shown in many groups of songs may be due to the fact that the major third is one of the more prominent overtones of a fundamental tone (see p. 41). Helmholtz states that the "minor triad is very decidedly less harmonious than the major triad, in consequence of the combinational tones, which must consequently be . . taken into consideration";2 also that "minor chords do not represent

The writer gratefully acknowledges her indebted to Dr. Aleš Hrdlička, curator of physical anthropology, United States National Museum, for suggestions concerning the graphic methods used in the accompanying diagrams.
Helmholtz, The Sensations of Tone (translated by A. J. Ellis), pt. 2, p. 214, London, 1885.


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