Tonal Markers, Melodic Patterns, and Musicianship Training, Part II- Contour Reduction

Laurdella Foulkes-Levy

Part I of this two-part series on "Tonal Markers and Musicianship Training" (Volume 11, 1997), I presented a reduction technique based on rhythmic/metric procedures used to identify tonal markers. Tonal markers are pitches that are selected by a specific reduction procedure and form patterns commonly found in tonal music on levels above the surface. Common tonal patterns - scales and scale segments, neighbor notes, triads, sequences, pedal points, and pitch segments (psegs) - are found on the surface as well, where they connect tonal markers. Fundamental to this reduction procedure is an understanding that tonal melody is hierarchical. Because the focus of these studies is on the identification of these tonal markers and the relevance of common tonal patterns to musicianship training, the levels we are studying are the most foreground ones, namely the surface and levels close to it. The reduction techniques are frequently applied to melodies of one to four phrases in length and do not attempt to show any large-scale background unity. The musicianship skills addressed in relation to these techniques are memory, ear training, sight singing, improvisation, and dictation.This article, Part II, focuses on a second type of reduction, one based on melodic contour. While contour reduction is a fairly straightforward procedure, there are several aspects to it which need to be explained. I begin with a short explanation of some ideas about contour reduction in relationship to atonal melody as presented by Robert Morris. Contour analysis traditionally has been applied to a study of the surface level features of folk, atonal, and non-tonal melodies. The "new direction" Morris presents is an approach to contour analysis in which he admits to "taking a cue from tonal music." This involves two important innovations. The first is the hierarchical approach, whereby the traditional identification of pitches found at melodic turning points on the surface level is expanded so that some of those contour pitches are selected, through a designated process, to represent higher levels. Each new level, which he labels a depth, consists of a group of contour pitches that form a unit including the first, last, and all pitches found at turning points either within separate phrases or a complete piece.