Major-minor tonality

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Major-minor tonality , also known as the major-minor system , describes the tonal system that prevailed in western cultures from around 1700 to 1900 , which is based on the use of major and minor scales.


It is a hierarchical order that relates tones, chords and keys to a tonal center ( tonic ). It developed from around 1600 and replaced the system of church modes.

The tonality of the church tonal system was, in addition to the tone supply used, essentially melodically determined by the final tones of the modes , so that one often speaks of modality here instead of tonality . In contrast to this, the major-minor tonal system is predominantly harmonious in that the major scale is thought to be composed of three major triads and the minor scale as composed of three minor triads, the so-called main triads. The C major scale, for example, is traced back to the layering of thirds c, d, e, f, g, a, h. The central triad ceg is referred to as the tonic, the triad following at the top ghd as the dominant , and the triad following at the bottom as the subdominant .

From around 1900 (in some cases even earlier) there was a more or less strong solution from the system of major-minor tonality, which in the extreme led to atonality . The currents that broke away from the major-minor system, but not entirely from the tonality, are usually referred to as extended or free tonality .

Despite the diverse new currents, the major-minor tonality is still alive today, for example in folk music and the hit industry .

Individual evidence

  1. Reinhard Amon: Lexicon of Harmony. 2005, p. 165.


In the literature, the term tonality is mainly explained; Durmolltonal is used in the sense explained above.

  • Reinhard Amon: Lexicon of harmony. Reference work on major minor harmony with analysis codes for functions, levels and jazz chords. Doblinger et al., Vienna et al. 2005, ISBN 3-900695-70-9 , pp. 274-277.