Tonality refers to the system of organizing and perceiving music based on a central pitch, known as the tonic, and the relationship between other pitches and the tonic. It is the foundation of Western music and provides a sense of key or tonal center.
In tonal music, a specific key is established, which is determined by the tonic pitch. The pitches within the key are organized hierarchically, creating a system of functional relationships. This system includes scales, chords, and harmonic progressions that support the tonal framework.
Tonality provides a sense of stability and direction in music. It allows for the establishment of musical tension and release through harmonic movement and resolution. The listener's perception of tonality helps to guide their understanding and emotional response to the music.
Within tonality, different keys and modes offer unique characteristics and emotional qualities. Major keys generally convey a sense of brightness, while minor keys tend to evoke a darker or more melancholic mood. Modulations, or key changes, can be used to introduce variety and contrast within a musical piece.
Tonality has been a central element in Western classical music from the Baroque period to the Romantic era. However, in the 20th century, composers started to explore alternative systems and tonalities, leading to the development of atonal and post-tonal music.