Pop Music Theory


Detailed Contents

27: Diatonic Function Analysis

More Lessons

Detailed Contents

Lesson 27: Diatonic Function Analysis

This lesson teaches how to understand the diatonic chords in "real" songs.

Before taking this lesson, you should know: the diatonic chord functions (Lesson 26: Subdominant & Dominant).

To learn to use the diatonic chord functions (tonic, subdominant, and dominant), you should study them in real songs. This is called diatonic function analysis.

Let's do an example. Here's a short chord progression in the key of C major (it's actually a simplified phrase from Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone):

C  Dm   Em  F   G  C  

First, add Roman numeral symbols (from Lesson 24: Using Diatonics):

C  Dm   Em  F   G  C  

Next, we'll add diatonic function symbols. We'll use these symbols:

T = Tonic
(T)= "substitute" Tonic
SD = Subdominant
D = Dominant

Here's the example with the diatonic functions added:

Functions: TSD (T) SD  DT
Roman symbols:   IIImIIImIV VI
Actual chords: C  Dm  Em  F   G  C  

Tension Levels

The diatonic functions have different tension levels, which means how at rest, or not at rest, that function feels. The tension levels range from the no-tension level, tonic (T), which sounds at rest, to the highest tension level, dominant (D), which "really wants to" return to the tonic. The way a chord progression moves between different tension levels creates that progression's tension story. Here's our example again, displayed as a tension-level graph so you can see the tension story's shape:

  C  Dm  Em   F  G  C  
  D V
  SD     IIm IV
  (T) IIIm
  T   I I

Following the Roman symbols above from left to right, we can see that this example's basic tension story is:
  1. Starts at rest, on I
  2. Climbs (with a bit of wandering) to high tension (the V)
  3. Drops back to rest (the last I)

This particular story/shape is very, very common, but there are lots of variations and alternatives. To develop a feel for the effects of different tension stories, you should include diatonic function analysis when you're analyzing songs (see Lesson 2: Practicing Songwriting). Make tension-level graphs for lots of different songs, make up tension stories from the graphs, and decide for yourself what you think the musical effects of different tension stories are.

Requests, questions, suggestions, problems? Tell me on Facebook or email info@drawmusic.com!


1: Introduction
2: Practicing Songwriting
3: Pitch Names
4: Letters Game
5: Sharps & Flats
6: Half-Steps
7: Whole-Steps
8: Steps Game
9: Scales
10: Major Scale 1-2-3
11: Major 1-2-3 Games
12: Major Scale 1-5
13: Major 1-5 Games
14: Chords: Major Triads
15: Major Triad Games
16: Minor Triads
17: Minor Triad Games
18: Major Scale 1-8
19: Major Scale Games
20: Keys
21: Roman Numeral Chords
22: Scales Above 8
23: Diatonic Triads
24: Using Diatonics
25: Tonic Function
26: Subdominant & Dominant
27: Diatonic Function Analysis
28: Melody: Chord Tones
29: Treble Staff
30: Treble Staff Game
31: Time: Beats & Measures
32: Note Lengths
33: Tied & Dotted Notes
34: Rhythm: Rests
35: Melody Rhythm: Rolling Stone
36: Major Pentatonic Scale
37: 7th Chords
38: 7ths Games
39: Pitch & Frequency

More Lessons

Detailed Contents

ABOUT US - CONTACT US (info@drawmusic.com) - FACEBOOK

© 2018 Conrad Albrecht. All rights reserved.