26: Diatonic Function Analysis
Get New Lessons
Lesson 26: Diatonic Function AnalysisThis lesson teaches how to understand the diatonic chords in "real" songs.
Before taking this lesson, you should know: the diatonic chord functions (Lesson 25: 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):
First, add Roman numeral symbols (from Lesson 23: Using Diatonics):
Next, we'll add diatonic function symbols. We'll use these symbols:
Here's the example with the diatonic functions added:
The diatonic functions have different tension levels, which means how at rest, or not at rest, that function feels. Here are the tension levels, from "highest tension" to lowest:
The way a chord progression moves among the tension levels creates that progression's tension story. Here's our example progression (C → Dm → Em → F → G → C) again, displayed as a tension-level graph so you can see the tension story's shape:
Following the Roman symbols above from left to right, we can see that this example's basic tension story is:
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.