Dissertation Index

Author: Barley, Raymond B., Jr.

Title: Tonality and Modality in Finnish Folk Music

Institution: Union Institute & University

Begun: January 2008

Completed: April 2011


The study evaluates the five genres of tonality expounded on by William E. Thomson in his text Tonality in Music: A General Theory within the context of tonality theories developed by contemporary music theorists. By the scholarly study of these five genres— Harmonic Tonality, Functional Tonality, Scalar Tonality, Pitch Color Tonality, and Pitch Centricity—Thomson intends to progress towards the development of a universal theory that explains the tonal systems of all music. In his assessment of these tonal theories, Thomson challenges Western music theory’s traditional belief that tonality and modality are mutually exclusive. Rather, Thomson argues that harmonic tonality is the pitches of modes functioning as vehicles of harmonic content as much as the pitches of scales.

Furthermore, functional harmony is recognized when a single chord may function differently in different circumstances. Of scalar tonality, Thomson not only argues that scale and mode are properly conceived as interchangeable but also rejected the theory that music is a product generated by scales. Closely aligned with scalar tonality is pitch color tonality; the concept that pitch relationships correspond to visual colors, while pitch centricity pitch is assessed by Thomson as the phenomenon of a single pitch class acting as atonal axis with no implication of harmonic residue; the antithesis of harmonic tonality.

Presenting original tonal analyses of thirty-five Finnish folk songs, instrumental pieces, and folk hymns, the study includes a methodology of traditional music analysis techniques such as harmonic analysis and pitch-class sets merged with computer-assisted acoustic analysis shown by the inclusion of pitch graphs and spectrograms. For each melody, a logical pitch frame is presented with evidence that supports a proposed logical pitch hierarchy and an accompanying theoretical argument indicating the melodies true tonality. This methodology is supplemented with a review of the psychoacoustic perception of tonality as developed by Diana Deutsch, Carl Seashore, Albert Bregman, and John Sloboda. These methods are used to test Thomson’s theory that tonality exists even within music historically considered modal by traditional music theorists. The study concludes with recommendations for the further study of tonality which will be necessary to attain Thomson’s stated goal.

Keywords: Tonality, modality, folk music, harmony, pitch hierarchy, pitch color, pitch centricity, William Thomson




Chapter 1


Purpose of the study

The five genres of tonal theory

Chapter 2

Review of the literature

The literature of tonal theory in Western music

Types of tonality


Finnish folk music

The kantele

Chapter 3

Introduction to the methodology


Pitch graphs and spectral analysis

Institutional Review Board statement

Intended audience

Chapter 4


Summary of the analysis

Chapter 5

Results and conclusions

Summary of the research



Samples of materials examined at the Finnish American Heritage Center



Raymond Barley, Ph.D.
P.O. Box 10218
Fort Irwin, CA 92310

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