Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Doom of the Flattened Supertonic

The Doom of the Flattened Supertonic
 MA thesis  Sarha Moore 
I'd like to introduce my research topic to you, in the hope that you will contribute to my ongoing PhD research. 

Jaws -watch out for the jaws.

It's a tiny thing 

  • The flattened supertonic note a semitone above the tonic creates, in the mind of anyone brought up with Western music and sensibilities, a sense of anxiety, restlessness or foreboding.
  • Yet within the classical music of India, Arabia and Turkey this sound is an integral structural element particularly expressive at cadence points, due to its tension that is released by falling to the tonic.
  • The expressive capacity for the flattened supertonic in non-Western music conveys a myriad of emotional interpretations, mostly of a loving or pathetic nature. 
  • The miss-off between the Western and non-Western connotations of the flattened supertonic produces compositions and genres that address the interface between East and West.
  • My MA dissertation looks at the flattened supertonic in 4 genres: North Indian classical music, Turkish classical music, Jewish klezmer and Heavy Metal. 
So why the interest?
  • I can't grasp why this note is not already given a grand seat in the annals of music theory. It has an expressive potential akin to the leading note.
  • Is it just too subversive in its downward pulling release? As a katabasis, leading to hell?
  • Or is it that there aren't enough books/papers written that analyse non-Western music?
Check these out:

Raag Bhairav, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Sarod

Pizetta klezmer featuring reagadelica

Slayer, South of Heaven especially bass line from 1'.30"     

Hicaz Turkish VS Hijaz Yamani 

I'll be adding more of my research and links to tracks and papers here. Watch this  space.


  1. hmm interesting ... doesn't jazz harmony use tritone substitution for the dominant 7th, which leads to flattened 9th (supertonic) in the chord?

  2. Yeah it does, usually producing a II bII I bass line. Do you know of any instances of this where it has a specific emotive or structural use? Often, I think, in jazz it's the bass player enjoying the chromatic approach notes in a fairly unspecific way. Are there bass players out there who have a particular regard for this bII use?

  3. Hey Sarha - what a fantastic subject for a dissertation. Always loved a bit of phrygian, me.

    Hope you're well and playing loads.

    Danny (Manners)

  4. How interesting! How is the PhD going? Do update and share more of your findings with us!