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  Tonality, in music, is the convention of anchoring a piece aurally in the same tonal centre, or key: that is, as it were, in C major or E flat minor throughout. The notes and harmonies of the chosen key dominate, and excursions into other keys reinforce this dominance by contrasting with it and producing a marked feeling of completion when the music returns from them. This is one of the main structural devices in Western symphonic music. Even in music not written in keys, for example the folk music of Africa or Eastern Europe, or the art music of Indonesia and India, tonal centres are established and the music stays in them, sometimes from intellectual choice (for example, because each Indian raga uses certain notes only, in a clear relationship to one another), or because of the restricted tuning of the instruments (such as in a gamelan). In the 20th century, some Western composers have sought to abandon tonality (for instance by writing atonal or serial music), or to stretch tonality by such devices as bitonality, polytonality and ‘progressive tonality’ (in which a piece starts in one key and ends in another). Such ideas are, however, the exception rather than the rule. Throughout history and the world, in music of every kind, a sense of tonality, of a ‘home base’ for the sound, has been such a strong principle that some musicians even claim that it is endemic to the physics of sound, that the relationships are mathematical as well as aural, and that to use other systems flies in the face of Nature. (This is scientific and aesthetic nonsense, no more valid today than it was when Pythagoras first put forward his views on universal harmony and the music of the spheres.) KMcL  



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