Three basic models of western tonality – Making Of

In this post I am going to show how the soundtrack for the last episode’s video was created. I’m focussing on both the music apps I used as well the harmony models, introduced in the last episode. But first lets listen to a part of the sound track.

Music apps and presets used

To produce the track I’ve exclusively used an iPad and iOS Music Apps. The applied synthesizer and the drum loops were recorded with Loopy using AudioBus.

  1. First the drum loop was recorded. I used the Korg iElectribe app, Preset “A17 Techno 8”.
  2. The bass sound was synthesized by NLog Pro, Preset “2.0 XTD, Twoelk”. I manually activated the arpeggiator. NLog was controlled by SoundPrism Pro via Core MIDI.
  3. The choir was recorded using SoundPrism’s “Choir Sound Pack”, Preset “Airy”. SoundPrism was set to one tone mode.
  4. For the lead Animoog came into operation. I used the preset “JustSwell”. The scale was set to aeolian with a as root note.
  5. Recording, looping and mixing was done via Loopy HD.

Theory knowledge of last episode

  • The key related circle of fifths was applied to the bass line. Starting at tone a the bass moves through the cycle and arrives at the origin finally. The bass line was played with SoundPrism Pro. To play a fifths sequence one simply has to skip every second tone line.
  • The key related circle of thirds was applied to the choir. This track starts at the tone e, runs also through the whole cycle and arrives also at the origin again. The choir was also played using SoundPrism Pro. To play a third sequence here, one simple needs to move from tone line to tone line.
  • The key related melodic circle was applied to the lead. Latter was recorded using Animoog which’s interface is optimized for playing melodic sequences.

Interaction of bass, choir and lead

To make bass, choir and lead sound good together, SoundPrism Pro and Animoog were set to the same scale i.e. a-minor respectively a-aeolian. Additionally I made sure that fifths and third line do not drift apart from each other in SoundPrism. There the choir starts two tone lines above the bass and runs after the latter. Regarding the lead it was important that it starts and ends with tones fitting well to the root of a-minor. The tones in-between where rhythmized such that are in harmony with the other tracks.


  1. In the same way melodic and drum loops exist so do harmonic loops. The key related circle of fifths, the key related circle of thirds and the key related melodic circle show how such harmonic loops look like.
  2. Many good musical pieces move through all of these three layers, meaning the fifths layer, the third layer and the melodic layer.
  3. All three layers can be active at the same time. But in this case one has to make sure that the layers are connected in the right way.
  4. The interface of SoundPrism is particularly optimized for composing fifth and third movements. Animoog’s interface is particularly good for creating melodic sequences.  Depending on nature of the track to be composed one or the other app should be used.

Three basic models to describe the western tone system

This is the first episode of a weekly blog post series on harmony theory. Our blog is different in three ways:

  1. We explain harmony theory using music apps. This allows you to checkout everything whenever and where you want. Simply switch on your iPad.
  2. We try to make sure, that you can read every episode within five to ten minutes. Thus the blog is also for people who don’t have much time at their hands.
  3. We found out that there are many overlooked symmetries in western harmony. Be one of the first who knows and talks about it.

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Symmetry Model

We call the theoretical concept discussed within this series “symmetry model”. It consists of some submodels which have one thing in common: All models are not oriented to the root of a certain key or a chord. Much more they are aligned to the so called symmetry tone. The goal of today’s episode is not to explain that in detail. Much more we want to introduce the first three submodels of the symmetry model.

Submodel 1: The key related circle of fifths

Already Pythagoras derived the diatonic scale by tuning tones in fifths. The key related circle of fifths takes that idea and arranges the white keys of the piano in a fifths order. The circle begins with the f and ends with the b. The tone in the center (d) is called symmetry tone.

The key related circle of fifths

Submodel 2: The key related circle of thirds

The second model is the key related circle of thirds. This system is perfectly suited for understanding chords and cadences. The tones are arranged in alternating major and minor thirds. Thus three neighbored tones result in major or minor triads. Again all tones are arranged symmetrically around the symmetry tone which defines also the start and the end of the circle.

The key related circle of thirds

Submodel 3: The key related melodic circle

The third model is the key related melodic circle. The circle arranges tones in major and minor seconds i.e. whole and half tone steps. Like the other circles this model is also aligned to the symmetry tone d. The strength of the key related melodic circle is the representation of melodic scales.

The key related melodic circle

Sound Demo

The following video demonstrates how the tones within the circle sound. It consists of three tracks. The first plays tones in a fifths order, the second in the third order and the last in the melodic order. At the end all three tracks are played together.

Next episode

In the next blog post we’re going to explain how the sound track of the previous was produced. We’ll talk about the iPad music apps used as well as how three models introduced before were applied.


  1. Three basic harmony models were introduced named key related circle of fifths, key related circle of thirds and key related melodic circle.
  2. Every of these models consists of the same seven tones. Only the order of the tones is different.
  3. Every model arranges the tones mirror-symmetrically around a so called symmetry tone respectively a symmetry axis.
  4. Together these models grab the most important properties of the western tonal system.