Modal mishaps

I have been messing around with the modes a lot lately, clumsily improvising counterpoint at the keyboard, if you will, to get my ear working in that way instead of just my mind (that idea is by and large ALL Kris's, it helps a lot I think, well it has so far). I've noticed some patterns I think, but not totally and that is why I am writing this now (go figure). In Ionian, Mixolydian, Dorian, and Aeolian it seems that there are 2 BASIC possible harmonic functions: coming and going...giving and receiving...more tensioned and more released...almost tonic and dominant. I hesitate to use that terminology, but I am not quite sure why. Maybe because I think tonic and dominant only technically applies to Ionian in so that the "coming and going" is a I- V relationship, with regards to the way the modern musical vocabulary is and everything. At least thats the way I perceive tonic and dominant. In Ionian you can harmonize pretty much any diatonic (not sure what the term for "only notes in the mode" would be) melody over a I or a V, in Mixolydian you can do the same over a I or a IV, and so on. 

First question: What the hell is the deal with Lydian and Phrygian?

Second question: Are the modes almost meant to be combined in usage to almost bring out a truer tonic feeling...or Is what I just described really modal jazz as it were, where the mode isn't the "key" but actually a potential extended 7 tone chord ( 1 3 5 7 9 11 13)? My reason for asking is this: I haven't done much with Phrygian yet but I have messed with Lydian quite a bit over the last couple of weeks. I can never stay in it...for instance I start in C Lydian and get the nagging urge to shift to or even sometimes just accidentally end up in G Ionian or E Aeolian...it makes sense from a key sig stand point...but why? I don't get it. And then once I'm there I can by no means get back to C Lydian...

Third question: For all intents and purposes, can all "scales" be considered modes? If this is true than I think in some odd way I am starting to theoretically grasp chromaticism, outside of just modulation and secondary function chords. Now practically? Ha, thats a different issue...

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Replies

  • Thats a lot of questions and not easy to answer, but if you are interested to dig deeper into it, I could recommend you to read the book "Theory of Harmony" by Arnold Schoenberg.

    This book for sure deals with the questions you have put above.
  • What we call modes today might better be understood as octave species, meaning a simple rotation of the diatonic scale. The church modes were a different story, as each mode had characteristic melodic patterns and cadence types as well.

    I believe that as soon as you start throwing chord changes in you are dealing with the major/minor system. Music only sounds modal to me over static harmonies. Of course, that's just me.


  • Ray Kemp said:
    pgnisled said:
    Thats a lot of questions and not easy to answer, but if you are interested to dig deeper into it, I could recommend you to read the book "Theory of Harmony" by Arnold Schoenberg.

    This book for sure deals with the questions you have put above.

    pgnisled

    Great advice indeed and that is the best advice I've had in these last few years. Go read a book and/or listen to some audio examples. Can't be beat for sure.

    Absolutely agreed, but there is nothing wrong with asking people who have read those books what they think as well, might save you a little time. Nothing wrong with a good ol' hootin hollerin' theory discussion eh?
  • No, of course, always interesting to have these kind of discussions.

    For me a mode is a grid. I look at it as a sequence of steps in semitones, so major is 2-2-1-2-2-2-1.

    If you talk about tonality you talk about the expression of a key. Thats not only vertical, but also lineair.

    The shortest way to express a key would be a cadence, or maybe even shorter only the tritone. (joke)

    But its all about conventions: say you insert some non-diatonic tones in a cadence, think most people would still hear the key.

    And where is the non-diatonic tone, is it on the strong beat, or on the weak beat, a passing note?

    So I look at it as a scale, say going from strict diatonic monotonal, toward complete atonal.

    And inbetween there's a lot of various degrees.

    About the modes, you could check for each mode if the third is a major (4 semitones) or a minor (3 semitones), does the mode have pure quints, and pure quarters, etc.

    Then you could check which kind of triads and sevenths are on the various degree of each mode.

    As like before, measure them in semitones, a dominant seventh is 4,7,10 for example.

    minor A and major C are the same set, they only have different starting points on the same grid.

    If you consider a strict diatonic grid, say major C, then you could also measure the degree of the alterations in that key using the circle of fifths,

    Bes and Fis are more close, Es and Cis further away etc, etc.

    If you look at playing scales on certain chords, then have a look at which notes you play on the chords, and then measure the intervals, if there is a 1 semitone interval, or a 13, then you will have a very strong dissonant.

    When you go from one harmony to another in a progression, then you have 3 possibilities, 1, the next harmony is more dissonant, 2, the next harmony is less dissonant, or 3, its stays at the same level of dissonancy.

    Just some random remarks.
  • Here are some possibly interesting articles on modes for you. I don't know if I agree with this first one that the song "Drunken Sailor" alternates between two different tonics, but it is "interesting":

    http://www.icce.rug.nl/~soundscapes/VOLUME05/Dorian_family.shtml

    This next one is from an old Professor of my mine whom I always seem to be citing. It's a "bit" dry, but it talks about how the major/minor sysytem arose out of modality.

    http://www.music-cog.ohio-state.edu/Music950B/writeup.pdf
    Marks of the Dorian family
    Drunken Sailor and Scarborough Fair: both songs have the feel of shifting between two keys. Introducing the concept of the Dorian twin tone system, G…
  • Even within the standard 12-note ET tuning, there are some other interesting modes. I'm fond of the raised-4th, lowered-7th mode, which I've heard called the "Bartok" mode. When the tonic is C, this scale has an F# and a Bb. It's a rotation of the ascending melodic minor mode. That is, C "Bartok" is identical to G ascending melodic minor. If you assume some other note is the tonic, though, you have yet another mode. If A is the tonic, the lower tetrachord is Phrygian and the upper tetrachord is Dorian.

    Then there are the eight-note diminished modes. For instance, C-Db-Eb-E-F#-G-A-Bb-C. This has some quite interesting harmonic properties -- an interlinked set of major and minor triads.

    Oh, and we mustn't forget the augmented-diminished scales, for instance C-Eb-E-G-Ab-B-C. Similar to a blues scale, but not quite the same.

    --Jim Aikin
  • I totally agree with you, its good to read books but it is also great to hear others’ interpretations and figure out your own. There a lot of ways to understand and deconstruct a concept.




    Tombo Rombo said:


    Ray Kemp said:
    pgnisled said:
    Thats a lot of questions and not easy to answer, but if you are interested to dig deeper into it, I could recommend you to read the book "Theory of Harmony" by Arnold Schoenberg.

    This book for sure deals with the questions you have put above.

    pgnisled

    Great advice indeed and that is the best advice I've had in these last few years. Go read a book and/or listen to some audio examples. Can't be beat for sure.

    Absolutely agreed, but there is nothing wrong with asking people who have read those books what they think as well, might save you a little time. Nothing wrong with a good ol' hootin hollerin' theory discussion eh?
    Modal mishaps
    I have been messing around with the modes a lot lately, clumsily improvising counterpoint at the keyboard, if you will, to get my ear working in that…
  • Ok, it's starting to make more sense now I think. Knowing how the modes developed (4 modes and that there was an authentic and plagal for each eventually into the 6 useable "modern" modes) helped me along I think. Thanks for the links Tombo. I added it to my amazon wishlist pgnisled haha, its right behind part 2 of graddus ad parnassum! Thanks Chris! And Jim that was really interesting!
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