An Outline of Music Theory, Part 2 * * *
Here are the names of all the modes, based on each scale step.
- Ionian – the standard major scale, based on the first scale step
Dorian – based on the second scale step
Phrygian – (pronounced “Frigian,”) based on the third scale step
Lydian – based on the fourth scale step
Mixolydian – based on the fifth scale step
Aeolian – based on the sixth scale step
Locrian – based on the seventh scale step
If these names seem really weird, it’s because they’re named after ancient Greek city states. (To the ancient Greeks, names like “Jimi Hendricks” and Curt Cobaine” would probably seem just as strange).
At this point you’re probably itching to surf the web further, if nothing else, just to find out if I’ve spelled Curt Cobaine’s name properly – but try to stay with me – we’re starting to get to the good part.
If you super-impose the modal concept in any key signature, you get the same thing in that key. In other words, in D major [Ionian] one step up in that key would give us E Dorian, F# Phyrygian, G Lydian, etc.
* * *
Something that may be of help here. Each time you go up five scale steps, you create a key that needs a new sharp [or a new flat if you go down five scale steps. Both sharps and flats are referred to as “Accidentals”. An accidental is either a sharp or flat – in other words, a note that is not natural.]. I call this new accidental that appears in each new key
signature, the “Hot Note”. In the Myxolydian mode, the “Hot Note” is the seventh. That’s the note that is flatted from the major scale five steps below it. Another five steps up gives us the Dorian mode, which continues with the flatted seventh, but adds the flatted third. Therefore, in the Dorian mode, the Hot Note is the third. Here’s a list of all of them:
Hot Notes –
Ionian – There is no Hot Note, this is the standard major scale, based on the first scale step
Mixolydian – the Hot Note is the seventh [it’s flatted]
Dorian -the Hot Note is the third [it’s flatted]
Aeolian – the Hot Note is the sixth [it’s flatted]
Phrygian – the Hot Note is the second [it’s flatted]
Locrian – the Hot Note is the fifth [it’s flatted] When I started to learn all the diatonic modes, I found that I had enormous tools at my disposal to increase my compositional abilities.
* * *
The Hot Notes helped me in my understanding of harmony in the same way it helped me with melody. Here’s how.
What is harmony? It’s notes being played at the same time. When you think you the modes when you’re constructing chords, think of each mode as a FAMILY of chords.
First we have the Ionian, or major family of chords:
- Major Triad
If this stuff looks scary, don’t worry. We’ll cover it in a minute and it doesn’t take long before it starts to look pretty simple. It all fits together very logically, or at least as logically as anything else in music [nineteenth century slaves work songs, or the spelling of Curt Cobaine’s name, for instance].
The basic building blocks of harmony are the minor third and the major third.
A minor third is a whole step and a half step put together.
If we go up a whole step from a C note, we get to a to a D note. If we add another half step to that we get to D# or Eb.
So it is a minor third from C to Eb.
A major third is two whole steps put together.
If we go up a whole step from C, we get to D, then another whole step brings us to E.
The third scale step in a major [diatonic] scale is always a major third above the root note.
If we go up a whole step, and then a half step from E, we get to G. This is an interval of a minor third.
In the key of C major, E is the third scale step, or “Third” and G is the fifth scale step, or “Fifth.
A major triad chord consists of three notes: the root, or first scale step, the third scale step [a major third above the root] and the fifth scale step [a minor third above].
Consider this our starting point for harmony: the major triad. All that other “Ninth” and Eleventh” stuff is just continuing to add more scale steps on top of the triad:
A Seventh chord adds the seventh scale step to the triad.
A Ninth chord adds the ninth scale step to the triad and the seventh.
An Eleventh chord adds the eleventh scale step to the seventh and the ninth.
A Thirteenth chord adds the thirteenth scale step to the seventh, ninth and eleventh.
What do we mean by ninth scale step, etc.? We just keep counting scale steps up from the root.
This may make it easier for you [it sure did for me]:
The ninth is the same thing as the second [an octave – eight notes, plus one more].
The eleventh is the same thing as the fourth [an octave plus four more notes brings us to the eleventh].
The thirteenth is the same as the sixth [octave plus eight more notes equals the thirteenth].
Maybe this helps:
Our C diatonic scale stretched across two octaves again, with scale steps in the top row:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C
1 1 1/2 1 1 1 1/2 1 1 1/2 1 1 1 1/2
Scale step number 8 is the octave. Nine is the same as two, eleven is the same as four, thirteen is the same as six. Of course, ten is the same as three, twelve is the same as five, and fourteen is the same as seven, but we’ve already used the three, five and seven. This brings us to an interesting conclusion:
We’ve used up all the diatonic scale steps!
So, when we extend the major triad with:
Major Triad Major Seventh Major Ninth Major Eleventh Major Thirteenth
The only way we can make more chords is to begin to ALTER chord tones. More about that later.
So this is what we mean by a family of chords.
* * *
But what happens if we go to another mode? Let’s try Myxolidian.
Remember that Myxolydian is based on the fifth scale step of the diatonic scale, and the Hot Note is the seventh [it’s flatted].
The major triad remains the same (no seventh is involved yet).
The seventh is flatted.
In the ninth chord, we still get the major triad, the flatted seventh, and then we add the ninth.
The rest of the chords are filled out in the same way. The only thing we’ve changed is the seventh, which is flatted.
This family of chords, based on the Myxolydian scale, are called, “Dominant” chords.
Major Triad Dominant Seventh Dominant Ninth Dominant Eleventh Dominant Thirteenth
All these chords have a major triad, a flatted seventh, and are in the Myxolydian, or Dominant family of chords. If you are playing in a major key, they would most likely be the chords you would play if you were going to form chords on the fifth scale step of the scale. Of course, that would be a big cliche, but just think of it that way to begin with. The more familiar you get, the more you can take chances. For now, just associate the family of chords with the scale step. This will help sort out the confusion. Whatever scale step you’re on, remember the previous notes that have been changed, and then think of the Hot Note.
Any chord in the family can be substituted for any other. That is also a cliche, and it’s like the scales themselves: It’s just something you can use to untangle the confusion. The more familiar you are with these tools, the more you can make informed, tasteful decisions of your own.
(Remember: “Fusion” is the little word inside the bigger word, “CONfusion”.) (?)
* * *
Let’s look at Dorian. Remember, in Dorian, we continue the flatted seventh and add a flatted third. The third is the Hot Note. This means that, in the triad, the third is going to be flatted, and the triad chord is going to be considered minor.
Minor Triad Minor Seventh Minor Ninth Minor Eleventh Minor Thirteenth
All these chords have a minor third, a flatted seventh, and are in the Dorian family of chord, and are usually called “Minor Seventh” chords (duh).
* * *
If we go up another fifth (another five scale steps), we get to A, which in C major is Aeolian. The hot note here is the flatted sixth. Aeolian is also called the Natural Minor. It is the relative minor from the Major (in this case, C major). The relative minor will always have the same number of flats or sharps, in other words, the same key signature, as the relativ major. The relative minor is always the sixth scale step in the diatonic major key (or, for convenience, you can think of it as a minor third below the root of the major scale – from C to B to A is a minor third).
The Aeolian family of chords is formed on a minor triad, because the third is minor, or flatted. As we extend, or add to, the triad, here’s what we get:
Minor Triad Minor Seventh, sharp five Minor Ninth, sharp five Minor Eleventh, sharp five
Traditionally, the Thirteenth chord is not included as a valid extension because the sharp five is going to conflict with the added Thirteenth note. In the key of C, it would be an G# next to an A natural – a half step that is considered to add too much disonance. Again, this doesn’t mean you can’t use it, I’m just teaching you the traditional way musicians look at things. You can depart from this all you want, if you want. It’s really the variations that make things interesting. This is true if you’re listening to Bach, Debussey or Lou Reed.
You may also ask, “Why isn’t it just called a flat sixth instead of a sharp five? After all, that’s what it is!” If anyone has a solid answer to this, e-mail me and let me know. All I can say is, it’s an alteration that is superimposed on top of the diatonic formula to begin with, so it’s considered that the sixth is already used up as the thirteenth in the usuall array of extensions (that doesn’t really hold water with me, because, since we’re in the Aeolian mode to begin with, it is diatonic, and the sixth has every right being flatted. Also, since it’s built into the scale, it should really be thought of as appearing before any extensions like eleventh and thirteenth (if that were not true, it should be thought of as a sharp twelvth!). So it might have to fit into the catagory of, “That’s just how you play the blues, boy!”.
More shall be revealed.
* * *
Going up another fifth, we get the Phrygian family of chords, which continues with the previous flatted tones and now add the “flatted ninth” as the Hot Note.
Why isn’t it called the “flatted second”? Well, the reason (maybe a bit flimsy) is that we’ve gone up nine scale steps to get to it (bacause we’ve already created the major triad in the first octave). Anyway, the octave being what it is, the ninth and second are essentially the same note, so it’s not that important (again, it falls into the “that’s how the blues are played . . . etc”).
So we have, as a family of chords –
Minor Triad Minor Seventh,flat nine Minor Eleventh, flat nine Minor Thirteenth, flat nine
The “Minor Ninth, Flat Ninth” is eliminated here for the same reason the thirteenth is eliminated in the Aeolian family of chords: It gets in the way of the Hot Note.
* * *
Another fifth up and we get to Locrian. Now we’ve gotten to the point where everything is flatted except the fourth. The Hot Note, the flatted fifth, gives us a “minor seventh, flat five” tonality which is very close to a diminished chord.
Here are the full family names:
Diminish Triad Minor Seventh,flat five Minor Eleventh, flat five Minor Thirteenth, flat five
* * *
Using the diatonic formula, we’ve just about filled up our quota of hot notes. We are as far away from a major scale as we can get (every note flattened except the fourth). The only way we can get more disonant than this is to alter the scale structure completely: take it out of the diatonic realm. That will be the subject of another tutorial.
The only other scale step left to construct harmony and scales on is the fourth step. The best way to deal with this is to think of it NOT as a fourth up but as a fifth down from the Ionian (major) tonic. In this way, we have a major scale, but in order to maintain the Diatonic formula, we need to make the fourth note SHARP. In the key of F (a fourth up, or a fifth down from C), this would be:
F G A B C D E F
We are then maintaining the C diatonic (major) scale, by sharping the fourth note in the F scale (it would normally be a Bb).
In the key of C, this would be:
C D E F# G A B C
The chord structures built on this mode are the same as the chords built on the Major scale, until you get to chords containing the added tenth step (same as a fourth, an octave higher). So, basically, you have:
Major Triad Major Seventh Major Ninth Major Sharp Eleventh Major Thirteenth Sharp Eleventh
So the hot note in the Lydian mode is the fourth scale step.
* * *
Getting back to the diminished triad, why do we call this triad diminished? Because the five and the third are both flatted. This creates a diminished chord: A minor third interval on top of another minor third interval.
When a major interval is flatted TWICE from it’s natural pitch, it is called “diminish”. In other words, if C to E is a major third, C to Eb is a minor third, then C to D (technically called, E double flat – Ebb) is a diminished third.
You might ask, “Why not just call it D, or a major third?” The answer is, “We do! – in Practice, remember – we’re discussing THEORY here!”
By the way, a triad built on two MAJOR thirds is called an augmented triad, because it consists of a root, major third and augmented fifth (when an interval is raised a half step from it’s natural pitch, it’s said to be “augmented”).
Types of Triads:
Major Triad – Major Third interval, Minor Third interval (for instance, C E G) Minor Triad – Minor Third interval, Major Third interval(for instance, C Eb G) Diminished Triad – Minor Third interval, Minor Third interval (for instance, C Eb Gb) Augmented Triad – Major Third interval, Major Third interval (for instance, C E G#)
I also may mention here that when a perfect interval is flatted ONCE, it’s called diminished. So, from C to G is a perfect fifth; from C to Gb is a diminished fifth.
Time for this –
Second Third Sixth Seventh
Unison (two notes, same pitch) Fourth Fifth Octave (two notes, same pitch, an octave apart)
Major intervals flatted once:
Minor Second Minor Third Minor Sixth Minor Seventh
Major intervals flatted TWICE:
Diminished Second Diminished Third Diminished Sixth Diminished Seventh
Perfect intervals flatted ONCE:
Diminished Unison Diminished Fourth Diminished Fifth Diminished Octave
Now, you may ask, “Why does a major interval have to be flatted twice to be diminished, and a perfect interval flatted only once?” The first answer to that is, when you have a perfect interval, there is no such thing as minor, it just goes straight to dimished. When you have a major interval, you flat it once and it becomes minor, you flat it again and it becomes diminished.
Then you may ask, “Why is that?”
Well, it goes back to the Middle Ages, when the Roman Catholic Church owned (that’s right, OWNED) music. They considered that certain intervals were perfect and certain were not. Same with time signatures. 3/4 time was considered perfect time, because it had to do with the Holy Trinity, that’s why 4/4 was called “common time” etc. . . .
Hey, we don’t have to get THAT theoretical !
Anyway, ANY interval (whether it’s major or perfect) is called “Augmented” when it is raised up one half step):
Up 1/2 step from Perfect to Augmented Unison
Up 1/2 step from Major to Augmented Second
Up 1/2 step from Major to Augmented Third
Up 1/2 step from Perfect to Augmented Fourth
Up 1/2 step from Perfect to Augmented Fifth
Up 1/2 step from Major to Augmented Sixth
Up 1/2 step from Major to Augmented Seventh
Up 1/2 step from Perfect to Augmented Octave
At least that rule’s fairly painless (isn’t “copy and paste” great?).
* * *
Now, back to our family of chords and Hot Notes:
Just to review, when we are dealing with chords, it’s just like dealing with scales. Each mode reproduces the flatted notes of the previous mode (one fifth, or five scale steps below it) and adds a Hot Note of it’s own. Using the key of C as an example, we have:
C – root – diatonic major Ionian mode no Hot Note
Up one fifth (five scale steps)
G – root – diatonic Myxolydian mode – the Hot Note is the seventh (flatted)
Up one fifth (five scale steps) from G we get
D – root – diatonic Dorian mode – the Hot Note is the third (flatted) – previous flat still flatted.
Up one fifth (five scale steps) from D we get
A – root – diatonic Aolian mode – the Hot Note is the sixth (flatted) – previous flats still flatted.
Up one fifth (five scale steps) from A we get
E – root – diatonic Phrygian mode – the Hot Note is the second (flatted) – previous flats still flatted.
Up one fifth (five scale steps) from E we get
B – root – diatonic Locrian mode – the Hot Note is the fifth (flatted) – previous flats still flatted.
And starting on the F, (one fifth below C), the Hote Note is the fourth (sharped) otherwise, it’s a major scale.
I hope some of this stuff helps in your understanding of music. Remember: It’s what you do with it – a brick is nothing brilliant in itself, it’s how the builders structure the bricks that creates a great building.
e-mail me if you want. I’ll do my best to get back to you.