Is there any more passionate color within the minor tonality than the Aeolian group? Although not historically recognized as one of the true, ancient Greek or Medieval church modes, the Aeolian mode is today not only at the center of the minor tonal universe within the equal tempered system but potentially dates way further back than the Greeks of antiquity.
So much of the music we love is created with this ancient group of pitches. Commonly referred to as the relative or natural minor within the major / minor dichotomy of the equal tempered system, the Aeolian mode provides the other half of our musical foundation, balancing the joyous and uplifting major tonal environment with the humbled, more somber and darkly passionate minor coloring. Theoretically, the relative major and minor colors are created by the same group of pitches, it is in the intervalic relationship between the pitches that creates the two distinct colors and environments.
So why is the Aeolian mode so important? Well, like all of the modes discussed, its origins potentially go back thousands of years, so folks have been creating melodies with it for a long time. For many players it is the center of their creative musical universe and resources, and as such, provides the basis of how they view the musical world. There are societal aspects within America that drive artists towards certain elements to express their ideas and tell their stories. Not all of these stories are joyous or have happy endings, but the story must be told none the less. The Aeolian mode and its variations can become the sounds to tell the sadder story. There is a tremendous power in the minor tonal environment not limited to expressing the everyday world of experience we live in, but to the spiritual world beyond, which as human beings we have the thinking capacity to contemplate and recreate in our music. Hear the sound of this Aeolian group of pitches.
scale degree: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
interval from root: major 2nd minor 3rd perfect 4th perfect 5th minor 6th minor 7th octave
Aeolian mode pitches: A B C D E F G A
A key aspect of the Aeolian mode and the minor tonality is in its ability to "balance" the emotional content of the major tonality within the same piece of music. Theorists commonly refer to this pairing as relative major / relative minor. Pairing the two tonalities together in one piece could very well provide the ultimate "Ying and Yang" for telling our tales of human experience. Hear the transition. Example 3.
A minor C major
This shifting between the tonalities goes both ways of course, from minor to major as well as major to minor. Although I’ve never been, there are stories told of a tradition in New Orleans, Louisiana where the jazz musicians would help to "escort a beloved" to their final resting place with their jazz music. On the way to the internment, their music would be somber, humble and reflective of the toils of our day to day world and how we interact with one another. Once these ceremonies were completed, the return passage of the players back to the "world of life" would be articulated in the joyous nature of their music. I think some of the music for this important ceremony comes down to us today as "Dixieland Jazz", and that maybe the duality of the ceremony is reflected in our major / minor tonality of our equal tempered system. I believe. Here are a few titles of jazz standards that combine the two tonalities in one composition.
title composer tonality
Autumn Leaves J. Mercer relative minor / relative major
Greensleeves traditional relative minor / relative major
Here's That Rainy Day J. Van Heusen minor to major
In a Sentimental Mood Duke Ellington minor to major
My Favorite Things R. Rodgers relative minor / relative major
My Funny Valentine Rogers / Hart relative minor / relative major
Nicas Dream H. Silver relative minor / relative major
Round About Midnight T. Monk minor to major
Summertime G. Gershwin relative minor / relative major
Needless to say this listing is just the beginning, but most of these titles are callable at most jazz sessions, oftentimes requested at work and are classic jazz standards. Here is a chart spelling out the pitches of the Aeolian mode from each of the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale.
C Aeolian C D Eb F G Ab Bb C
F Aeolian F G Ab Bb C Db Eb F
Bb Aeolian Bb C Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb
Eb Aeolian Eb F G Ab Bb Cb Db Eb
G# Aeolian G# A# B C# D# E F# G#
C# Aeolian C# D# E F# G# A B Db
F# Aeolian F# G# A B C# D E F#
B Aeolian B C# D E F# G A B
E Aeolian E F# G A B C D E
A Aeolian A B C D E F G A
D Aeolian D E F G A Bb C D
G Aeolian G A Bb C D Eb F G
Here is the sound of each of the groups from the above chart.