Thursday, October 3, 2013

The modal melody and a basic harmonic construct, Part 2

Aeolian mode

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.

Example 1.
aeol1.TIF (7554 bytes)

Example 2.

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. 

Example 4.

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. 

Example 5.
C Aeolian
F Aeolian
Bb Aeolian
Eb Aeolian
G# Aeolian
C# Aeolian
F# Aeolian
B Aeolian
E Aeolian
A Aeolian
D Aeolian
G Aeolian

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Pentatonic Scale Harmony

11-Note Pentatonic Kalimba

Most players are at least vaguely familiar with pentatonic scales. They're used in all kinds of music all over the world. Jazz players often use a pentatonic scale as a melodic device, but overlook its harmonic possibilities. Since this scale isn't entirely made up of steps, some interesting voicing result from harmonizing it. One reason for pentatonic scales' popularity is that they can be used over many different tonal centers without too many "avoid notes", notes that sound bad against a chord.

For our purposes, let's examine the A minor pentatonic scale (A-C-D-E-G). Many of us first encountered this scale in a rock or blues context; it has many other potential applications! First, let's harmonize the scale in 3-note voicing:

Note how we automatically get triads interspersed with "cluster" voicing. Cool. The sound of those close intervals may take some getting used to. Bar 1 is in root position; bars 2 + 3 are 1st and 2nd inversions. In the last bar, I spread the voicing from the first group: I moved the middle voice up to the top (and also moved the whole voicing down an octave). All the inversions could be spread-voiced as well; try it...

Here are some playable 4-note voicing. 

Analyze all these voicing; most of them could be used in many ways! 
For example, the 2nd voicing shown could be used as: 
F6/9, Am7sus4, Dm7sus4, Bbmaj13, C6/9, F#7alt, Gm9sus4, and a few other things!
Below is a table showing several chords to which the A minor pentatonic scale can be related:

4th (11th)
C, C7, C9,etc.
6th (13th)
2nd (9th)
2nd (9th)
4th (11th)
2nd (9th)
4th (11th)
2nd (9th)
4th (11th)
2nd (9th)
2nd (9th)

There are others, but this will do for now. 
Of course, it'd be pretty tough to memorize this table, so here are a few hints. 
You can use this pentatonic scale harmonically just as you might use it melodically:

A Few Hints: 

 On a minor chord, you can use a minor pentatonic scale starting from the chord's root, 2nd, or 5th. 
 On a major chord, you can use a minor pentatonic scale starting from the chord's 3rd, 6th (or 7th for a Lydian [#11] sound). 
 On an unaltered dominant 7th chord or 7sus4, you can use a minor pentatonic scale starting from the chord's 2nd, 5th or 6th. 
 On an altered dominant 7th, you can use a minor pentatonic scale starting from the chord's #9.
Okay, let's look at some musical examples now. 
In the first couple of examples, we'll continue to use the A minor pentatonic over a set of changes. 
Then we'll get into mixing and matching different minor pentatonics using the guidelines above. 
In example 1, we have a common ii-V7-I progression, all handled with the A minor pentatonic scale. 

Notice the ambiguous, "open" sound a lot of these voicing have.  Many of these voicing lack "guide tones", which is OK in a group context; someone else'll likely be playing the guide tones.  In real life, you'll probably find this pentatonic approach most satisfying when mixed with other types of voicing. Too much ambiguity can get tedious eventually... 
Example 2 is a I-IV-iii-VI progression in F major. Note the #11 sound on the IV.  Again, we're using only voicing from A minor pentatonic. 

Now we're going to start using voicing from more than one minor pentatonic scale. 
I've labeled the scale choices; check them against the "hints" above to see how I chose the scales.

In spots where the harmony doesn't change much, using alternate pentatonic choices can liven up the sonic landscape. 

In example 4, I used Dm, Em and Am pentatonic to play over a long stretch of D minor. 
(This example's not too interesting rhythmically; I wanted to cram in a lot of voicings!) 
Try voicing like this next time you play "Impressions" or "So What".

All these voicing exist in the C major scale but what makes them sound different is that we're leaving out certain notes in the major scale,or, more accurately, choosing to concentrate on only some of the notes at a time.As implied earlier, I doubt anyone would play a whole tune using nothing but pentatonic harmony, but this method can open up some interesting sounds. Used judiciously, it can provide a nice contrast to third-based harmony. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

The modal melody and a basic harmonic construct, Part 1

A mode, like any other scale, can be the basic structure from which melodies and harmonic frameworks are developed.

When creating a modal melody follow these simple rules:

1.Emphasise the tonic (I) note of the mode. The duration of tonic note should be longer than the duration of other notes and it should occur more frequently.

2. Emphasise the characteristic pitch of the mode. (In D Dorian:  D - B)

3. Melodic cadence, or resolution II - I or VII - I is significant in confirming the authenticity of the mode.

But, before we start working on more sophisticated melodies, here's an example what a simple melody looks like, along with applicable harmonic functions:

(D Dorian)

As an alternative, cadence can be changed into II - I (last measure, instead of VII - I) although it is a weak and  less convincing ending.  Another way to emphasize the mode is to briefly stray from C to G and then back to Dm.  Remember that the Dorian 6th (D - B) dictates the Dm-G progression which is one of the hallmarks of the Dorian mode.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Modulation to any key

In this exercise, I am demonstrating how to modulate from the key of C to any key. Most players are comfortable changing keys that move up a half step, whole step, or perfect fourth. Other keys are sometimes avoided. However, you can modulate to any key. 

The trick is to make it sound smooth. Look for things that the two keys have in common. Do they share common notes or chords? Whenever possible, emphasize the shared notes between keys. This will add a clear connection Of course, the most obvious way to transpose is to get to the dominant seventh chord of the new key. Yet, to my ears, the pure dominant seventh chord can sound very abrupt and ugly and I try to avoid it. Instead, I substitute variations of it such as a Vsus7. You will notice that in many of these modulations, I wait until the last moment to resolve the suspension before hitting the tonic of the key. The ii-V chord progression of the new key can be important as there is a strong tendency for the ii chord to move to the V chord. Therefore, many times, I will first go to ii chord of the new key in the beginning of the transition. It all depends on the individual keys and the notes that they share

Examine and play each of these modulations. Learn to create your own. Make it a challenge for you to develop your own confidence in moving from any key to any other.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Back to Modes

The chapter "Modal Harmonies" may be somewhat confusing for those who are not completely clear on Modal Scales and Modal Music.  Here, I will try to simplify thing that may help some to enter the amazing world of modal music and modal harmonies.  

Constructing a working modal scale

Modal music is interesting for several reasons:  It gives us a glimpse into the past of the scale development and how basic harmonic construct has taken place and shape over the period of several centuries.

The modal scale that I am going to use is a Dorian mode.  For those who are not familiar with modes, it is essentially a natural D minor that contains B instead of B flat which changes the placement of whole and half steps (which indeed determines the character of any given scale)

To get into the modal “mood” fist play the natural d minor scale several times, up and down.  Now, play the same scale using B instead B flat.  You will notice how the mood of the scale has changed and that the upper tetrachord has attained some brightness and optimism.  You have to allow your ears get used to this new tonal experience.  Play the scale few more times

Harmonizing the scale

Harmonizing the scale should be as straightforward as possible:  

Here are several ways of harmonizing each note of the scale using simple triads : 

scale:    D         E          F          G         A         B          C         D

chords:  Dm       Em       F          G         Am       Em       C         Dm
             Dm       Am       Dm      Em       Am       Em       Am      Dm
             Dm       C         F          Em       Am       G         C         Dm

Note:  chords other than triads can be used (for example major and minor 7th) however, in order to properly understand the modal principle, the simple triads should be used at this stage. 

The chord B-D-F or any inversion of the same should be avoided because its presence could easily pull us into C major. 

The absence of tensions and resolutions found in major scales (I-IV-V-V) makes modal music softer and more abstract.  The Dorian 6th (D-B) allows us to construct very powerful two chord progression Dm – G.  Resolution should not follow into C because the progression Dm-G-C presents a “turnaround” or dominant cadence that confirms the key of C.  Instead, it is better to aim for the minor key that will ensure the tonal ambiguity.  Sometimes the tonal ambiguity can be preserved and enhanced by using only root and the fifth instead the whole chord.  Typical ending are VII - I, or II - I, but ending on IV (G - B - D) is also acceptable. 

Here we’re not exactly bound by classical harmony rules and some degree of experimentation is necessary to attain satisfactory results.  However, the care should be exercised in voice leading especially in a four part harmony layout:  No unnecessary leaps and no intervals larger than octave.  Tritone should be avoided for now, although it is possible to use it under certain circumstances and still retain the modal feel. 

The treatment of passing and sustained tones

Passing tones (in relation to main chords) should create acceptable dissonances that can easily be resolved into the third or fifth of the next cord.  Typical sustained tones such as sus2 and sus4 should be properly resolved into nearest consonance (usually on the way down).  Remember that melody should be developed in predetermined manner that ensures fluency and modal integrity. 

Next time more about modal melody development within a given harmonic frame.  

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Basic Chord Progressions

The number of ways chords can go together to produce new and interesting sounds is nearly infinite. Musicians use their intuition and experience to arrange chords in ways that move the music along. This notion of movement is important to understanding how to compose and improvise a piece of music. Chord progressions are what gives a piece of music its harmonic movement.

Harmonic Movement
Usually the interplay between chords in a piece of music creates the feeling of movement and change. Some chord combinations sound uplifting, others sound somber, and some sound like ocean waves. While these harmonies and how we interpret them are nearly endless, there is a very simple principle at work.

Most pieces of music tend to first establish a feeling of stability, depart from it, create tension, then return to the feeling of stability. Though some pieces of music demonstrate this more dramatically than others, as you train your ear you will become increasingly aware of it.

Progression Formulas
The way chords are placed one after the other in a piece of music is called a chord progression. The chords in a progression have different harmonic functions. Some chords provide the stability, some the departure, and some provide the dynamic tension.

Roman numerals are used to indicate the chords in a progression. The numerals are based on the scale pattern of the diatonic scale. For example, in the key of C major a I, IV, V7 (one, four, five) progression indicates the chords Cmaj, Fmaj, and Gdom7. In the key of F these chords would be Fmaj, Bbmaj, and Cdom7.

The diagram below shows the formulas of the more common chord progressions in major and minor keys.

The Roman numerals in a chord progression formula signify the triad form of the chord. It is harmonically permissible to extend these chords with additional diatonic tones to create different chords. In other words, you can add notes to these chords as long as the notes are part of the diatonic scale. The harmonic function of the chord does not change.

The Roman numerals refer to the position of each chord in the diatonic scale. The diagram below shows how the Roman numeral scale degree can be interpreted with different chords. All of the examples below can be interpreted from the same chord formula.

Chord formulas are written in Roman numerals to represent the generic form of the progression. Often musicians will learn a piece of music by its chord progression formula. One reason for this is that it is easier to remember since many songs are based on the same formula. Another reason is, it is easier to play a song in different keys if you know the formula. However, this assumes you know which chords make up which keys.

It's not uncommon for a rehearsal conversation to go like this:

Singer: "Hey, I've got this new song I want to do. It's basically a six-two-five progression."

Pianist: "What key do you like?"

Singer: "I don't know. Maybe Bb."

You can see if you are the pianist you need to be ready to play the same progression in several keys.

The chords indicated by the Roman numerals also have names. For instance, the first chord of the scale is the tonic. The fifth chord is the dominant. The diagram below shows the functional names and scale degree of the diatonic scale. Beneath this are notes from several common keys that match the function and degree.

Other scales whose scale patterns differ from the diatonic scale are assigned chord degrees according to the sharpness or flatness of their notes. That is, the diatonic scale creates a "ruler" that other scales are measured against. That is why the resulting chord based on the third note of the C natural minor scale is bIIIm (Ebm) and not III as in the diatonic scale.

The chart below shows how different scales compare. Because the notes of the scales are spaced differently they produce different chords.

Chord Substitutions
To add variety to the movement you can substitute chords, play dominant chords in place of minor chords, and vise versa. Play diminished chords instead of a dominant. Play chords with extensions. In other words, explore the different ways you can link chords together to create harmonic movement.

One of the most common progressions in music is the I, IV, V (one, four, five) and say we want to explore this progression in the key of C major.
Since we are in the key of C Major our tonic chord will be a major chord with C as its root. There are several chords we could choose but for this example let's pick Cmaj7.

Next, we've got the IV (the four chord). It's also a major chord but since it is derived from the fourth degree of the C Major scale its root must be F. Normally we might choose Fmaj7 but let's bend the rules and experiment. Let's make this an Fm7b5 chord (F,Ab,B, Eb). F7 has an Eb and an Ab, neither which belong to the key of C Major. However, most importantly we are changing the major chord into a minor. That creates a completely different sound. That's where we are bending the rules. However, the most basic rule in music theory is that if it sounds okay, it's allowed.

The V chord can act as a stronger dominant chord if we add the 7th note of the Mixolydian mode. In this case we produce a Gdom7 (G, B, D, F). Now we have a I, IV7, V7 progression. We can spice up this progression even more.

The V (five chord) is the chord that expresses the most tension in a progression and if we want to add more tension we can alter the chord. This means we can add notes that don't belong to the key which almost always produces a dissonant harmony that creates tension.

So, if we sharp the fifth and the ninth degree of the G7 chord we end up with G7#5#9 (G, B, Eb, Bb). Our final formula is: Imaj7, IVm7b5, V7#5#9. Notice how this sounds compares to the original I, IV, V.

There are more substitutions that can be made. This is just the beginning. Experiment and explore to create different harmonic movements. Let your ear decide what's right and not right.

This is a chart of the chord symbols and their meaning.

Enabling Harmonic Thinking in Music Education

Chords and Harmonic Progressions

All beginner students who study piano quickly become aware of possibility of constructing and playing different chords; from nice sounding to not so nice sounding. Also, they very quickly discover the simple rule based on 1-3-5 (every other key on the keyboard) which allows them to achieve simple harmonic constructions. If not guided into the secret of chords and harmonies they will remain disadvantaged of understanding and using chords as building blocks of modern music - whether it is classical, pop, R&B or bluegrass.

The art of harmonic thinking and harmonic understanding used to be a part of the subject called Solfege. By singing simple melodies (which progressively get more difficult as the student advances) accompanied by piano, usually in chords, helped students develop a quick understanding for certain harmonic movements. They also become aware of scales (major and minor for starter) and inherent tensions and resolutions within the scale. The first pattern that becomes "cemented" is the ubiquitous I-IV-V-I. The authors of Solfege books and material are very skilled in manipulating harmonies through melodic lines that are necessary for proper and complete music training and development.

Today, the art of Solfege is slowly going into oblivion, especially in settings where the demand on teacher and student to produce quick results is the only paramount. However, the art of listening and developing harmonies can be easily achieved through everyday exercises and relevant music samples. Teachers can create short melodic lines with corresponding harmonies covering basic and most common chord progressions. To name a few:

I-IV-V-I, I-VI-II-V-I, I-III-VI-II-V-I, I-II-V-VI-IV-V-I ...etc ...

Once student becomes familiar and comfortable with these simple patterns, the teacher can get a bit deeper into the theory and explain all the rules pertaining the chord construction and use.

This is just a short description of some approaches that I use and can be used in training young musicians. Introducing the dry theory can be repulsive to many without being able to understand its merits, meaning and point. This way, through active listening and producing harmonies, student will feel more engaged, which in turn will produce better learning experience. Learning and manipulating harmonies may enable a young student to venture into the world of composing his/her own music. These attempts, no matter how rudimentary or incomplete, must be strongly encouraged and rewarded. One never knows: the little kid who is struggling with "Twinkle, twinkle little star"today, may be another Mozart in making tomorrow.