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CHAPTER 6:
How Chords and Chord Progressions
REALLY Work
  
6.16 What About Chord Progressions Based On the Church Modes?

 
PAGE INDEX
  

6.16.1 Modal Harmonic Scales

6.16.2 Dorian Mode Harmonic Scales

6.16.3 Phrygian Mode Harmonic Scales

6.16.4 Lydian Mode Harmonic Scale

6.16.5 Mixolydian Mode Harmonic Scale

6.16.6 Locrian Mode Harmonic Scale

 

~ • ~ • ~ • ~


6.16.1

MODAL HARMONIC SCALES


In Chapter 5, in the discussion of Church modes, it was noted that the Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, and Locrian modes have certain properties that cause problems when it comes to creating chord progressions.


     Now that you’ve slogged your way through this long, excruciating chapter on harmonic scales and you know all about Chase charts and how they work, you might be wondering whether or not you could construct viable harmonic scales using the Church modes.


     Time to find out.


     First, a brief summary of the rules governing the construction of a harmonic scale:

 

     1.  A “default” harmonic scale consists of seven chords, each rooted on one of the seven different notes of the diatonic scale.

 

     2.  Each “default” chord is a simple triad. For example, in the key of C major/A minor:

 

                   There are three major triads, C, F, and G

                   There are three minor triads, Am, Dm, and Em

                   There is one diminished triad, Bº

 

     3.  The chords are arranged in a circle with chord roots five semitones apart (fifth progressions down, going clockwise). The only exception is the six-semitone interval between the triad rooted on the note F and the triad rooted on the note B.

 

     4.  The dominant chords with respect to the tonic major and tonic relative minor chords both get converted to V7 chords to provide the dynamic directionality required to establish tonal centres.


Figure 122 below shows the default circular harmonic scale for the key of C / Am (the Ionian and Aeolian modes, respectively). Inside the circle are the Nashville Numbers and also the number of semitones between chord roots. For example, the number of semitones between the C major chord root and the F major chord root is five.




FIGURE 122  Chase Chart of Harmonic Scale with Numbers of Semitones Between Chord Roots







     The three chords of the major mode and the three chords of the minor mode each form a grouping of three consecutive chords. The major and minor modes sound entirely different, which makes for striking natural harmonic contrast within a cohesive harmonic framework. The oddball six-semitone interval, and the rootless, dissonant diminished chord, are located, conveniently, between the chord groupings of the two modes.


     Proceeding clockwise, the overall effect is palatable and satisfying.


     Do the Church modes fare as well?



6.16.2

DORIAN MODE HARMONIC SCALES


To hear what a Dorian mode scale sounds like, play the white keys on the piano beginning and ending with D:


D – E – F – G – A – B – C – D


     (Remember, you can play a Dorian mode scale beginning with any note—it doesn’t have to be D—so long as you preserve the order of tones and semitones for the mode. This applies to all the modes.)


     The Dorian mode is considered to be a minor mode because the third note of the scale forms a minor third interval with the tonic note (in the above example, D – F). So the “tonic chord” of the Dorian mode is a minor chord, Dm, in this example (the notes D, F and A).


     As shown in the example below (Figure 123), there are two possible relative keys: one with the note B as the tonic, the other with the note F as the tonic. No others are possible because their chords would overlap with one or more of the chords of the modal key.


     When you apply the above-listed harmonic scale rules to the Dorian mode, you get two possible versions. One version has the VI chord (B in the example below) as the tonic of the relative key, the other has the III chord (F in the example) as the relative tonic.

 



FIGURE 123  Chase Charts of Dorian Mode Harmonic Scales







Here are the main problems with Dorian harmonic scales:

 

        The tonic chord of the Dorian scale is minor (Dm in the example), which clashes with the subdominant (G, a major chord).

 

        The dominant chord, A7, has a non-modal note, C♯, which removes the “Dorian” sound of the mode. But if you replace C♯ with C or D, you lose the tritone. You also lose the leading tone and the power to establish tonality.

 

        The tonic chord of the “B” relative key is the rootless diminished chord (Bº).

 

        The subdominant of the “F” relative key is the rootless diminished chord.

 

        In both of the possible relative keys, there is a six-semitone span between the roots of two of the chords.



6.16.3

PHRYGIAN MODE HARMONIC SCALES


The Phrygian scale corresponds to the white keys beginning and ending with E:


E – F – G – A – B – C – D – E


     Like the Dorian mode, the Phrygian is considered a minor mode. The third note of the scale forms a minor third with the tonic (in this example E – G), making the tonic chord a minor triad (Em).


     And, like the Dorian, there are two possible relative keys, one with VI as the tonic, the other with III as the tonic.


     When you apply the harmonic scale construction rules to the Phrygian mode, you get the two possible versions shown in the example below (Figure 124).




FIGURE 124  Chase Charts of Phrygian Mode Harmonic Scales







This time, things look somewhat more promising than the Dorian harmonic scales.

 

        The three principal chords in the above example, Em, Am, and B7, are identical to the chords of the key of E minor. So at least it’s possible to establish tonality around the I chord.

 

        If you consider C as the relative key, its three principal chords are identical to the chords of the key of C major.

 

        If you consider G as the relative key, its three principal chords are identical to the chords of the key of G major.


     But the Phrygian mode has an Achilles heel. As with the Dorian mode, it’s the dominant seventh chord—B7 in the above example.


     Recall that the dominant seventh chord is the only chord in harmony that has these two properties:

 

        Directionality: it “points” to the tonal centre.

 

        Unrest: it “demands” resolution, specifically to the tonic chord.


     The dominant seventh is therefore crucial in establishing tonality. That’s why it’s called the dominant chord. It serves as the gateway, the means of gaining access to a defined tonal centre. Without the dominant chord, no tonal centre exists. There’s no cadence effect and your brain senses no meaningful harmonic cohesion.


     The main problem with the Phrygian mode is that the dominant seventh chord, B7, contains two non-modal notes, D♯ and F♯. So, using B7 as the dominant chord does not establish tonality in the Phrygian mode. It establishes tonality in the key of E minor. To create Phrygian tonality, you would need to do something about those two non-modal notes in the B7 chord to fix things up.


     But you can’t:

 

        In the above example, if you change the D♯ to D or E, you lose the leading tone and the tritone.

 

        If, instead, you raise the F♯ to G, you get the chord B7♯5 (B seventh, augmented fifth), which removes the tritone and the resolution potential to the third note of the tonic scale. (And, of course, the D♯ note remains a problem.)

 

        If, instead, you lower the F♯ to F, you get the chord B7♭5, which removes the perfect fifth interval and introduces a second tritone (B – F, in addition to the B7 chord’s normal tritone, D♯ – A). The battling tritones negate the directionality of the chord.

 

        If you try to change both of the non-modal notes, you get similar undesired effects. For example, if you lower both D♯ and F♯, you get the chord Bm7♭5. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. (Try it!) Indeed, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and W. B. Yeats rises from his grave, looks around, and spots Johann David Heinichen, also arisen from his grave, autographing copies of the  Circle of Fifths.



6.16.4

LYDIAN MODE HARMONIC SCALE


Moving on to the Lydian mode, corresponding to the white keys beginning and ending with F:


 F – G – A – B – C – D – E – F


     The Lydian is considered a major mode. The third note of the scale forms a major third with the tonic, F – A, in the above example, with the tonic chord being F major (Figure 125).




FIGURE 125  Chase Chart of Lydian Mode Harmonic Scale



 




     Of the three principle chords of the Lydian mode, two are markedly unbalanced, one of which is the rootless diminished IV chord.


     In the above example, the C7 chord (the V7 chord) contains a non-modal note, B♭, so establishing true Lydian-sounding tonality is a problem.

 

        If you try to fix it by moving B♭ down to A, you get the chord C6 (C sixth). This removes the unrest of the tritone and a good part of the directionality because, in progressing to the tonic chord, the effect of the semitone resolution from the note B♭ to the note A vanishes.

 

        If you try to fix it by moving B♭ up to B, you get the chord CM7 (C major seventh), which has no tritone. And you lose the resolution of B♭ to the note A, the tonic chord’s crucial third-scale-degree note.


     As for possible relative keys, if the VI chord (Dm in the above example) serves as the tonic, it clashes with the IV chord, G, which is major. If the III chord, Am, serves as the tonic, the three principal chords are identical to the three principal chords of the key of A minor, which means the dominant seventh chord becomes E7— which contains a non-modal note.



6.16.5

MIXOLYDIAN MODE HARMONIC SCALE


Next up: another major mode, the Mixolydian, corresponding to the white keys on the piano beginning and ending with G:


 G – A – B – C – D – E – F – G


     The chords of the Mixolydian harmonic scale are identical to the normal (Ionian/Aeolian) harmonic scale except for the transition VII chord at the bottom, which, in this example, is F major instead of F♯º (Figure 126).




FIGURE 126  Chase Chart of Mixolydian Mode Harmonic Scale







     Once again, the V7 chord, D7 in the above example, contains a non-modal note, F♯, making the harmony indistinguishable from the key of G major. If you try to fix the problem by lowering the F♯ to F, or raising it to G, you lose both the leading tone and the tritone. Goodbye tonality.



6.16.6

LOCRIAN MODE HARMONIC SCALE


Finally, the Locrian mode, the mode you get when you play the white keys beginning and ending with B:


B – C – D – E – F – G – A – B


     Harmonically, the Locrian mode begins in the ditch, clutching a bottle of absinthe, and never manages to crawl out. (Doc Yada-Yadams seems stone cold sober by comparison.)


     The tonic of the Locrian is the diminished chord (Figure 127).




FIGURE 127  Chase Chart of Locrian Mode Harmonic Scale



 




     With the diminished chord as the tonic, the Locrian mode can’t even think of establishing tonality.


*   *   *   *   *


     To summarize, in all five of the Church modes, you can’t establish mode-defining tonality using harmonic scale chord progressions due to problems with the V7 – I progression and numerous other unfortunate harmonic incongruities.


     Nevertheless, these modes—all of them—can serve as excellent source scales for creating beautiful tunes. The secret is to combine modal tunes with standard major-minor (Ionian-Aeolian) chord progressions. Chapter 9 discusses how to do this.


~ • ~ • ~ • ~

 

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 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 TABLE OF
 CONTENTS

  

 PART I

 The Big Picture    Introduction

   1. W-5 of Music
  
2. Pop Music
   
    Industry

  
 PART II
 Essential
 Building Blocks
 of Music
   3.
Tones/Overtones
   4. Scales/Intervals
   5. Keys/Modes
 
 PART III
 How to Create
 Emotionally
 Powerful Music
 and Lyrics
   6.
Chords/
  
      Progressions

   7. Pulse/Meter/
  
      Tempo/Rhythm

   8. Phrase/Form
   9. Melody
 10. Lyrics
 11. Repertoire/
     
  Performance

  

 PART IV
 Making a
 Living In Music
 12.
Business of
   
     Music

 
 Appendixes

   

 Notes

   

 References

  

 Index
  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   Top

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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