MUSICAL MODES 6
Minor modes - the Aeolian
Musical modes are scales with a different order of whole tone and semi-tone steps to those found in the modern Western major scale. The chord families derived from the modes offer songwriters and improvisers interesting alternatives to conventional modern harmony.
The Musicarta Modes series does not attempt to give a complete explanation of modes. Its purpose is only to explain and teach what is useful about modes to the modern popular keyboard player/songwriter/composer and present some sample modal chord sequences. You can explore the fascinating historical background of musical modes
in the Dolmetsch music glossary (use the link) and also at Wikipedia. Link through to other useful resources via Musicarta's 'Sources' page
This is Part Six of the Musicarta Modes series, and continues our look at the minor modes. href="http://www.musicarta.com/musical_modes.html" target="_blank">Part One of this series deals with the construction of the modes as scales. Parts Two and Three cover the Mixolydian mode.
Parts Four and Five start the series coverage of the minor modes.
In this module, we’re going to expand the i/bVII pair we’ve been working with in the two previous modules into a three-chord Aeolian minor riff you’re bound to recognize. This is the riff we build up to:
We’re going to add another major chord one whole tone below the i/bVII pairs we’ve been working with so far, which makes the new chord bVI (‘flat six’). Note: We have to use the letter ‘b’ to stand in for the musical flat sign, as many computers don’t have a music font.
The sound of i, bVII, bVI is unmistakable. Listen to the following audio clip – it’s based on this chord sequence:
The roots of these next-door chords are a whole tone apart. (You want to know this so you can transpose the group of chords.)
- You have a minor chord – i
- A whole tone below that, you have a major chord – bVII
- Another whole tone below that, you have another major chord - bVI
Three-note chords (triads) can have any one of the three chord tones at the top. The chords in the first example are all first inversions (triangle symbol – root at the top). Here is the same chord sequence using second inversions as well (square symbol – third at the top).
As you can hear, nothing is more natural than to start slipping between inversions:
The one thing you want to avoid is using only root positions:
The outside notes are fifths moving in parallel, and this is too stark a sound to listen to for long. Besides, it sounds like you’ve never learnt your inversions! The audio clip tries to demonstrate this. (In classical music, these ‘parallel fifths’ are completely outlawed.)
Listen to this i-bVII-bVI riff:
You should recognize some of the techniques used from Modes Part 5. The chords are broken up into broken chord patterns – including the ‘O’ for ‘outside’ (top and bottom) voices. There are other things going on as well – new tricks to make your chords go further. Let’s look in detail.
Here’s the skeleton chord sequence:
It’s made up of parts of the previous examples. You should be able to piece it together. If you don’t read music very well, use the circle-square-triangle symbols and the Musicarta Visual Chord Generator.
Here’s the actual music:
Here’s some BMT (bottom, middle, top) analysis
As well as ‘O’ for ‘outside’, there’s a symbol ‘C’, for ‘chord’ – just play the whole chord on that beat.
But what are the ? question mark notes in the BMT analysis? They are next-door notes. The note next door to any chord tone (B, M or T) is always a good bet to try for filling up more quaver slots. Then, all you need to know is – is it above (higher) or below (lower)? These ‘question mark notes‘ are all above, so we can use an up arrow.
Our BMT analysis will then be:
The full set of BMT symbols is now:
Notice two more things:
Some chords are anticipated – played before their probable ‘straight’ beat. The chord symbols have been moved forward so that you can see, for example, that the second ‘O’ refers to the G chord.
- The last F chord is slimmed down to two notes, so ‘C’ (‘Play the whole chord’) only means two notes.
This micro analysis can seem very bitty and technical. Why bother?
This analysis describes what good keyboard players actually do – it walks you through their skills, step by step. The more times you get talked through it – if you pay attention – the closer you are to your fingers getting the picture and ‘walking the talk’ – churning out great two-handed riffs. You don’t actually think the analysis as you play.
Trust the method!
Practice just the right hand, first two bars. Fill up bars three and four practising the rhythm of the bass – counted in eight quavers.
Next, you need to look at how the bass (left hand) fits in with this right hand pattern. Read the following TLR (together, left, right) analysis carefully:
Because the right hand plays on nearly every quaver, it’s not too difficult to see when to play the left hand notes.
Bars 3 and 4 - the rhythm
The rhythm of the last two bars is complex, but
Anything is possible if you (know how to) break it down far enough
you show enough patience and persistence building it up again.
These two bars have melody notes at the top and a funky ‘internal rhythm’ played by the left hand and the inside fingers of the right hand.
The first step is to drop the melody notes, and identify and practice the internal rhythm. Here’s the beat map of the two bars, without the melody:
Here’s a Hammerhead beat track of the rhythm to tap along to.
Break it down further and just tap the TLR (together, left, right) events regardless of rhythm:
You can do it! Perhaps not today, but – you can. The secret of learning is not to be put off by the fact that you are temporarily unable to do what you want to be able to do!
Trust the method!
When you’ve got that, re-introduce the proper rhythm with just the ‘inside’ chords:
Modern keyboard solo style – right hand – often needs you to play or hold a melody note at the top and play rhythm chords underneath. Here’s a sample exercise for this key skill:
In case you’re not good at reading leger lines, here’s that right hand written an octave higher:
Then the last bar as written:
Finally, the anticipated melody note E:
The full riff for this module is intermediate-to-advanced. You can expect to have to have to come back to it a few times – and finger and rhythm skills like this don’t happen overnight.
The upside is that the ‘messing about with chords’ you do while you are learning the riff slowly builds into an enviable creative skill, and the simpler versions you might settle for in the meantime are just fine for now.
You’ll certainly know your i-bVII-bVI group of chords! Expect to hear it a lot – now you’re ‘primed’ for it – in popular music of all kinds
In the next module in this series, we transpose the i-bVII-bVI group of chords into two different keys. Transposing is a central skill. The more you transpose, the more you understand the inner workings of popular music harmony and the easier it will be to let your creative ideas flow.
In the meantime, a bit of variety in
In the meantime, make sure you know about all the free online piano lessons on offer at Musicarta. A visit to the Musicarta home page will give you an overview of the site, and the tabs on the nav bar (left) will take you through to the main section header pages. There’s also an audio table of contents (the ‘Sounds’ tab), to help you choose a lesson based on what you’d like to play.
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