Alternative music theory ?

Discuss everything related to production, recording, composition, etc.

Moderators: Kent, Joe., luketeaford, lisa

Post Reply
User avatar
Dr. Sketch-n-Etch
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 7922
Joined: Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:46 pm
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada

Re: Alternative music theory ?

Post by Dr. Sketch-n-Etch » Wed Jan 22, 2020 4:51 pm

I too am glad this thread has been resurrected.

I have been excited lately about Messiaen's modes of limited transposition; specifically the chord tables they generate. There are quite a few excellent articles on this by an academic named Chiong Wai-Ling at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (she has focused her academic research on Messiaen and Scriabin). These chord tables are very useful, but not really atonal. Because they are based on symmetric modes, they have a very characteristic sound which helps to make Messiaen's music instantly recognizable.

So, taking this idea to heart, I came up with something of my own a few weeks ago. There is this guitar chord which I really like that occurs in the Steely Dan song "Gaslighting Abbie" from the "Two Against Nature" album. The chord first appears at 0:12 and repeats throughout the song. Here is a tab of the chord (no particular fret):
GAChord.png
GAChord.png (1.71 KiB) Viewed 77 times
I wanted to make a modal chord table based on this chord, so I went about it (somewhat naively, just based on sounds that made sense with no theoretical underpinning). Here is the chord table I arrived at:
ChordTable.png
ChordTable.png (11.47 KiB) Viewed 77 times
Upon analysis, I realized that it is based on a major scale. However, the fact that the chords are all stacked fourths gives it a very exotic flavor. I typically play this over an open-E pedal, and depending on where the (unique) Gaslighting Abbie chord is placed determines which mode is in the key of E. For example, in the diagram, the E is on the zeroth fret (the nut), and the GA chord is built on fret 2. This means that the chords are in the key of A major, which makes them E Mixolydian. Move the GA chord to fret 7 and now it's E Dorian.

Incidentally, the verses of Gaslighting Abbie are in the E Mixolydian mode throughout (the choruses do something different which I haven't analyzed). I was quite pleased to see that the super-smooth woodwind chord at 0:32 is built on the chord in my table on fret 5 (the dark blue one).

If you play guitar, play through these chords to see how nicely they connect with each other. They are truly modal, even in the Ionian mode (which is the same as the major key). Why? Well, here's a bit of music theory for you: the Ionian chord on the diagram is the chord with A in the bass (since the table is constructed from A major). Let's analyze this chord (the green one): A-D-G#-C#-F#, or, in numbers, 1-4-7-3-6. This is obviously a modal chord, and not a major chord, because it includes the fourth scale degree. The fourth scale degree is a "no-no" in major harmony -- it is lava, not to be stepped on. It's hard to believe, but the fourth scale degree is quite dissonant (and not generally in a pleasant way) against major chords. The sharped fourth (or b5 or #11) is much more consonant in major harmony. The fact that the green chord contains the 4 makes it squarely Ionian rather than major. Indeed, the 4 is one of the characteristic tones of the Ionian mode (and that comes directly from Ron Miller's excellent book, "Modal Jazz Harmony and Composition"). In major harmony, the 4 always implies a suspension of the 3 -- it is a leading tone to 3, which is why it is so dissonant -- it just has to move to 3. However, in Ionian mode, this 4-to-3 movement is not implied, but the 4 is just a static note in the stack. This 4 helps lend this whole chord table a very modal flavor rather than a major flavor. Please check it out!

Composting the drones will ensure the survival of the elite.

User avatar
Dr. Sketch-n-Etch
Super Deluxe Wiggler
Posts: 7922
Joined: Thu Jan 21, 2010 1:46 pm
Location: Vancouver, BC, Canada

Re: Alternative music theory ?

Post by Dr. Sketch-n-Etch » Thu Jan 23, 2020 8:46 am

Drop all the C#s to Cs and now you have the quartal pentads for all the modes of A melodic minor.

I had to get up in the middle of the night to write them down, because they were giving me insomnia. Here they are:
MelodicMinor.png
MelodicMinor.png (13.31 KiB) Viewed 67 times
So, the major modes are basically just stacked perfect fourths with zero or one tritone somewhere. That's why the Phrygian, Aeolian, and Locrian quartal pentads are just stacked fourths -- the tritone doesn't appear in those chords. However, in melodic minor, three of the consecutive fourths are augmented-diminished-augmented (in other words, tritone-major third-tritone). The only pentad which does not have any of these intervals is the one on the sixth scale degree (the red one in the picture). This corresponds to the Aeolian b5 mode, but the b5 does not appear in the pentad. The second pentad, corresponding to the Dorian b2 mode, is identical to the Dorian pentad from the major modes, because again, the b2 does not appear in the pentad. All the other chords are unique. In fact, all the quartal pentads in the melodic minor system are unique within the system.

It's basically the middle of the night (for me) so I haven't even tried to play these chords yet. They may sound weird, although the purple one (corresponding to Locrian b4) is the good old "Jimi Hendrix" chord (7#9) with an added b13, which is a chord I use all the time. After I go back to bed and then get up again, I'll try these chords out. Maybe I'll make a Soundcloud thingy.
Composting the drones will ensure the survival of the elite.

Post Reply

Return to “Production Techniques”