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Author Topic: Music Theory 101  (Read 906 times)

Nick

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Music Theory 101
« on: September 15, 2014, 06:23:30 PM »

The people of ancient Greece were the first to toy with the intervals between notes that we, today, call the Major scale. Although, they actually never had a seven note scale, but two four note scales called 'tetra chords', what is important to note is that they did not have accidentals (sharps or flats (there was also no need for musical insurance)). Their major scale was 'set in stone', so to speak. The best way to see this scale is to have a piano keyboard in front of you. Below is a diagram of the notes the ancient Greeks would have had to play with if they had the equivalent of a modern keyboard (they only had analogue synths):

There were more than 14 notes, but I've only shown enough range to give you the idea of the repeating nature of the notes. In reality, these notes may extend infinitely in both directions.


Our modern keyboards add the black keys, whose purpose will become clear as we progress.

A picture is good, but having something you are able to play notes on will be VERY helpful to understanding modes. If you don't have any musical keyboard, find some online free piano or synth and play along!
The white keys on the piano represent the C major scale. To produce this scale, you begin with the note 'C' (the 'tonic') and increase the pitch by a whole tone, to get to the next note, 'D' (the 'super-tonic' (able to leap whole tones in half step increments). From 'D', you increase pitch by a whole tone once more to achieve the note'E'. After 'E', we come to the first interesting aspect of the Major Scale, 'F'. 'F' is a semi-tone higher in pitch than 'E' and is a break in tradition. Why is this so? The only reason why 'F' is half as high again in pitch than the distance (pitch wise) between 'C' and 'D' and 'D' and 'E' is because that's the way the Greeks wanted it. And as you'll see in the diagram below, there is one other semi-tonal interval in the key of C Major.


As you may observe, there is another semi-tone interval between 'B' and 'C'.

It's these groupings of whole tones and semi tones that give the major scale its flavour or mood. You'll notice that there's a repeating pattern of TONE TONE SEMITONE TONE TONE TONE SEMITONE that falls between the notes. You may also notice that the semitones fall where there are no black keys. That's because the black keys provide the extra half step between intervals of a whole tone. Where the interval is only a semitone, there's no room for finer granularity.

So what's this got to do with MODES??? The answer is quite simple. You see, the Greeks had no black keys, or in more correct terms, they couldn't change where the whole and half tones fell. They could however start playing from a different position on the instrument, thus altering the pattern of whole tone, half tone intervals. Consider the notes from 'C' to 'C' from the C Major Scale:


The pattern of tones and semitones between the notes in the scale is T-T-S-T-T-T-S.

Now, see what happens to that pattern when we begin playing a new seven note scale from 'D'.

The pattern of tones and semitones between the notes in the scale is T-S-T-T-T-S-T.
The same pattern is there, but it's been shifted 'back' on place. This new pattern of tones and semitones is not a Major Scale, it is a MODE, and it's called the Dorian mode.

Below are listed the other six and their interval structures:

The Phrygian Mode - S-T-T-T-S-T-T.


The LydianT-T-T-S-T-T-S.


The MixolydianT-T-S-T-T-S-T.


The AeolianT-S-T-T-S-T-T.


The LocrianS-T-T-S-T-T-T.

The key thing to note is, having the black keys allows us to alter the semitone full tone intervals no matter where we start playing. Also, it's a great idea to play through all of these modes to hear what moods they reflect to you. Now modes really are as simple as picking your tonic note and building a scale on the fretboard based on the required pattern for that mode. Let's use the Phrygian mode as an example, and let's play in the key of G (snigger... the Greeks couldn't do this!).

Here's the noted we'll need:

G A B C D E F G

And here's the pattern for the Phrygian mode:

S-T-T-T-S-T-T

Combine them, and you get this:

G semitone A tone B tone C tone D semitone E tone F tone


On the fretboard, find a 'G' note, then go up one fret (a semitone).


G -> G#


Then go up two frets from G#:
G -> G# -> A#


Then go up two frets from A#
G -> G# -> A# -> C


Then add another note, a semitone higher from C
G -> G# -> A# -> C -> D


Then to save on the tedium, place three more notes, each with a tone or two frets between them!
G -> G# -> A# -> C -> D -> D# -> F -> G

And that should be enough info for you to start building your own modes on your own fretboards. The topic is a large one and more than the Greeks had stuff to do with modes, but I hope this basic intro helped you picture what modes actually are and how they are constructed. So summarise, before the black keys, the key had to be changed if a different pattern of tones and semi tones was required for a song. After the black keys, the feel and mood of a scale could be recreated in ANY key, using sharps or flats.





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