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Music Theory

A Simple use for Harmonic Major

Harmonic Major is an often overlooked scale that has some really unique sounding intervales. Let’s start off by reviewing the intervals. The Harmonic Major scale is the major scale with a lowered 6th scale degree. In C, the notes are as follows:

C D E F G A B C

So the question is what can we do with this to tie into every day songwriting. One use case that arises very often is modal mixture. If you aren’t familiar with mode mixture, take a look at this first.

When playing the mixed 4 chord, or a minor 4 chord in the major key, we take the original 4 chord, which is major, and swap it with the one from the parallel minor key. The 4 chord quality is minor in minor keys. The scale tone that determines the quality of the 4 chord, is the 6th note in the scale. The 4 chord is created from notes 4, 6 and 1. In the key of C major, chord number 4 would be F major, and we will swap it with F minor. This means that note 6 would get adjusted to be a minor 6th, or A. Theoretically you could keep both versions of note 6 at once, so A and A , but in my experience it works much more smooth to swap all A’s for A‘s at that point in time.

What scale arises when all A’s are swapped with A in the key of C, turns out its Harmonic Major! This means while the mixed 4 chord is played, Harmonic Major is a perfect fit for playing over this harmony.

Harmonic Major in Practice

Here is an example from the track “Aesthetic” with the minor 4 chord and matching melodies. You can hear the chord at about 1:55.

Harmonic Major can also sound great on its own. I’ve been exploring it with different applications. Here is another example where its not necessarily played over a mixture chord, but instead used to accentuate the intervals themselves on their own, without necessarily adding a background harmony.

Categories
Music Production Music Theory Vaporwave

Modal Mixture in Electronic Music

Modal mixture is a common technique in Jazz and Classical, and even in video game and music scores, but often overlooked in electronic music. Most electronic music revolves around diatonic harmony, meaning harmonies derived only from the 7 notes of the major scale.

What is Modal Mixture?

Mode mixture is simply mix and matching harmonies from a parallel mode. The most common method is to line up the parallel major and minor modes (Ionian and Aeolian) and in the major key, borrow the chords from Aeolian. This means if we are in the key of C major, we can now borrow chords from C minor.

There are some notes overlapping, but not all, and the parallel minor chords result in 7 brand new chords to spice up any progression! These take a little more finesse to fit into a progression, but they provide some very interesting harmonies. The idea is the create a chord progression using chords from the second column, then sneakily throw in, or swap one chord from one of the available chords on the 4th column. This expands our pallet of chords from 7 to 14! Each one takes practice to figure out where it best fits. It takes a lot of tinkering to fit them in, but it’s very satisfying when you get them in just the right spot.

This expands our pallet of chords from 7 to 14!

One of the important things for creating progressions with mixture chords is to make sure that the naming convention makes sense. For example, C minor is the relative of Eb major, so chord names should be using flats, and in the list of chords, each letter name should only be used 1 time.

If we look closely, we see that there are actually 3 new notes, the minor 3rd, minor 6th, and minor 7th. The root, 2nd, 4th, and 5th are the same between Aeolian and Ionian.

Examples

Writing about music theory is cool, but seeing and hearing examples is where it all comes together.

Let’s take a look at the track “Icicles”. The main progression is

Cm9 AbM9 Fm7 GbM7

vi | IV | ii | bIII

So the progression is kind of in C minor/Eb major but we get an extra chord GbM7 which is borrowed from the key of Eb minor. When ends up happening is that the progression sounds like the tonal center is kind of not exactly C minor, but also is. It blends in fairly well and doesn’t sound like an out of place chord.

Categories
Music Theory Songs Vaporwave

Aesthetic

Aesthetic is a track That has got some down tempo vibes, and features an electric guitar solo with a jazz fusion sound.

Let’s break down the track. The main chord progression is:

F#m7 | Dmaj7 | Fmaj7 | Em7 | Gmaj7

The key in this track is mostly D major, but one of the chords doesn’t belong. This progression uses mode mixture to borrow a chord from the parallel minor key. Using roman numerals the progression is:

iii – I – ♭III – ii – IV

What I like about this progression is that it doesn’t appear to gravitate directly towards D major, or the relative minor B minor. Instead it starts on chord 3, which would make that mode be phrygian, which is also a type of minor mode. The interesting chord here is the F major7, the 3rd chord in the progression. How did we end up with F major7 in the key of D major? Its a borrowed chord from the parallel minor key. The parallel minor of D major is D minor. In D minor, the third chord is F major 7.

So what happens when you try to play a melody? If you keep playing D major over the Fmaj7 chord, there will be some notes that will not line up. So the melody has to agree to also drop the sharps on the F# and C#. So right as the F major 7 Plays, all instruments in the arrangement must also put naturals on their F’s and C’s.

The bridge also has another mixture chord on chord IV. Right as the last main melody section comes in, it gives it just a little bit of time to breathe and kind of goes to a different place.

IV | iv

Layers

One of my favorite things about Aesthetic is the multiple layers of pads and moving percussion. There are multiple types of pads that come in and out, multiple shaker groups, and bongo groups that layer to add subtle variation and fullness.