Tag Archives: Harmony

About different modes in music

As I mentioned last time, there were gaps in the piece as I left it, and I start by writing in a second violin part, that extends past what I wrote last. Somehow, it seems to ask for a key change, at least temporarily, rather than a change of mood. So I’m ending up with a different tonal center for a little while.

Let’s talk about keys and tonal centers a little bit. I was in high school when I first learned about different modes. I found them very interesting to work with. I actually employed a few different modes in my first opera writing. I started out very traditional in a mostly Dorian B-minor, but I wrote a part for the soprano to sing in Phrygian mode, and later on, a song for the mezzosoprano in Lydian mode. This way, I could keep the key signature, but just change the tonal center, and I liked the way it turned out.

There are certain harmonies that I tend to favor. I really like four-note harmonies, which means I don’t double many notes in the string quartet. So I’ll add a sixth or a seventh or something to fill out the trichords that are so common. One of my favorite trichords is the augmented one. It’s so mysterious! I also like the diminished trichord, and you can easily make it a diminished seventh when you add the fourth note.

This is kind of hard to express in just words. If you know what I am talking about when I talk about different modes, the best way to learn more is by just experimenting. You can listen to Tavasz (It means Spring in Hungarian) by Béla Bártok. It starts with a melody with a high fourth, just like in the Lydian mode. Maybe this is one reason his music resonates so much with me. The modes are different enough from the common practice era to make me sharpen my ear, but still really beautiful.

I just keep writing more notes on the string quartet, and suddenly I write a cello line that sounds like it could be the ending of a movement. What in the world? I thought the piece would be longer. The movement might be nearly done but my brain is spent. I’ll get back to it tomorrow and see what happens. The piece is close to five minutes of peppy music, and maybe the contrast I was looking for will just appear in the second movement. I think I’ll go for a slow, sweet style.