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Thread: 'Feel' of different intervals in modes other than Major/Ionian

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    'Feel' of different intervals in modes other than Major/Ionian

    Hi everyone,

    A question about modes, or more specifically chords within modes -

    I'm using "Hunter" by Bjork as an example for what I'm trying to work out:

    video -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DcDmfGL-w0
    tabs - http://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/b/bjork/hunter_crd.htm

    In the major mode, and a huge amount of western music, the key chords seem to be the root, IV Major (moving up to this from the root creates tension), and V7 dominant (this is more tense and wants to 'resolve' back the root and provides release) - I'm mainly talking about this from a listener's perspective, as in what emotional connotations, or feelings of tension and release are created by each of these intervals.

    So the song above, I think, is in the Phrygian mode rather than major. Starts in Gm (root), then moves up a semitone to an Ab major (II), the verses sit on this and build tension - the major 2nd (Ab) then starts the chorus, moving up to a Eb VI (major), then the dominant chord Bb (which is the III in G Phrygian) comes in - this is interesting, because going back into the verse, atleast to my ears, it serves a similar function to the V7 in a major scale, as in it really sounds like it wants to resolve back to the Gm root.

    I've referred to this - http://www.guitarmasterclass.net/guitar_forum/index.php?showtopic=6023
    and if you look down the page slightly, the III position in phrygian mode is the dominant 7, which matches up with how it works in Hunter. So my question is - is this a general rule with modes? Wherever the dominant chord sits in the mode becomes that 'tense' interval (like the V7 in major) that almost demands resolution back to the root? And whatever sits below this (the II in Phrygian) is equivalent to the IV in the major scale?

    I've tried playing some chord progressions in different modes according to the chart in the link above, and these 'pulls' (eg the V7 in major) in general don't seem to be as strong in the other modes - but is this what they're supposed to do? Is it just that western ears are used to I IV V7 progressions in major keys throughout pop music?

    I'm keen to start exploring song writing in other modes, and I think Hunter is a great example of a song that has a distinctly different feel to songs written in major (the chorus particularly) - also I think that Bjork has nailed how each of the intervals in this mode work to create this feel, there's still that great play of tension/release that I think constitutes a good pop song. This is in contrast to many shreddy/progressive songs that seem to move between chords in exotic modes more haphazardly, so that when each new chord arrives my reaction as the listener is along the lines of 'why?' or 'huh?' - ie it doesn't take me along on the journey or tell the story as much as just a IV V I progression can often do in major. Some of these artists don't seem to have the sensitivity to the tension/release/emotional connotations of each interval like Bjork has with Hunter (this is subjective of course!)

    Hope this makes sense, interested to hear your opinions.
    Last edited by oolaef; 09-15-2011 at 11:26 PM.

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    Also - can anyone explain what's going in on in this song (modally)?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGjGh74n_9U
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5u1movHkIog

    key shift from B minor to Eb major in chorus? (using a minorV instead of the V7?)

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by oolaef View Post
    Hi everyone,

    A question about modes, or more specifically chords within modes -

    I'm using "Hunter" by Bjork as an example for what I'm trying to work out:

    video -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DcDmfGL-w0
    tabs - http://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/b/bjork/hunter_crd.htm

    In the major mode, and a huge amount of western music, the key chords seem to be the root, IV Major (moving up to this from the root creates tension), and V7 dominant (this is more tense and wants to 'resolve' back the root and provides release) - I'm mainly talking about this from a listener's perspective, as in what emotional connotations, or feelings of tension and release are created by each of these intervals.

    So the song above, I think, is in the Phrygian mode rather than major. Starts in Gm (root), then moves up a semitone to an Ab major (II), the verses sit on this and build tension - the major 2nd (Ab) then starts the chorus, moving up to a Eb VI (major), then the dominant chord Bb (which is the III in G Phrygian) comes in - this is interesting, because going back into the verse, atleast to my ears, it serves a similar function to the V7 in a major scale, as in it really sounds like it wants to resolve back to the Gm root.
    The G is actually major. Scale-wise, that makes it phrygian dominant (5th mode of C harmonic minor), although the fulll scale isn't really employed.

    BTW, that chord chart isn't quite accurate for the bridge. It should be:
    Code:
    |Ab                |Ab                 |
     I thought I could organise freedom
    |Ab              |Ab                   |
           How Scandinavian of me
    |Eb       |Fm7       |Eb/G           |Bbsus4      Cm7   |
      [obscure lyrics...]   You sussed it out, didn't you?
    The Cm7 is a very brief chord - and may only be on one beat: beat 4 of that bar has a G bass, and I'm not sure it's not a Gm chord (it returns to G major after that). So it never resolves to the implied tonic of the G-Ab chords. But obviously in the bridge it does suggest the relative major of C minor: Eb major. (The Eb sounds like a tonic to me when it arrives.)
    I disagree about the sense of "wanting to resolve" back to Gm (and it's G major anyway). I get a sense of resolutoin on the Eb, as I say, but also when she sings "you" at the end of the bridge; although that's an ambiguous moment, because she's singing Eb-C-Bb, and the bass is C-G. Ie, the first note of the word (Eb) sounds strongly like a tonic to me, even though the bass is not Eb at that point, and she comes off the Eb down to C and Bb.
    IOW, the song could end there, but instead it returns to G major (and she sings a B natural over that chord (before the "you could smell it" lyric of the next verse).
    So I see the verse as a phygian dominant vamp, with no clear tonal centre (although the "Spanish" sound of the 2 chords is enhanced by the bolero-style rhythm); and then the bridge is in the relative major of the implied (unresolved) minor key of the verse.
    Quote Originally Posted by oolaef View Post
    I've referred to this - http://www.guitarmasterclass.net/guitar_forum/index.php?showtopic=6023
    and if you look down the page slightly, the III position in phrygian mode is the dominant 7, which matches up with how it works in Hunter.
    Not IMO. The Bb (when it finally arrives) is a dominant chord, but V of Eb major. In fact, it's almost not a Bb chord anyway as it has a sus4, and is very like Eb/Bb.
    A III chord can't have a dominant function (AFAIK). Ie, Bb7 doesn't resolve to Gm (not very well anyway, IMO) A normal phrygian cadence woukd be Ab-Gm. (Bb7 does contain an Ab, which might assist a cadence to Gm, but there is no Ab in this Bb chord.)
    In this case, the Bb goes to Cm (or Eb/C), before a return to G major.

    Quote Originally Posted by oolaef View Post
    So my question is - is this a general rule with modes? Wherever the dominant chord sits in the mode becomes that 'tense' interval (like the V7 in major) that almost demands resolution back to the root?
    Short answer is no.
    Modal cadences are quite different from key cadences. The dom7 chord only plays that role in major and minor keys.
    It's true a bVII chord can act in a what you might call a "pseudo-dominant" role in Aeolian or Dorian modes (ie Bb going to Cm) - but it's really a "subtonic" chord there, not a dominant. (Aeolian and Dorian modes have minor dominant chords.)
    But in phrygian, the tension chord is the bII.

    Quote Originally Posted by oolaef View Post
    I've tried playing some chord progressions in different modes according to the chart in the link above, and these 'pulls' (eg the V7 in major) in general don't seem to be as strong in the other modes - but is this what they're supposed to do? Is it just that western ears are used to I IV V7 progressions in major keys throughout pop music?
    You're right that modal cadences are weaker, and that that's partly down to our familiarity with key-based music.
    But in modes the role of the dom7-type chord varies, depending on what degree it's on.
    Eg, in mixolydian, it's the key chord! ("tonic" is not quite the right word, but then neither is "dominant" )
    In dorian, it's the IV (subdominant) (the bVII chord in dorian is a maj7)
    In aeolian, it's the bVII (and can made a weak cadence to I)
    In phrygian, it's the III, which has no leading function. (If used, it would likely draw the ear towards the relative major, because phrygian is one of the weaker modes.)
    In lydian, it's the II - again, not a leading function, although it can stand as a kind of contrast or pair to the I (as IV does in dorian).
    Quote Originally Posted by oolaef View Post
    I'm keen to start exploring song writing in other modes, and I think Hunter is a great example of a song that has a distinctly different feel to songs written in major (the chorus particularly) -
    Yes, if you mean the G-Ab section. Phrygian dominant, as I say - classic "spanish/flamenco" vibe.
    Quote Originally Posted by oolaef View Post
    also I think that Bjork has nailed how each of the intervals in this mode work to create this feel, there's still that great play of tension/release that I think constitutes a good pop song.
    I agree, it's a great song.
    But I wouldn't worry about theoretical interpretation. Just steal the sounds (chord changes) you like. Just make sure you know exactly what chords they are!
    BTW, the modal progressions on that site are good, and worth exploring if you want to experiment with modal sounds. Ie, don't use all 7 chords in that chart, scroll down to below where it says "building a progression", and use the 2 or 3 chord sequences listed there.

    Here's another example of a phrygian dominant vamp I discovered recently. Also G-Ab, coincidentally (unless maybe they were consciously influenced by Hunter? it does have a very similar bolero-style rhythm...). The chorus here is: Bb-Ab-F-Ab (all major chords - so the F subverts the suggestion of Eb major that Bb-Ab provide).
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYd5-_m1Rf4
    The G is not obviously major (as it is in Hunter), more like a power chord. But the very final chord of the song (after the solo on the chorus sequence) is a firm G major, with lead guitar playing a B natural.

    And here's a real classic "rock phrygian dominant" vamp (that may have inspired both the above).
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WANNqr-vcx0
    The other chords don't quite follow the expected logic of the F#-G vamp, and end up resolving to A major.
    But still, they can't resist that "Spanish" rhythm, can they?
    Last edited by JonR; 09-17-2011 at 12:32 AM.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by oolaef View Post
    Also - can anyone explain what's going in on in this song (modally)?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGjGh74n_9U
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5u1movHkIog

    key shift from B minor to Eb major in chorus? (using a minorV instead of the V7?)
    The B minor is an odd mix of melodic minor (in the harmony) and dorian (in her vocal). IOW, there seems to be an A# in the chord (here and there anyway), but she sings A natural. And there's the strong presence of the major 6th as well (G#).

    The E major (not Eb!) is the IV chord of both B dorian and B melodic minor.
    Here's the full chorus sequence:
    |E - - - |Bm - - - |Bm - - - |E - - - |
    |E - - - |Bm - - - |Bm - - - |E - - - |
    |E - - - |Bm - - - |Bm - - - |E - - - |
    |E - - - |Bm - - - |G - - - |G - - - |
    |A6 - - - |A6 - - - ||Bm...

    The G is the odd chord (arguably borrowed from B aeolian or phrygian I guess!), but it's kind of just working its way via A back to Bm.
    Otherwise everything here suggests B dorian. That A# in the Bm harmony adds the intriguing air of mystery.

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    Thanks Jon, that's actually incredibly helpful!

    I'm thinking that I just need to spend some time developing opinions about how each of those scale positions in each of the modes sound, and what kind of cadences can be generated by shifting between the chords and some rhythmic/stylistic elements like the 'bolero' gallop type thing you mentioned in Hunter.

    Just did a quick thing based on the example progressions given on that site -

    Bb maj to Dm7 (II and IV positions in locrian), quick bit 'resolving' to Adim, which in turn resolves up to a Bb maj, going up to a F7 (Bb ionian).

    I thought I was being really clever until I realised the first bit is just a I, III progression in Bb major anyway But it's interesting coming at it from the 'locrian' angle, i'm not sure that I'd usually write something that sounds like that if I was thinking 'major' from the start.
    Last edited by oolaef; 09-17-2011 at 01:17 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by oolaef View Post
    Thanks Jon, that's actually incredibly helpful!

    I'm thinking that I just need to spend some time developing opinions about how each of those scale positions in each of the modes sound, and what kind of cadences can be generated by shifting between the chords and some rhythmic/stylistic elements like the 'bolero' gallop type thing you mentioned in Hunter.

    Just did a quick thing based on the example progressions given on that site -

    Bb maj to Dm7 (II and IV positions in locrian), quick bit 'resolving' to Adim, which in turn resolves up to a Bb maj, going up to a F7 (Bb ionian).

    I thought I was being really clever until I realised the first bit is just a I, III progression in Bb major anyway But it's interesting coming at it from the 'locrian' angle, i'm not sure that I'd usually write something that sounds like that if I was thinking 'major' from the start.
    Actually I should have commented on the locrian. I think that's where that site falls down. There's no way you can get a locrian "tonal centre" by using more than one chord. If you want a locrian vamp, you need a dim triad or m7b5 chord alone. As soon as you use any other chord from the mode, it's going to sound more stable than the m7b5.
    So their suggestion of Adim-Bb-Dm-Adim is just a vii-I-iii-vii in Bb major. Bb is quite clearly the tonal centre of that sequence.
    But as with all these things, try it and see (or rather hear!) what you think. Forget theoretical concepts and pay attention to what your ears tell you.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    The B minor is an odd mix of melodic minor (in the harmony) and dorian (in her vocal). IOW, there seems to be an A# in the chord (here and there anyway), but she sings A natural. And there's the strong presence of the major 6th as well (G#).

    The E major (not Eb!) is the IV chord of both B dorian and B melodic minor.
    Here's the full chorus sequence:
    |E - - - |Bm - - - |Bm - - - |E - - - |
    |E - - - |Bm - - - |Bm - - - |E - - - |
    |E - - - |Bm - - - |Bm - - - |E - - - |
    |E - - - |Bm - - - |G - - - |G - - - |
    |A6 - - - |A6 - - - ||Bm...

    The G is the odd chord (arguably borrowed from B aeolian or phrygian I guess!), but it's kind of just working its way via A back to Bm.
    Otherwise everything here suggests B dorian. That A# in the Bm harmony adds the intriguing air of mystery.
    Why in your opinion do these particular changes 'work'? Or rather what about using the IV (E) as the new tonal centre for a key change into the chorus makes it a good candidate? (4th's are often used as bridgey/chorusy type chords I think?). Also, in regards to the G in the chorus, why does this need to be 'borrowed' from B dorian or aeolian, is this because it hints at a return to E via working it's way back in, as you said? (since G has the 'strong' V position in the B aeolian?)

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by oolaef View Post
    Why in your opinion do these particular changes 'work'? Or rather what about using the IV (E) as the new tonal centre for a key change into the chorus makes it a good candidate? (4th's are often used as bridgey/chorusy type chords I think?).
    Something like that, yes. E is not only a IV chord - a common beginning for a chorus as you say - but it's major, which provides the brighter sound that's usually preferred for a chorus. If the sound lifts in a chorus, that persuades us more to sing along (which is what "chorus" means of course, "voices together").
    Quote Originally Posted by oolaef View Post
    Also, in regards to the G in the chorus, why does this need to be 'borrowed' from B dorian or aeolian, is this because it hints at a return to E via working it's way back in, as you said? (since G has the 'strong' V position in the B aeolian?)
    The home key is B minor, and G-A-Bm is a common cadence to Bm, which is what I meant by working its way back.
    When you first hear the G, after all that E-Bm repetition, it's a surprise. That's a useful effect in itself of course, just at the point where the sequence risks getting boring and predictable. But it's not a totally weird chord - not TOO surprising - because it does have a relationship to B minor, which IMO we recognise somehow. The A then signposts the way quite clearly, makes sense of the G: the whole-step rise points clearly to a further whole step rise back to Bm.
    Seeing as we're in B minor already, I can see that the word "borrowed" doesn't seem quite right. It already belongs in B minor, it's just that previously the whole vibe has been in the bright side of the tonality: dorian or melodic minor. G is from the dark side. (Well, OK, not that dark..) It still counts as "modal interchange" IMO (chords from different scales on the same tonic).
    G is not a V in B aeolian, btw. It's bVI, which is more like a subdominant, or predominant function. It would resolve to Bm via another chord: either F# (in the conventional minor key), or A (in B aeolian).

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