A Theory on Open Modality Main Page
"Art being a purposive thing, its definition cannot be `anything
done by an artist and that he calls art'. ... Art and artistic technique
are and should be in a constant state of progress. But I would differ with
a great many thinkers in that I believe in certain lines that progress
must follow to avoid `dead ends'." - Rodney Rawlings.
From: Personal letter.
"Music 'theory' is NOT a set of rules by which to compose.
Rather, it is a set of underlying principles which can be used to
'explain' musical practice. In other words, music theory is the WHY and
not the HOW. It does not 'direct' composition in any particular manner."
"Which is exactly why I think the question cannot be adequately
addressed. Once you get to phrases like "Atonal stuff like Paart's Tabula
Rasa" we know we're out in terminological never never land, and there
very much *is* a question whether atonality is a) unpopular and b) met
with fierce resistance, and c) met with the fiercest resistance of any
music in history." -Matthew H. Fields, A.Mus.D.
"Pandiatonicism is best explained as like 12-tone music but
restricted to the 7 modal scale pitches. IOW, all pitches of the scale are
regarded as equal the same way all 12 chromatic pitches are regarded as
equal in 12-tone.
In actual practice, there are many ways this is played out by
composers. Some pandiatonic music is polyharmonic, some is pretty close
to diatonic but isn't, and some is really no-pitch-center white-note
music. It's a very mixed bag, and like all serious art, it doesn't follow
the rules, it makes them. I suppose you could say that "diatonic" and
"modal" music are `subsets' of pandiatonicism, i.e., more specialized
versions of the larger pandiatonic universe." -Rick StClair
"There's plenty microstructurally oriented music with unambiguous
tonal relations. Bebop is one example. The mind will have difficulty
grasping microstruturally oriented music only if it is unaccustomed to
listening to such music. Similarly, someone unaccustomed to listening to
macrostructurally oriented music will have difficulty distinguishing a
rigorously constructed network of dispersed interrelated events from an
arbitrary succession of similar events. It *is* true that *in the case of
a comprehension failure* of the microstructure, the music is more likely
to sound random, whereas, if the listener fails to grasp the
macrostructured, the music would appear merely boring." -Michael Subotin.
"Besides the obvious effect of personal associations, any system
of rating modes or scales in terms of brightness, darkness, happiness,
etc, assumes some uniform usage of the scales in question, usually ascent
or descent from root to root with monotonous rhythm. Once you get inside
a scale and start making actual music with it, the choice of intervals,
articulation, and rhythm by the individual composer or improvisor brings a
much wider palette to it." -John P. Sheehy
I think this would vary so much by period, composer, and
composer's intent as to be not much use. It may very well have some
relationship to how the *listener* perceives the key change, and a
composer may use a discordant key change in order achieve particular
effects in the listener's mind and feelings.
Then there is Prokofiev, whose determining factor for key changes
always seems to be, "Aha! NO ONE will expect *this* key change!" In all
seriousness, to use his Classical Symphony as an example, the key changes
are probably the biggest clue that you are listening to Prokofiev, and not
Haydn. -- Diane Wilson
"Milesones (Miles) was Miles Davis' first modal composition; 'So
What' and Coltrane's 'Impressions' are also modal. All it means is that
instead of the music being a set of chord changes it is a set of mode
changes. Modes are just scales, basically. Instead of the chord of the
music defining a scale to play in, the mode would define what chord one
could play." -Dan Hewins.
"Playing chord changes, the improviser might use a substitute
chord, where a modal player might switch to a mode that consists of the
same set of 'in-key' notes but has a different starting/ending note, which
would result in a different feel similar to the difference between the
feel of a major scale and it relative minor. Bill Monroe provides many
examples of the latter approach in his music." -Tom Waters.
"In fact often people look for new chords because they are using a
mode - and then treat the chords as modes. Jazz went through this -
spirtuals and folk music begat the blues - which became a new kind of
harmonic thinking. But then comes bop which takes a chord and breaks it
into arps - which then become the source for melodies as if they were
modes.... Round it goes.... This process shows up in Western Classical
too..." -Stirling Newberry
Subject: Mode mixture and parallel motion of voices
Brian Robison asks:
Can anyone supply an example that *does* mix modes to increase
intervallic variety? Or have composers tended unanimously to code
parallel motion of voices as an archaic texture, and thus linked it
strongly to more strictly diatonic contexts?
Your query concerning the simultaneous use of different modes made
me think of Bartok's "Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm, No. 1" from the
Mikrokosmos, Vol. VI/148 (included in the Wennerstrom anthology). In the
first portion of this piece Bartok tends to employ the Lydian mode for
ascending melodic gestures and the Phrygian mode for descending gestures.
This technique not only serves to intensify the upward and downward
"orientation" of the respective gestures, it also yields the increased
variety of intervals of which you speak. For example, the third
(asymmetrical) beat of every measure between bars 1-19 features an
augmented sixth produced by scale degree 7 of the Lydian mode and flat-2
of the Phrygian mode. Of course, the +6 is an interval that does not
exist in either of the diatonic modes individually.
Unfortunately, this example does not address this issue of
parallelism. In fact, Bartok's use of different modes serves to heighten
the effect of the contrary motion. There is one brief moment in measure
16 when both modes ascend in parallel motion. I fear, however, that this
brief instance of parallelism may be too little to be of any real use to
you. -John Benoit
"A mode is what gives a melody its character. Western music is
based largely on two modes: the major and the minor. A song in the major
mode sounds happy (Do, a Deer), and one in the minor mode sounds sad
(Greensleeves). ... It is very common for the melody to alternate between
two of more modes in the course of one song. The mode change is often
accompanied by a change in the rhythm of the song to accent a particular
passage. The mode change is very apparent to the ear. While a listener
may not be aware of the technical aspect of the music, a mode change will
be felt as ... more exciting, or more mellow... an intrinsic change in the
flavor of the song. -SAHAR Newsletter 1997/06/03.
"The essence of modalism, as I see it, is that almost every change
of chord indicates a change of key (and hence, a change of mode or scale).
That is, the composition contains little or nothing in the way ii-V-I or
other progressions within a key. This is significant, because if a tune
contains lots of chords that all come from the same key, you can simply
use the scale corresponding to that key over the whole tune (or portion of
the tune that comes from that key). Many musicians change scales even for
chords that stay within on key - this adds complexity to their melodic
lines - but even so, such changes are always seen as tension that is
resolved by a return to the original scale. The identifying
characteristic of modal music is that you *have* to change scales on
almost every chord.
Modal tunes may or may not have a key center - a note and chord
that serves as the 'tonic'. a modal tune may establish a sense of key
center through sheer repetition (eg., 'So What', which is obviously in D
minor, except for the bridge which is obviously in Eb minor), or the
chords may change so quickly that no real sense of key center emerges
(eg., 'Nefertiti'). But if a key center emerges because several chords
in a row conspire to lead up to a specific chord, then this is not modal,
Now, can I describe how to hear this? It can probably be
recognized by a non-musician if you look for two things:
1) Chords. These might be played as such (as on piano or
guitar), or might be implied, by someone playing a melodic line that
contains scales or arpeggios or otherwise 'sound' like they are following
chord changes. If you don't hear any chords at all, it isn't modal, but
atonal. If you hear only one chord for a long time, it is modal. If you
hear chords changing on a regular basis, go on to #2.
2) Key center. Simply put, this is the idea that a piece of
music has a particular not and chord that it wants to end on. For
instance, sing to yourself the melody 'Row, row, row your boat...merrily,
merrily...life is but a' (don't sing the last word, 'dream'). Now,
pretend you hadn't heard the tune before. You'd still be able to quess
what the last not, 'dream', should be, right? That's because everything
in the piece was based on that note, and the chord that is built from that
note, and whole melody (and underlying chords) are put together in such a
way that they are setting up that last note. This note is called the
tonic. If you can hear the first half of a tune that contains lots of
differents chords and find it tonic - that is, you can predict on what not
it will end - it probably has a key center and is not modal. If on the
other hand you listen to 20 seconds of the tune and have no idea where it
is going, or think you have some idea, but change your mind 10 seconds
later, then you may be looking at something modal. It is also possible it
does have a key center (and is therefore probably tonal, not modal) and
your ears simply aren't good enough to hear it - and indeed, some tunes do
a really good job of hiding their tonality." -Marc Sabatella
"Every sound has timbre, ie. a complex set of partials, which
identifies it as that particular sound, musical, a word, a clunk or
squeak. If the partials are separated out in time they become a scale of
sorts, as the natural trumpet." - William Harris.
From: Personal letter.