Major Harmonic Revisited

The last scale-of-the-day I blogged about (back on February 20) was the Major-Harmonic scale, and when I wrote my post about this particular pattern I found myself with little good to say about it (much to my own surprise). I complained about the clichéd cadence that this pattern allowed, and surmised that it may well have been the first scale to which I was impelled to give a thumbs down. This negative assessment was no doubt impacted on quite considerably by the fact that that weekend I was supposed to get my first 8 hour sleep since 2006 (pregnancy, newborn, toddler who doesn’t sleep through) and thanks to noisy hotel neighbours it just didn’t happen. But I think maybe more germane to my disdainful summary was that I was only thinking about this pattern in its C incarnation. This is an important point, because I know full well that the physical sensation of any pattern changes from one semitone to

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Scale of the Day: Major-Harmonic

This week let’s look at what I regard as being a kind of reverse of the mystery scale from the previous scale-of-the-day post.   Just as in our ‘mystery scale’ this is a major scale with a change made to only one note, but whereas last time we raised the 5th, this time we are lowering the 6th: same pitch, different degree, and very different end result. Here it is on C: It’s called Major-Harmonic in a fairly obvious way, the tail of the harmonic has been attached to the head and torso of the major pattern, and here’s our hybrid. Being, to our diatonic ears, a hybrid, one might unthinkingly assume that this scale is a curiosity, rather than descriptive of real life music-making. But take a listen to the chords this pattern makes: The most significant change from the major scale triads is the chord IV is now chord iv – yep, it’s minor. [And along with that we have

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Scale of the Day #5: A Mystery Scale

Before you read another word try playing this week’s scale-of-the-day through on your instrument: Written on C it’s clear that this is the major scale with a single note adjusted a semitone higher.  It’s that it’s the 5th degree that has been adjusted that leads to the tonic chord having an augmented quality. I’m not sure how I would go about composing with this scale, or how I would create a sense of genuine C tonality. Our western ears are attuned to the perfect 5th defining harmonic spaces, so this scale is challenging simply because that 5th degree does not create that expected consonance. But even more challenging is the fact that the 5th is augmented. When we hear these two pitches out of context we assume (and believe deeply) that we are hearing a minor 6th, and we further project into this harmonic outline either a 2nd inversion of a minor chord or a 1st inversion of a major one.

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Scale of the Day #4: The Phrygian Mode

This week we’re looking at one of the modes of the major scale, and as all the modes of the major scale have a long tradition of being named in western music theory we won’t need to get worried about what it ‘ought’ to be called – that flag was planted long ago. While the Phrygian mode and last week’s scale both have the 2nd and 7th flattened they end up sounding nothing alike, and that’s because the Phrygian mode has another two notes flattened (the 3rd and the 6th), while last week’s scale had one note raised (the 4th), with the result that three notes in the pattern are not shared. The Phrygian mode is actually only one note different to the natural minor scale, but that flattened 2nd has such an unexpected aspect to it that we tend to hear it as vastly different from the familiar natural minor pattern. Here is the Phrygian mode starting on C:

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Scale of the Day #3

This scale, starting on D as shown above, is my favourite scale of all time. It feels unbelievably wonderful under the hand – three black notes in a row, four white notes in a row. And as good as it is to play in similar motion hands an octave apart, just wait til you try it thirds or sixths apart (magic), or contrary motion (strange and wonderful). What makes this my favourite? Well, it has all my favourite features: the raised 4th of the Lydian mode which communicates curiosity and optimism; the flattened 7th of the Mixolydian mode which communicates a lack of tension and a trusting approach to life; and then to top it off we have the flattened 2nd which imbues any scale with exoticism and sensuality. How could anyone not like this scale? If you’ve been following the scale of the day you will notice that this is almost the same as last week’s Simpsons Scale  –

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Scale of the Day: January 8

Here is the first scale-of-the-day, and this is a pattern I heard used in a composition by Australian oud player, Joseph Tawadros, when he performed recently at Government House in Sydney.  It was an original composition of his, and he told me that it used a traditional Egyptian mode. Well, of course, this pattern has nothing Western about it, with those two augmented seconds, and subsequent consecutive semitones. Play through the triads based on the first four notes of the scale: you get C Major, D flat major, E minor and F minor. But just where you would expect to find a dominant chord if you were listening with Western ears, there is a complete absence of anything that resembles the harmonic function fulfilled by a dominant chord.  That D flat turns it into a chord without any dominance at all. The way Joseph used the mode was fabulous: the harmonic centres seesawed from the major-inflected tonic to the assuredly

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Scale of the Day (on a weekly basis)

2010 has dawned with a lot of people I know participating in a project to photograph some aspect of every day in the year – a lovely discipline to find things of visual and conversational interest in even the mundane moments life brings, I suspect.  I’ve been really enjoying the photographs posted in various networking media. But it led me to thinking: how about, instead of a visual image, a scale of the day? No, not the major and harmonic minor ones we’ve all practiced frantically in the final two weeks before our instrumental examinations.  Last year my most popular post, by some long way, was one I entitled Scales as Propaganda, where I argued that the patterns we learn to play are also the patterns we learn to hear, and the music of our lifetimes is replete with patterns that our [Western] culture,historically, doesn’t believe we should be recognising (otherwise we wouldn’t be able to pass our Grade 8

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