Monday, April 28, 2014


You can certainly look up the term "mode" as related to music and see all the iterations of the term and it's use. The term mode sometimes is used to mean scale or to differentiate between a major sound and a minor sound (ex. "The melody is in a Major mode.") Ancient music used different modes as traditional scales in which to write specific musical forms.

We are going to be breaking down the modern usage of the modes as components of the major scale.

To illustrate this, here are the notes of the C Major scale:
While we call this scale the C Major scale, it can also be called by a different name...

The C Ionian mode

The Ionian mode is the another name for the major scale.
D Ionian= D E F# G A B C# D
F Ionian= F G A Bb C D E F
You get the idea...

If we were to take our C Major scale and start on a different note, we would get variations of this scale. These variations are the different modes of the major scale.

Key of C
I. Ionian= C D E F G A B C  (Major scale, Major sound)
ii. Dorian= D E F G A B C D (minor scale sound)
iii. Phrygian= E F G A B C D E (minor scale sound)
IV. Lydian= F G A B C D E F (Major sound with a raised 4th)
V. Mixolydian= G A B C D E F G (Major sound with a lowered 7th)
vi. Aeolian= A B C D E F G A (minor scale sound - natural minor scale)
viio. Locrian= B C D E F G A B (diminished scale sound)

Based on this chart, a G mixolydian scale or a melody written in G Mixolydian would have no #'s or b's in the key signature, because it comes from C Major.

Let's extrapolate...
Since F is the 2nd note of the Eb Major scale, the f dorian scale would be written with 3 b's (key of Eb) F G Ab Bb C D Eb F

Since C is the 5th note in the F Major scale, the C Mixolydian scale would be written with 1 b (Key of F) C D E F G A Bb C

We are going to try to write some music that utilizes modal scales and melodies.

Using Noteflight, please write 3 separate melodies that are at least 8 measures each.

The melodies will make use of the following modes:

  1. G Aeolian
  2. F# Phrygian
  3. Bb Dorian
Please title each melody with the mode you are using.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Variation on 4-part writing: Keyboard style

Keyboard Style

For performance on a keyboard instrument, we can use a variant of chorale style called keyboard style. In keyboard style, the upper three voices remain in closed position. At the same time, we notate all three (soprano, alto, and tenor) on the treble staff. As a result, a musician can perform all three upper voices with the right hand, leaving the bass to the left. The extreme closed position of the upper three voices--a position caused by the size of the hand--often places the tenor voice higher than we would normally find in chorale style.


In Noteflight we will attempt to write a harmonization using the keyboard style of arranging. The closed voicing in the treble staff means that we use the closest possible chord notes to complete the harmony. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Transposition 2: Revenge of Transpsoition

We have been discussing and working with transposition. We have transposed a melody from one key to another and transposed a melody between transposing instruments.

Working musicians deal with transposition on a nearly daily basis.

Here is the opening section of a song, "Rosetta" that you would find in any number of "fake" books. A fake book is a book of "lead" sheets in which a musician gets melody and chord symbols (and in this case lyrics). They then perform the song by "faking" an accompaniment based on the style of the music and their understanding of harmony, group dynamics, etc.

This lead sheet is in "concert pitch" which means that these are the sounding notes and chords.

What is you where handed this lead sheet but you play the tenor sax, alto sax, trumpet, or clarinet? You would need to transpose not only the melody, but also the chords so you have an understanding of the underlying harmony if you wanted to improvise.

Additionally, you may be playing this with a singer who thinks this key is too high and needs it lowered. How do you do that? You transpose to a different key. If you are one of the aforementioned instruments that might involve a double transposition. Changing the key to accommodate the singer and then transpose for your instrument. It seems like a lot of work, but many musicians learn to do this on sight.

We will be playing around with this lead sheet in class today.

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Transposition in music is simply the act of changing the key of an existing piece of music or musical passage. When dealing with band and orchestral instruments we have some issues we need to address...

Take a look at this screen shot of a typical concert band score:

Does anything jump out at you when you look at what is going on in the score?
You are seeing flutes, oboes, clarinets, trumpets, alto saxes, etc. all playing together but something is not quite the same between them.

Do you notice how even though they are all playing the same piece, they are not all in the same key?

This brings us to the topic of instrumental transposition. This topic is often confusing and difficult to explain clearly. I have collected a few resources that you would be well advised to read through to see if you can make sense out of this concept.

Why do some Instruments Transpose- Bret Pimentel

Wikipedia entry about instrumental transposition

Chart of instrumental transpositions

You can spend a lot of time debating the pros and cons of instrumental transposition. The bottom line is that it exists and we as theoreticians and/or composers have to be aware of it and deal with it.

For me the advantage of transposing instruments is illustrated by woodwind players who double or triple on various instruments. Thanks to transposition an alto saxophone player need only learn one set of fingerings to play any of the family of saxophones, even though they are in different keys.


In the above example, the top line represents the sounding melody (often called "Concert Pitch"). This line is not transposed. This is the line a guitarist, flautist, pianist, violinist would read because those instruments are non-transposing.

The second line is the transposed part for an alto saxophone. Because the alto sax is a transposing instrument (it is in Eb), it has to read a transposed part in order to sound the concert pitch. The transposition for Alto sax is a M6. That is why in order to sound a Bb, the alto saxophone has to read and play the G note a M6 higher.