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Thread: A music history/theory question that has always bothered me

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    Senior Member isorhythm's Avatar
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    Default A music history/theory question that has always bothered me

    Since there seem to be many highly knowledgeable people here, maybe someone can point me in the right direction. The question is simple, but, to me, baffling:

    Why is it that our major and minor modes are precisely the modes that weren't included in the old church mode system? How on earth did that happen? Why didn't they use those modes, and why didn't the common practice composers use their modes?

    No amount of consulting reference works/Googling has illuminated this for me.

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    Senior Member MoonlightSonata's Avatar
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    I thought that the major and Ionian scales were the same thing, and that the Aeolian was almost the same as the minor.
    ≥12

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    Senior Member isorhythm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MoonlightSonata View Post
    I thought that the major and Ionian scales were the same thing, and that the Aeolian was almost the same as the minor.
    They are, but the Ionian and Aeolian modes weren't recognized by the first church theorists. I don't think they became common until the 16th century.

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    Sr. Moderator Taggart's Avatar
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    Basic answer is polyphony.

    The modes are used for Gregorian chant. They aren't pure "scales" but have a whole range of techniques like reciting tone and ambitus to aid (monophonic) chant.

    As people developed polyphony, they also developed a range of tricks to aid the generation of polyphonic music.You then run into problems of temperament - what exactly is a third, a fifth whatever. Once you get something like a meantone temperament then you can expand these basic rules.

    The beauty of the major minor system is that the harmonies that work in one scale work in any scale. If you look at the wiki article on modes the summary has an interval table and the quality of an interval differs from mode to mode. Not so in common practice harmony, if you know major or minor you can rattle off the qualities of the interval - simple, no advanced skull work.

    The development of polyphonic techniques and the beauty of polyphony led to a move to systematise the rules that eventually meant we moved from modes to scales with a simple set of rules for harmonies based on meantone temperaments.
    Last edited by Taggart; Feb-20-2015 at 20:55.
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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by isorhythm View Post
    Since there seem to be many highly knowledgeable people here, maybe someone can point me in the right direction. The question is simple, but, to me, baffling:

    Why is it that our major and minor modes are precisely the modes that weren't included in the old church mode system? How on earth did that happen? Why didn't they use those modes, and why didn't the common practice composers use their modes?

    No amount of consulting reference works/Googling has illuminated this for me.
    This summary and simplification of the extremely complex issues involved is from vague and unrefreshed memory, but I think this is basically right:

    The church mode system adopted names used for similar purposes in Ancient Greek theory, where the names Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, and Mixolydian were used, along with their "hypo" forms (Hypo-Dorian, Hypo-Phrygian, etc.). The interval structures of these modes (they didn't use the term mode, however) were known, but medieval theorists mistakenly assumed these interval structures were arranged bottom to top, the way we think of modern scales. In fact, high and low notes meant the opposite to the Greeks (because of the way high and low strings were arranged on an instrument called a kithera) and in the modes they described, the interval structures were arranged high to low. Alas, the medieval theorists, when they tried to transcribe the Greek mode system, turned the Greek modes upside down to get their Church mode equivalents. So the answer seems to be: historical accident. Had they transcribed the modes correctly, the system would have included at least what we know as the modern Aeolian. The church mode system was then used to classify an already existing body of chant and as the theoretical basis for continued improvising, composing, and codifying of chant.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Feb-20-2015 at 17:29.

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    Senior Member Torkelburger's Avatar
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    The beauty of the major minor system is that the harmonies that work in one scale work in any scale. If you look at the wiki article on modes the summary has an interval table and the quality of an interval differs from mode to mode. Not so in common practice harmony, if you know major or minor you can rattle off the qualities of the interval - simple, no advanced skull work.
    As was pointed out in our previous discussion on this subject, the "beauty" you are talking about is not specific to the major and minor system. The reason it works and has the feature you are discussing is not because of some magical property in the major or minor scale itself that modes do not have, but the fact that the major and minor scales are transposed. As was pointed out in the previous discussion, if you do the same to modes (allow them to be transposed), then the intervals and harmonies are all the same for each mode just as they are in major in minor you are talking about. You are incorrect in asserting that major and minor scales are special in this attribute I quoted above. Let me know if you would like for me to show this with examples with written music.

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    Sr. Moderator Taggart's Avatar
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    If you change key (major minor system), I IV V works. If you change mode, then the qualities of the intervals can change. So you need to know different rules for each mode but the same rules apply to all scales.

    Yes, if you allow transposition of modes, the rules stay the same regardless of where you start the mode; but if you change mode, then you can be into a different set of rules depending on the nature of the intervals.

    Putting it another way all major scales have the same pattern of tones and semi tones; all minor scales have the same pattern of tones and semi tones; each mode has its own unique pattern of tones and semi tones.
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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    Senior Member Torkelburger's Avatar
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    If you change key (major minor system), I IV V works.
    I don't understand the significance. Are you saying I IV V must be a functional chord progression in the scale or mode? If not, then you could change keys in modal systems and chord progressions (including varying tonic subdominant and dominant progressions) would work. So there still wouldn't be any significance in what your saying.

    If you change mode, then the qualities of the intervals can change. So you need to know different rules for each mode but the same rules apply to all scales.
    Major and Minor scales do not have the same rules. And besides, you're comparing apples to oranges by talking about "changing modes".

    Yes, if you allow transposition of modes, the rules stay the same regardless of where you start the mode; but if you change mode, then you can be into a different set of rules depending on the nature of the intervals.
    Same thing with a major and minor scale. And I still don't get this "changing" bit. It's a red herring to talk about "changing" anything. I mean, if you "change" *scales* then the qualities of the intervals change (ie melodic minor vs natural minor vs major, etc). Your point just falls flat to me.

    Putting it another way all major scales have the same pattern of tones and semi tones; all minor scales have the same pattern of tones and semi tones; each mode has its own unique pattern of tones and semi tones.
    No, you could just as easily say a major scale (non-transposed) has its own unique pattern of tones and semi-tones and each mode (when transposed) has the same pattern of tones and semi-tones.

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Torkelburger View Post
    I don't understand the significance. Are you saying I IV V must be a functional chord progression in the scale or mode? If not, then you could change keys in modal systems and chord progressions (including varying tonic subdominant and dominant progressions) would work. So there still wouldn't be any significance in what your saying.
    There are no triads or functional harmonies in the church modal system, nor are there triads with tonal functions.

    Quote Originally Posted by Torkelburger View Post
    Major and Minor scales do not have the same rules. And besides, you're comparing apples to oranges by talking about "changing modes".
    Not exactly the same rules, but they do have the same tonal functions associated with most of the scale degrees; ii and iv are still subdominant, V is dominant. Different pitches serve as reciting tone in different church modes. In other words, the Aeolian and Ionian modes (in their 16th century formulation, obviously) are more different than the modern major and minor modes.

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    Senior Member Torkelburger's Avatar
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    There are no triads or functional harmonies in the church modal system, nor are there triads with tonal functions.
    I was speaking hypothetically and in the case of Taggart speaking in that context (if he was).



    Not exactly the same rules, but they do have the same tonal functions associated with most of the scale degrees; ii and iv are still subdominant, V is dominant. Different pitches serve as reciting tone in different church modes. In other words, the Aeolian and Ionian modes (in their 16th century formulation, obviously) are more different than the modern major and minor modes.
    You're moving the goalposts. He said "the same rules apply". They do not. You do not harmonize the tonic in a major scale with a minor triad as you do a minor scale, for example. Does not matter that you call them both a "tonic". That's equivalent to (modern) modal theory of harmonizing the tonics of different modes with different values or "rules".

    And you are dead wrong. V is NOT DOMINANT in a minor scale as it is in a major scale. It has to be deliberately *altered* to be dominant.

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    Senior Member isorhythm's Avatar
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    But any modal scale can be transposed freely...

    I have some half-baked theories. One is that the major and minor modes became important because they both produce a strong pull to the tonic. The Mixolydian mode is arguably more "natural" than the major because the flat seventh is more closely related to the tonic, via the overtone series or circle of fifths. So when you make it sharp, you introduce an inherent instability into the scale that wants to resolve.

    The minor is maybe also more strongly pulled toward the tonic than the Dorian because of its flat sixth, which "wants" to resolve down. Add in the major V chord and you have a very, very strong tonic pull. Maybe in the middle ages and early renaissance, they didn't like these instabilities pulling toward the tonic, and then later they decided they did?

    But this is all speculative. There's also the fact that the church modes used Bb sometimes, which makes Dorian minor and Lydian major; Wikipedia also says some early theorists saw the Ionian and Aeolian as just the Mixolydian and Dorian ending on the "wrong" final. (I believe some Palestrina compositions support this view.) Anyway I still am puzzled as to why music evolved in that particular way.

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    Sr. Moderator Taggart's Avatar
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    Quod scripsi scripsi.
    Last edited by Taggart; Feb-21-2015 at 13:32.
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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Torkelburger View Post
    I was speaking hypothetically and in the case of Taggart speaking in that context (if he was).




    You're moving the goalposts. He said "the same rules apply". They do not. You do not harmonize the tonic in a major scale with a minor triad as you do a minor scale, for example. Does not matter that you call them both a "tonic". That's equivalent to (modern) modal theory of harmonizing the tonics of different modes with different values or "rules".

    And you are dead wrong. V is NOT DOMINANT in a minor scale as it is in a major scale. It has to be deliberately *altered* to be dominant.
    In common practice music that alteration is taken for granted. Of course one has to write a sharp (or natural) in figured bass, but this does not make a minor chord on the fifth degree standard. It is not. Minor mode isn't really based in a scale the way major mode is. It is a whole complex of different melodic and harmonic practices for different situations, a compromise between features of the major and minor systems balancing various harmonic and melodic demands
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Feb-21-2015 at 03:26.

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    Senior Member Piwikiwi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Torkelburger View Post
    I was speaking hypothetically and in the case of Taggart speaking in that context (if he was).




    You're moving the goalposts. He said "the same rules apply". They do not. You do not harmonize the tonic in a major scale with a minor triad as you do a minor scale, for example. Does not matter that you call them both a "tonic". That's equivalent to (modern) modal theory of harmonizing the tonics of different modes with different values or "rules".

    And you are dead wrong. V is NOT DOMINANT in a minor scale as it is in a major scale. It has to be deliberately *altered* to be dominant.
    That depends on which minor scale you use.

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    Senior Member Torkelburger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    In common practice music that alteration is taken for granted. Of course one has to write a sharp (or natural) in figured bass, but this does not make a minor chord on the fifth degree standard. It is not. Minor mode isn't really based in a scale the way major mode is. It is a whole complex of different melodic and harmonic practices for different situations, a compromise between features of the major and minor systems balancing various harmonic and melodic demands
    As in the previous thread on this topic, you continue to assign the USAGE of the scale (how it is used) with the PROPERTIES of the scale. It doesn't matter if monks, say, only sang the sixth degree of any scale one time per chant due to some fear of the number six, for example. That does not become a property of the scale. A minor chord on the fifth degree of the scale is a property of the scale. If you want to change it to suit your major scale fetish, than you have to alter that property, thereby destroying the "beauty" aspect of this discussion IMHO (one of many examples I could name).

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