harmonizing the modes
Modal Harmony. Perhaps the easiest way to start this discussion is to simply view our major scale as the Ionian mode, which it is historically named, and examine the diatonic harmony it creates. From this basis we can then expand into other ways to harmonize the modes.
In this first idea, we simply create diatonic triads on each of the pitches of the Ionian mode / major scale. Example 1.
Pretty straight ahead eh? Diatonic harmony in thirds still rules the day in most of the American styles. Could we simply transpose the chords for each of the seven modes? Absolutely. We might have things a bit backwards historically here as the original modes we not harmonized. Back in days of old, there were no changes. What no changes ...? Not like we enjoy since the emergence and acceptance of equal temper. Curious to explore our modal history a bit ...?
One common and cool way to "jazz" these changes in a modal way is to create the chords using the interval of the fourth. Example 2.
Interesting eh? Quite a large variance with the fourths as compared to the sound of thirds. This sort of sound is mainly a jazz thing, especially for expanded periods of musical time. In this next idea, the chords are revoiced to "unparallel" the voice leading to include some contrary motion and close intervals between the chords. Example 3.
So ... why would we want to do this? Well, sure does alter and disguise the tonal gravity and tonal direction. Of course, quartile voicings or chords in fourths provides alternative harmonic colors while remaining wholly diatonic. Mostly in that as a player develops, they exhaust their existing musical colors and search for new combinations of pitches that will expand their palette. Once the new color is located, they gradually work it into their musical vocabulary, where it eventually is incorporated into their artistic signature.
So how about the Dorian mode? Can we harmonize it's pitches? But of course, we do it all here. In this first idea, we use both the tertian colors or thirds and quartile colors to harmonize the Dorian's minor tonality. Example 4.
Cool huh? Interesting how quickly we can get away from the the diatonic major sounds with a bit of the modes and some quartile harmony yes?
Writing modal tunes. A simpler idea is to use just one or two chords to harmonize a mode. We find this approach in the jazz literature a bit. John Coltrane's "Impressions", Miles Davis's "So What." "Little Sunflower" by Freddie Hubbard being a bit more adventurous in it's harmony. In these compositions, a strong melodic idea is starkly harmonized, often with a repeated bass figure, all reminiscent of the early historical modal sounds. This mood usually lasts till the soloing occurs, when things tend to open up a bit. The modal mood returns to close the piece.
In this next idea we simply pulse back and forth with two voicings over a D pedal tone. Example 5.
In this next idea, we use one chord and walk the bass line to keep things moving forward. Example 6.
The tonic minor nine is a pretty powerful component yes? Tis is indeed. We find it in most of the American styles somewhere, although mostly as a jazz and blues color.
How about the other five modes? What ways can we harmonize each of their unique moods and characteristics? The thing to keep in mind perhaps is of just what nature is the tonic or one chord of each mode. How stable is it as a tonal center? We can then use this tonic color to shape the overall mood of the music, harmonizing other spots in the music accordingly. So, click and explore your curiosities.
They who conquer others are strong, those who conquer themselves are mighty. Lao tzu