Basic Theory Made Easy. Part 4: Oh When The Saints

This is the fourth installment in my theory series that explains more about intervals and scale degrees.

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Last article, I explained about modes and what they are. In this article, I will expand on your understanding of scales by getting you familiar with intervals and scale degrees. ***************************** Very Important: Before we even get started, you MUST understand the difference between intervals, steps, and scale degrees. These are concepts that can be easily confused. But don't fret! I will do my best to enlighten you. Steps: These are the LITERAL steps between notes. These are the MOST FUNDAMENTAL type of interval. From the "step," you get the half-step and every other interval in music. So steps are simply the building blocks of all intervals. Scale Degree: A scale degree is simply that. It is the degree -or NUMBER of the note in comparison to the root- of any note in any scale. The easiest way to practice understanding this, is to simply write a scale and number each note from 1 to 7. Then put 1 back on top. Example: C is 1, D is 2. E is 3, F is 4, G is 5, A is 6, B is 7, C is 1 Why is C1 at the top instead of C8? Without getting too technical at this point, just understand that EACH of the scale's seven notes should have its own identifier. So at this point, all C notes in the C scale are 1. All D notes in the C scale are 2. All E notes in the C scale are 3, etc... Intervals: All STEPS are intervals. But not all intervals are EXPRESSED in steps. Think of it like this: You wouldn't call the number 100, "ten-ten-ten-ten-ten-ten-ten-ten-ten-ten," would you? So normally, you use a QUALITY of SCALE DEGREE to express that interval. FOR INSTANCE: Understand that, from C to A is exactly 4 1/2 steps. But its INTERVAL is a major 6th (or maj6 for short). We used its SCALE DEGREE to describe the interval. Since A is the 6th step in the C major scale, we label it as a major 6th. ***************************** I used the word "QUALITY" for the first time in the previous paragraph. So what exactly does a note's "QUALITY" refer to? For different scale degrees' intervals it means different things. But for now, the quality describes whether an interval occurs naturally in a major and/or minor scale. Obviously, the scale PATTERN defines whether or not a scale is minor or major. And we know that even SCALES themselves have a "quality" attached to them. What makes a SCALE also major or minor? Answer: the 3rd scale degree. Considered the most important scale degree, the 3rd literally defines the overall quality of the scale you are playing. A mode with a maj3 is a major scale. A mode with a min3 is a minor scale. That's all there is to it! Why did I say "mode" instead of scale? This is because three of the seven modes are "major" modes. The rest (except for the locrian) are minor modes. Given this, we can safely say that: All the major modes are: Ionian Lydian Mixolydian And all the minor modes are: Dorian Phrygian Aeolian Let's go a step further and prove this (KEY OF C major). Ionian is major. The distance between C and E is a maj3 (2 whole steps). Lydian is major also. The distance between F and A is a maj3. Mixolydian is major. The distance between G and B is a maj3. Dorian is minor. The distance between D and F is a min3 (1 1/2 steps). Phrygian is minor. The distance between E and G is a min3. Aeolian is minor. The distance between A and C is a min3. So now that you know scales can be major or minor, let's explore a few intervals. These will be maj3, p4, and p5. The p stands for "perfect." A maj3 is 2 whole steps. A p4 is 2 1/2 whole steps. A p5 is 3 1/2 whole steps. Why perfect? Why not major or minor? Firstly, lowering or raising a p4 or p5 DOES NOT make a scale major or minor. Secondly, they occur naturally THE SAME WAY in all of the modes except one. And finally, if you look at the major modes, ALL THREE start on perfect interval notes in comparison to their root! In C, those intervals are C, F, and G. (C to itself is considered a perfect unison) See how everything is starting to tie in?!!! So to recap: *STEPS are the building blocks of intervals. *SCALE DEGREES are the numbered notes of a scale in comparison to the scale's root. *INTERVALS are expressed mostly as a quality of scale degree. *A MAJOR MODE has a maj3 interval from the 1st to the 3rd. *A MINOR MODE has a min3 interval from the 1st to the 3rd. *PERFECT intervals occur THE SAME in BOTH maj and min modes. Bonus: the melody line of "Oh When the Saints Go Marching in" starts out with p-unison, maj3, p4, and p5 intervals. Now the title should make more sense! In my next article, we will explore more intervals and the non-3rd differences between modes. Thanks for reading.

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    cta-joey
    @Jonthecomposer I can see where your getting at now. tho I will maintain my opinion on modes not being scales and should not be reconized as such because it cause's problem's with understanding how they work. how I teach my students when I get into modes is I call them Pattern's played over a scale. this seems to make it more easier to understand what they are. for example if I want to play the C Aeolian mode. I should have to play the root in bass of the scale the C Aeolian derived from. in this case E major. so if I have a bass playing E contantly and play my C Aeolian then it would be reconided as a mode. where as I play C Aeolian alone its reconized as C minor. now I know modes are much more complex then this I merely just using a simple example to try and explane why I believe aproching them as scales should be avoided.
    Jonthecomposer
    @cta-joey: Good points. And I do understand your concern. But all that you talk about is based first and foremost on the major scale. In fact, every diatonic mode and every diatonic chord is based on the major scale. I am introducing modes FIRST for the simple reason that, once you can wrap your mind around ONE basic concept - that of scales - you can THEN move on to different places within theory. I cannot expect someone to actually understand the "why" behind a chord if they don't know the NATURE of the scales and modes that the chords are derived from first. Let me give you an example: Let's use the C7b9 chord. Ordinarily, most people don't bother with this chord. It sounds kind of nasty anyway (out of context) because it contains a flattened 9th. But if you look at it diatonically from a minor standpoint and more specifically from a harmonic minor standpoint (raised 7th), it makes perfect sense. You just don't get that unless you understand WHERE the harmonic minor comes from, from what degree of that scale the 7b9 chord is derived, and what makes the raised 7th important. Now, to answer myself, the harmonic minor is derived from the sixth scale degree of the major. However, it contains a raised 7th - which is called a leading tone. This altered note's whole purpose is to LEAD the listener back to the all-important tonic. But, we know that the scale is still inherently minor. So, when using a C7b9 chord (C, E, G, Bb, Db), we are quite literally building a diatonic ninth chord from the fifth degree of that scale..... which leads you right back to the tonic. The 7th of the scale is the 3rd of the V chord making it major and the dominant of that scale. The scale, by the way, is the F minor - more specifically - the F minor harmonic scale. Of course you can learn to build any chord very easily. But that's NOT what I am interested in teaching you. What I am interested in is WHY the chord even exists, how it is derived, and how to use it musically. I hope that answers why I am choosing to introduce scales and modes first. Also, why do you believe modes are not inherently just scales or that you NEED to look at them differently? All modes - natural and altered - are derived from the major. You can mix and match them which is how you come up with the altered tones. And even totally synthetic modes are named after modes whose tones match a certain pattern that is again derived from the major. A lydian dominant with a b7 and #4 STILL comes from two modes that come from the major scale. Even the "altered" scale has only ONE ALTERED NOTE from the major if you look at it from the melodic minor standpoint. (B, C, D, Eb, F, G, A, B) Start it on the second scale degree and all that differs from a major is the 3rd. OR Derive it from the 7th scale degree of a dorian maj7 - which is still derived from the second scale degree of the major. That's why I maintain that modes are nothing more than scales built off of the degrees of the major scale.
    Jonthecomposer
    @cta-joey: Yes, I see your point. But for the record, the C# Aeolian is the relative minor of E major, not the C Aeolian. C Aeolian is the relative minor of Eb Major. But I am sure that's what you meant anyway. Just listen to Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon." It's in dorian mode. The bass reflects the root of that mode per chord, not its relative major. The song's progression is i7, IV9. In F dorian, it is Fmin7, Bb9. Nowhere in the song is there an Eb bass note (the relative major) that isn't a passing tone. But I do understand that what you gave was only one example. Also, I really do take a "Jeff Berlin" stance on melodic content. His idea is that you cannot use modes or scales for chordal tonality. You must use chords for that. Granted, chords DO come from scales and modes, but some notes of a scale or a mode will absolutely NOT fit in a particular chord. Say you are playing a C major chord. F won't fit as a "speaking" note even though it occurs naturally in the C major scale. So playing up and down a mode to reflect a chord is totally useless unless you know what chordal tone you are trying to go for. The notes of any scale/mode that are not explicitly within a particular chord are only really used for coloration when you are talking about melodic content.
    cta-joey
    @jonthecomposer you are correct I did mean to say C#. I should have caught my self but being slightly intoxacated probably didnt help. but I wont use that as an exuse I made a mistake and you corrected me. so thank you. and thank you also for helping me understand where your going with your article. I still maintain the thought that you have got into modes too soon. but with your obvious knowlage on theory I think your articles will do well explaning theory to beginer's.
    Jonthecomposer
    @cta-joey: Cool. I respect your take on this. And thanks for the great input. It certainly will influence how I write future articles!
    cta-joey
    @Jonthecomposer I have read all your articles of this series. and none of the stuff you say is wrong(well i'd have worded and explaned the mode one differnt. but i give you benifit of the doubt that you're going to expand on modes) but this article looks like a straight forward trying to expand on intervals of a scale. i honnestly think you introduced modes too soon. you havn't ventured into triads, how to build them and name them. ditonic chords, key's, the minor scale. there is plenty in theory you must know first before ever getting into mode's. infact modes are not basic theory at all. I have seen many articles like this and I can foresee people that don't have a full understanding of theory are going to believe modes are just scales from reading your's. witch I'm sorry but is the wrong way to look at them. you need to crawl before you can walk and your articles seem to be going on a full on sprint.
    Jonthecomposer
    @Hab Fan: Thank you! Yes, you are correct. Geez, I should really stop trying to proofread when I am tired lol.
    Jonthecomposer
    The previous correction occurs in the paragraph before the one labeled "So to recap." The sentence SHOULD read: "Secondly, they occur naturally THE SAME WAY in all of the modes except two. And with that, no mode has BOTH 4th AND 5th altered."
    Hab Fan
    I'm a noob at theory so I just want to get some clarity. You say that "Since A is the 6th step in the C major scale, we label it as a major 6th." but you just finished saying that from C to A is exactly 4 1/2 steps a couple lines above that. I suspect you mean "Since A is the 6th scale degree in the C major scale, we label it as a major 6th"? Also, does it matter if the scale is C Major? Isn't A a major 6th away from C in any scale? Great series so far though!!
    cta-joey
    if this is sopost to teach someone what a scale is why would you put mode's in it? this is sopost to be music theory made easy not music theory crash course. this is not going to help anyone trying to learn theory, instead its going to confuse people to what a mode is.
    Jonthecomposer
    @cta-joey: It is part of a SERIES. That means that there are parts 3 through 1 BEFORE it. Of course it's not supposed to teach you what a scale is. That was covered in the FIRST ARTICLE.
    Jonthecomposer
    CORRECTION: 1) The perfect fourth does not occur naturally in the Lydian mode as well. 2) Perfect intervals occur the same in MOST modes. Sorry, I was really tired when I proofread this!