Melody Meddling in Mixolydian

A couple of posts ago i was writing about gothic choirs and the use of the phrygian mode to achieve what we were looking for, this time we're going to be looking at the mixolydian mode!

I've seen this the most in Hollywood Celtic type music, think brave/how to train your dragon etc.

Essentially the device is just understanding what the Mixolydian mode is and how to stay within it comfortably,
the keyset we're going to be using looks like this -> C D E F G A B. 
Yep a C major scale, the only difference is the bass note is going to be a pounding G right from the start,  
this is because in reality when we hear this G in the bass we're expecting a F# above it to put us  happily in the G major scale, you'll see when you're messing around with melodic notes above the G that F natural is a very flavorsome note in this Mixolydian we've created.

In short a simple way to remember Mixolydian is this,
Take the major key.
Flatten the 7th.

and that's it you're done.

so the above example was using G Mixolydian, what would this look like in C Mixolydian?

C D E F G A Bb

Major scale with the flattened 7th, and in this case have a C pounding in the bass.

I make a point to mention the bass because it's very important that it's dealt with delicately, if you start moving it around too much, or have it sitting on another chord for too long it's going to break the illusion of the Mixolydian Mode you've set up.
For example, if you are playing in C Mixolydian then you're going to be using Bb in the melody, however moving to an F in the bass and sitting on it is a complete disaster for Mixolydian because you've just settled into F major.

If you're playing a G in the bass and using F naturals above it, moving to an F in the bass and sitting there gives us the feeling of Lydian because we're still using a B natural!

An easy way of getting around this is modulating to a new key and also making that mixolydian, 

so from C in the bass (with the Bb)
modulate to G in the bass (with everything nat)

either that or surprise modulation and get out of it completely and go somewhere else, it's up to you!


Anyway here is a small piece i wrote to demonstrate how it might sound!

You might have noticed that the score isn't exact, i played around with it a bit in the mock up!

Increasing the action!

This device is a bit strange in that there isn't really a set chord progression to it, 
you can really take it anywhere, in any key/mode and it will be good to go!

The premise is that you find a melody line that you like (doens't need to be diatonic!),
after this you just find shadowed chords underneath it while either keeping the bass steady,
or not leaping and moving it in a direction that lready has a pattern to it (so it has some power).

For example in this new piece i've written you can see that after the Bminor stabs in bar 49 - 51 there are
three sets of triplets all with their own chord, i decided before hand i wanted the melody to move A - Bb - Cnat
and then set to working out what chords could go underneath it in the shadow.

(click to enlarge)


when you're looking for chords try to keep in mind that it should be following a "classic story" in the sense that each chord should be
stronger than the last (tonic-subdominant-dominant), break away from any idea that these need to be chords I - IV - V
for example here i have F# minor as the tonic, F#minor with Bb as the subdominant and then D major with a C natural as the dominant.

The key is freeing up your mind and just playing around until you get something you like, a good rule for this is that
to increase disruption of peace between chords the more notes you move that are outside of it's current tonality the greater
disruption you will feel, this also works when moving notes that are in the same tonality you just wont feel it as much.

Anyway that's enough rambling try it out and see what comes up!

Romantic Piano Arps

Pretty easy device now,

This was taken from the piece “love grows” from Final Fantasy 8, one of my favorite tracks by Nobuo Uematsu.

The idea is quite simple, take whatever the chord underneath the arpeggio is and then add a 6th for extra flavour, boom, done.

of course you can spice this up a bit more by using chord extensions rather than regular triads.


I should mention a bit about the orchestration of this device, the piano is set against a backdrop of strings horns and flutes, this means it’s the only percussive sound coming through an otherwise opaque blurry mixture this really helps it stand out.

However a problem with this is that it can stand out too much, if it’s playing arpeggios and we have the main melody in the otherwise blurry sounding harmony it can sound as if the music has two main protagonists, not necessarily a bad thing but not quite what we’re aiming for.

to get around this we have the piano pick out the main notes of the melody wherever it can and linger on them for a split second, this helps to blur the lines between the two timbres and move the music back towards a single protagonist.

Military March.

Time for an old school military march.

This is a device that i spotted in Nobuo Uematsu’s ‘memoro de la stono’ used in a non military way,

this is a simple takedown for it,


Much like the gothic choirs device i did a couple weeks ago this centers around the pedal in the bass.

Keeping the bass held allows the music to move steadily above and change chords in the melody without changing the overall function, while still kicking up lots of harmonics to clash with the melody line (in a good way!).

This time the music starts in minor and the chords that are moved between are I and II although IV is a good substitute for II if you’re looking for a slightly less biting chord for a more noble sounding section.

In Memoro de la stono the music then moves from minor to major but the overall device stays the same sticking to chords I, II and IV over the new pedal.

So why is this titled Military March?

Well one of the ways i use this device most is in military music, inspired heavily by John Williams score for the star wars series, here is a score for my own version of this march down below.


As you can see the piece remains with C chugging along in the bass and the chords shifting above it, but it gives a different feel to the slower more noble sounding memoro de la stono from earlier.

There are plenty of ways to use this so just have fun with it!

Gothic Choirs.

This sound is made up from a few factors,  Firstly it’s written in phrygian mode.

For those that are unsure of what phrygian mode is i will explain it here;

Modes are just different types of scales, so a standard major scale (i.e C D E F G A B) is also the Ionian Mode, what separates the different modes are the intervals between each note of the scale.

For example the natural minor of C Major is A Minor (A  B C D E F G), this can also be referred to as the Aeolian mode.

Phrygian in relation to the major key will have several notes flattened and will look like this (C Db Eb F G Ab Bb),

However i think it’s easier to remember that phrygian is very close to the natural minor except for one note, the second of the minor scale is flattened making the new scale look like this A Bb C D E F G.

Alright back to the Gothic choir,

Here I’ve made a small snippet of a choir in action, looking at the melody line you can see it’s in phrygian (A minor also using Bb), the shadows under each of the notes are diatonic but don’t stay with the chord outlined in the bass, the movement between chord I and VII are what gives the choir that flavour that we’re looking for.

The second major point to keep in mind is that because of the movement in the melody it’s important to keep the Bass Peddled, this will help the music feel a bit more stable while throwing out the harmonics that create dissonance with chord VII in the melody line, It also stops the chord changes above feeling like a function rather than a melodic device which is what we’re aiming for.

Here is what it sounds like!

Revealing Mist.

In these blogs i’m going to be posting about snippets of music that i find really interesting, and seeing what knowledge there is to be gained from studying them!

The first piece i’ll be looking at is ‘Hook Kidnaps Jane’ from the film ‘Return to Never land’ music by Joel McNeely.

There is a cue at roughly 10 seconds in, a series of descending and ascending triplets with minor chord shadows, it looks like this:


To me this gives an image of a dark moody night sky, with a thick layer of mist that is slowly dissipating to reveal what is hidden beneath it, hence the name of the post!

I have implemented this technique into my own work, using it as a segue from one section of music to another, it has a great effect in bringing the music gently back down from a large tutti.

(click to enlarge)

You can listen to that exert here: