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Transcribing in Lydian (and by extension, any other mode)

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by CodaPDX, Mar 31, 2009.


  1. CodaPDX

    CodaPDX

    Feb 2, 2009
    So last night I was transcribing a neat riff that I came up while jamming with my friend, and I was kind of at a loss for the proper way to transcribe it. I've sang all sorts of music in choirs and such for years and years, but I've never really come across this before, which kind of surprises me.

    The riff is in Eb lydian - do I use an Eb key signature and stick in an accidental every time the A natural comes up, or do I just use a Bb key sig instead?
     
  2. Stealth

    Stealth

    Feb 5, 2008
    Zagreb, Croatia
    Personally, if it's Eb Lydian, I'd find it easier to use the Bb key and just annotate that I'm in the fourth mode somewhere above the bassline.

    YMMV.
     
  3. Is the piece as a whole in Eb lydian? is there even a completed piece?

    IME, with modal stuff it's more common either (1) to use no key sig at all and notate all accidentals or (2) to use the key sig of the "nearest" major or minor key with the same root tone and notate the deviant accidentals.

    (1) seems to be more common when the harmony shifts all over the map and is fuzzy. (2) seems pretty common with rock, folk, or pop tunes that are mostly tonal but have the odd nondiatonic chord. Thus a tune that actually is pretty much in G mixolydian would have a key sig of G major, with the F naturals marked as needed.

    I think notating an Eb lydian piece in the key sig of Bb would be the least preferable alternative, unless the piece actually does end up being in Bb. The reason is that that way neither the tonal center nor the mode/key is correct (since Eb lydian and Bb major are not the same thing). At least if you notate it in Eb, you've got the root tone (Eb) right, even if you have to use a lot of A naturals because the mode is not quite right.
     
  4. JtheJazzMan

    JtheJazzMan

    Apr 10, 2006
    Australia
    you seem to be confusing tonality with key.

    if you have a piece in C Ionian would you write a G major key sig and write an F natural every time to change the F#?

    the key signature will just be "Bb and Eb"
     
  5. No, I don't think I'm confused at all. You might have misunderstood, or I might have been unclear. If I have a piece in C ionian, that's C major, so I use a C major key signature.

    Key signatures refer to conventional major/minor keys, as a rule, not to modes. A piece that is truly in C lydian is NOT, in any way, in the key of G. It's in C lydian. Just is So What is not, in any meaningful sense, in the keys of C and Db. It's in D dorian and Eb dorian.

    What this means is that the key signature system actually breaks down a bit when trying to deal with real modal music. That's why I said that the two alternatives above were commonly used. I personally can't recall the last time I noticed a piece that was truly in C mixolydian, for example, written as if it were in F. Though I certainly wouldn't say it could never happen.

    You cannot have a key that is not also the underlying tonality. That is, you cannot have a piece of which the tonality is A major without it also being in the key of A major. Key requires tonality. They're really the same thing (I simplify here). If they were not, you would have to imagine that a piece is simultaneously in two different tonalities, which, except for truly polytonal music, would be nonsensical.

    Think about what you mean when you say "key." It's not just the sharps and flats that are present; it's also the note that's the root, the tonal center. So the key of A major, for example, means two things, not just one: (1) that you have a set of "home notes" that includes A B C# D E F# G#, and (2) that A is the tonal center. You need both of those things to be in the key of A major. You cannot have A major without both of those things. If you have (1), but the tonal center turns out to be, say, D rather than A, then not only are you not in A major anymore, you're not truly in A ANYTHING any more. You're in D something (lydian, here).

    You can play a B minor mode in an A major piece, if you want to think of it that way, but you can't really have a (nonpolytonal) piece that's simultaneously both in a B minor modality and in the key of A major. I think the tendency to describe modes as tethered to major scales can give rise to this kind of view ... but that's kind of why I also think that descriptive approach is not ideal.

    Remember, too, that a key signature is not truly intrinsic to the key, or the tonality or modality, or what have you. It's just a notational convenience to cut down on writing accidentals. Technically, you could write any piece of music in any key without any key signature at all, as long as you notated the notes correctly. As I mentioned, that's not unknown with some tunes that have ambiguous harmony.
     
  6. EADG mx

    EADG mx

    Jul 4, 2005
    Personally I would use Bb as your key signature. Now if your piece ends up being in Eb lydian or Bb ionian, you are covered.

    As mentioned another alternative is to use an open key.
     
  7. JtheJazzMan

    JtheJazzMan

    Apr 10, 2006
    Australia
    perhaps you have a differing definition of key to me.

    for me the key is the pallet of colours ie what notes are core/scale/diatonic notes and what are chromatic/nondiatonic notes

    from there you then define which tone is the tonal centre, and how all the other notes are arrayed in relation to that root.

    eg. if your key is "Bb & Eb", you could define a Bb Ionian tonality, G Aeolian tonality etc, or in this case an Eb lydian tonality.

    this is why i say the key of "Bb & Eb", because when someone say the key of Bb major, you are arbitrarily assigning the Ionian Mode as the tonal centre. im careful not to.

    maybe its a personal thing, but constantly i see people confused when it comes to things in "major and minor keys", they dont realise they havent actually changed the core pallet of notes, theyve only shifted tonal centres. thats why i distinguish between key and tonality
     
  8. Andrew Jones

    Andrew Jones Banned

    Feb 28, 2001
    Northampton Mass
    If it's just the line and it's not a song? I'd use Bb as a key sig.


    If its the melody to a song and it's IMaj I'd use Eb as my sig.






    Aj
     
  9. Andrew Jones

    Andrew Jones Banned

    Feb 28, 2001
    Northampton Mass
    OP.... You said you were playing on this with someone?

    What were they playing? That would tell you alot about how to notate your bass line.


    Aj
     
  10. Stealth

    Stealth

    Feb 5, 2008
    Zagreb, Croatia
    To further support the "use Bb keysig" notation... consider the fact you always write a-minor (A Aeolian) the same way you write down C-Major (C Ionian)... This seems similar enough.
     
  11. I understand, but with respect, I think your definition of key is incorrect. The point is that key is NOT just your core palette of notes, it's also which of them is the tonic or home or resting note. Key really has no meaning otherwise.

    Not that Wikipedia is infallible or anything, but consider this, which is a basically fair description:

    "In music theory, the key identifies the tonic triad, the chord, major or minor, which represents the final point of rest for a piece, or the focal point of a section. Although the key of a piece may be named in the title (e.g. Symphony in C), or inferred from the key signature, the establishment of key is brought about via functional harmony, a sequence of chords leading to one or more cadences. A key may be major or minor; music in the Dorian, Phrygian, and so on are usually considered to be in a mode rather than a key. When a particular key is not being described in the English language, different key naming systems may be used."

    The thing is, the logical conclusion of your approach is that there will be times when you have to tell yourself that a piece is in two keys/modes simultaneously, and that just doesn't make sense (unless, as I said, the music is polytonal, which a purely Eb lydian piece would not be). It doesn't work to describe a tune that revolves around, say, the note D, as if it is somehow in C major simultaneously with being in D dorian. If it really has an established tonality/modality, then it's got to be one or the other, not both. To say that So What starts in C, for example, is mistaken IMO in that it misses what's actually going on.
     
  12. Not really, because the key system was devised for major and minor, which is what you have here. It doesn't work so well with modal music.
     
  13. Fair point. If it's just 2 or 4 bars of something, you don't actually know what it's doing in the piece. It could be a IV or a bVII or something else entirely. So you could just write it in the sig that's easiest--or again, no sig at all.
     
  14. Hoover

    Hoover Banned

    Nov 2, 2007
    New York City

    JtheJazzMan has a pretty good handle on this discussion so I won't dive in and tag-team you Richard, but fwiw I believe a fundamental misunderstanding of modes is implicit in the highlighted citation.
     
  15. What would that misunderstanding be? I actually think that citation, brief as it is, shows a more accurate understanding of modes than many I've seen around here. For me, the idea that modes are fundamentally derivatives of the major scale is the fundamental misunderstanding. It adds little or nothing to understanding, and it can hinder one from understanding what modality, or playing in a mode, actually means.

    EDIT: Wait, by "citation" did you mean the Wikipedia citation I gave above (which is what I assumed at first), or the bolded portion of that excerpt from my post? Either way I don't see a misunderstanding. Can you clarify?
     
  16. Andrew Jones

    Andrew Jones Banned

    Feb 28, 2001
    Northampton Mass
    There is not enough info from the OP to weigh in and give a solid answer.

    The idea of written music is to visually notate what we/you hear. Allot of the interpretation of "right and wrong" is based upon majority's opinion of what we hear and how we'd prefer to see it written/how we'd prefer to read it.There are rules but there is allot of personal preferences involved as well.


    Aj
     
  17. Blueszilla

    Blueszilla Bassist ordinaire

    Apr 2, 2003
    The Duke City
    sub'd.
     
  18. Hoover

    Hoover Banned

    Nov 2, 2007
    New York City

    I was not referring to any Wikipedia quotes, I meant the sentence where you wrote "If I have a piece in C ionian, that's C major"

    If you have a piece in C Ionian, that is most certainly not C major. Despite the fact that those two pitch class collections are 100% identical, referring to that collection as "C Major" implies a vast degree of functionality that is neither implicit nor inherent in "C Ionian". That's precisely why people make the distinction: Calling something "C Major" means that notes and chords will behave in very specific ways, ways which differentiate that scale from modal practice.
     
  19. Blueszilla

    Blueszilla Bassist ordinaire

    Apr 2, 2003
    The Duke City
    No one that I've played with has ever called a tune in the key of "C Ionian", whereas lots of tunes were called in "CMaj". Isn't this about what key to call the OP's tune in? Did the OP even respond to suggest the balance of said tune so it might (or not) be decided what key to assign?

    I'm very interested in Richards response.
     
  20. Actually, C ionian is C major. You're treating modes and scales, or modes and keys as if they're different in kind. They're not. They're all the same thing; it's just that a couple of the modes are relatively "privileged" in Western music; these are major and minor. Scales are modes and modes are scales. We use different terms for them because in our system, some are indeed more functional, as you say, than others. But they're not different in kind.

    If what you say is true, then there should be some music that is recognizably in C ionian but definitely cannot be said to be in C major; or music that is definitely in C major but definitely not in C ionian. I have yet to see any music of which that could be unambiguously said.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems as if you're trying to classify C ionian as nonfunctional and C major as functional in harmonic terms. (If I've misunderstood, forgive me.) I don't think this kind of distinction could really hold up in practice, or even really in theory. In the first place, major tonality doesn't demand functionality, whether vast or less vast; it allows it. In the second place, modality in and of itself doesn't rule out functionality; there is merely a tendency for some modes to be less characterized by functional harmony than others.

    Technically, major IS a mode. That's why many theorists will refer to it as the major mode. That's why the distinction between C ionian and C major is a distinction without a difference, and thus probably not worth stressing or preserving.

    Besides, consider the argument from practicality. If you're aware of what C major sounds like, then anything you play in C ionian is going to sound as if you're playing in C major. If you hit a G, it's going to sound like a V; if you hit an F, it will sound like a IV; if you don't go anywhere, it'll sound like you're staying on the I. So where's the distinction to be made?

    Here's FWIW what one musicologist has to say about some of this stuff (www.solomonsmusic.net). He uses the term mode somewhat differently, but the idea I would point out is that he implicitly accepts that C major and C ionian are not distinct. Just another Internet guy, but still....

    "Modality

    A mode is a series of intervals used to construct a scale. Therefore, TTSTTTS is called the major mode. Modes have no specific tones, notes, or pcs; they are simply a series of intervals or distances. Scales, on the other hand, contain specific notes or pcs. A scale is a group of pcs or notes arranged in ascending or descending order. ABCDEFGA is a simple scale. Its mode is TSTTSTT. Modes and scales may or may not have a tonic. The chromatic scale has no tonic. However, a C major scale has the tonic C. Modes can only have relative tonics; e.g., the major mode has no specific tonic, but some tonic is implied at the beginning of the mode. Major and minor modes are regarded today as the most important modes, since most music around the world now conforms to these two modes. Minimally, key consists of tonic plus the mode, e.g., "C major" or "E Mixolydian".

    Music which conforms to modes other than major and minor is called modal, hence modality. Arguably, music in major and minor keys is also modal, but due to the need to separate these categories, it is best to reserve the term "modality" for music that uses other modes. Modal music is "keyed", because it has a tonic and a mode, hence A-Lydian is a key."
     

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