Writing Key Signatures For Modal Music

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Bryan R. Tyler, Jul 27, 2018.


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  1. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Connecticut
    I can’t read/right standard notation, so this is just my own curiosity here.

    Looking at a simple song like the
    The Grateful Dead‘s “Franklin’s Tower,” the chords are A, G, and D and the melody is based around A mixolydian. Would you mark it as the key of A and write a natural symbol next to every G? I don’t think I’ve heard of a shorthand for modal music in the key signature, so would you just need to look at the chords throughout the piece and make the assumption?
     
  2. JRA

    JRA my words = opinion Supporting Member

    i'm not really hip to that tune (just listened to it briefly on youtube) but i'd put that tune in D even though it 'starts' on the A chord. now everything makes sense!

    the G chord is just that = a G chord. it doesn't need a natural sign everytime it occurs.

    good luck transcribing! :thumbsup:
     
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  3. FretlessMainly

    FretlessMainly

    Nov 17, 2010
    Franklin's Tower can be viewed as less "modal" than you might think. It can simply be viewed as V VI I IV in the key of D Major (so, in this scenario, it's Ionian Mode or the Major Mode). The wrinkle here is that while the A chord is voiced as a simple A, it's functioning as the V or Dom7 chord.

    But, if you prefer to make A the I chord, you are correct that one uses the A Mixolydian scale, but the chords are still derived from the key of D Major as I illustrated above. So, write it in D Major, since A mixoydian is derived from that key. This way, no accidentals are required (save for creative license in improvising): the A has the G natural (b7), the G has the C# (#11 or #4 if you prefer) and D is all set. The D Major scale works over all of it (A Mixo is simply a displaced D Major scale - the important point being that in this situation, it's based on the A Mixolydian scale only if the A is viewed as the tonic).
     
  4. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    Connecticut
    I know it all fits within the key of D, but I thought the melodic center was supposed to take precedence in the key signature. Can that be forgone if it makes writing a piece out easier?
     
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  5. mambo4

    mambo4

    Jun 9, 2006
    Dallas
    the general rule of thumb is to err on the side of what makes reading easier
    which might be one in the same
     
  6. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    A myxolydian and D ionian share the same accidential soooo
     
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  7. FRANKLIN'S TOWER Chords - Grateful Dead | E-Chords
    • Yes it starts with the A chord. And the sheet music says it's in A. Which may be the case if you count this as modal. Why? Well it could be modal. Why? It never goes to E or the 5th of A and modal music does not like to go to the 5th because that makes it want to resolve to the I tonic. Modal does not want to resolve.
    • Is there a modal vamp at work here?
    • Or is there a tonal chord progression at work here, i.e. D-G-A?

    Tonal vs modal. The following paper gets deep into this subject and should clear up some of the assumptions.
    Tonal Harmony vs Modal Harmony - The Jazz Piano Site

    Be sure and check out the video at the end of the link. There is a lot of great information on this video.

    Print this off and put it by your easy chair. Going to take several readings for all this to soak in.

    Good luck.
     
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2018
  8. Blissful_Lad

    Blissful_Lad Inactive

    Feb 22, 2018
    LA/NYC
    There are THREE Major Modes -- Lydian, Ionian and Mixolydian. In other words, the Tonic (I chord) is a Major Triad.

    There are THREE Minor Modes -- Dorian, Aeolian and Phrygian. In other words, the Tonic (i chord) is a Minor Triad.

    There is ONE Diminished Mode -- Locrian. In other words, the Tonic (iº chord) is a Diminished Triad.

    The Major Modes use their PARALLEL Major Key Signature.

    The Minor Modes and the Diminished Mode use their PARALLEL Minor Key Signature.

    Examples of Modes based off C (Major):

    Major Modes
    1) F Lydian > F Major - Key Signature with one flat (B♭). Add accidental as necessary (B♮).
    2) C Ionian > C Major - Key Signature with no sharps, no flats.
    3) G Mixolydian > G Major - Key Signature with one sharp (F♯). Add accidental as necessary (F♮).

    Minor and Diminished Modes
    1) D Dorian > D Minor - Key Signature with one flat (B♭). Add accidental as necessary (B♮).
    2) A Aeolian > A Minor - Key Signature with no sharps, no flats.
    3) E Phrygian > E Minor - Key Signature with one sharp (F♯). Add accidental as necessary (F♮).
    4) B Locrian > B Minor - Key Signature with two sharps (F♯, C♯). Add accidentals as necessary (F♮, C♮).

    Other examples:
    1) A Dorian > A Minor - Key Signature with no sharps, no flats. Add accidental as necessary (F♯).
    2) Eb Lydian > Eb Major - Key Signature has 3 flats (B♭, E♭, A♭). Add accidental as necessary (A♮).
    3) B Phrygian > B Minor - Key Signature with two sharps (F♯, C♯). Add accidental as necessary (C♮).
    4) C Locrian > C Minor - Key Signature has 3 flats (B♭, E♭, A♭). Add accidentals as necessary (D♭, G♭).
     
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  9. No. Key signatures are a convention of written notation—just another tool to serve it. Melodic Center is more how you hear something. Different people could hear the same song differently regarding key center, and therefore would explain it different ways. Some might say “it’s a I-bVII-IV in A” and some people may say “it’s a I-IV-V in D, starting on the V”.

    To answer your question, when choosing a written key signature, choose one that makes it easiest on the copyist. In other words, don’t choose a key that makes writing parts more difficult.

    So. To answer your primary question: Tell jammers it’s in A, but with a G natural chord; But write the parts in the key signature of D.
     
  10. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    "Franklin's Tower" is in the key of A Major, properly written with a key signature of 3 sharps.

    All rock and blues musicians should be familiar with the sound of the flatted 7th in major keys; it's a big part of the musical vocabulary of those styles.

    HL_DDS_107980961Uh8LKw86.png
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2018
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  11. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    The key signature of 3 sharps is the visual indication that the song is in A Major and A is the I chord. This is why we write the song with a 3-sharp key signature (even though 2 sharps would use less ink on the page).

    The aural indication comes from being familiar with this song specifically, and the Grateful Dead's musical vocabulary in general. They loved that b7 sound. (Darkstar, China/Rider, Fire on the Mountain, Birdsong, etc.)
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2018
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  12. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    Right. The "key" of a song is its melodic or tonal center and is a matter of subjective interpretation; the "key signature" refers specifically to written annotation. The key and key center aren't always the same, the clearest example of which is the fact that the keys of A major and F#minor would both typically written with the same key signature (3 sharps).

    It's not unusual for people to have different opinions about the key of a song; sometimes there are two more-or-less equal tonal centers, and different people hear it differently. I wish I had a dollar for every thread I've seen over the years arguing about the key of Sweet Home Alabama!
     
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  13. tradernick

    tradernick

    Mar 19, 2008
    Absolutely not, it can't and shouldn't be foregone. Melodic center is everything.

    This song is in the key of A. Use of the the flatted 7th chord (G in the key of A) is a common rock convention, as Mushroo said above.

    In addition, the bassist is completing the progression by going to the dominant E in the second half of this two bar progression in the verse. So what we have is A to G in the first bar, and D followed by at least D/E in the second bar (maybe someone is even playing E in the background). D/E in the key of A is a common dominant function chord, we've all heard it a million times in every Elton John song.

    Easy analysis in the key of A.

    I'm going by this version, in which you can clearly hear the E in the second half of the 2nd bar of the verse progression

     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2018
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  14. A (major) is clearly the tonal center, as several others have stated. A major, three sharps.
     
  15. john m

    john m Supporting Member

    Jan 15, 2006
    Key of D major.
     
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  16. No. That's just plain wrong.
     
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  17. It's not an opinion ("I like the Beatles"), it's a fact ("Many people liked the Beatles"). There are situations were these things are debatable. This is not one of them.
     
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  18. john m

    john m Supporting Member

    Jan 15, 2006
    What happens to the section where the G major chord happens?
     
  19. Blissful_Lad

    Blissful_Lad Inactive

    Feb 22, 2018
    LA/NYC
    As you seemingly indicate: "It's in A". True.

    No, the "rule" is not to convenience the copyist. As I clearly explained, "It's in A" is parallel with A-Major (3 sharps). If one wants to say it's A-Mixolydian fine, add the G-naturals. Mixolydian is a Major Mode (as explained). Otherwise, call it in A-Major, and borrow the G-chord from the parallel Minor (♭VII).

    Using a two-sharp key signature fails the 300+ year tradition (convention). (But, maybe you're a pioneer with a large facebook following! :hyper:)

    Correct.
     
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  20. klokker

    klokker

    Jan 7, 2009
    Steele City, NE
    C is I. What makes it a little confusing is that the verse begins on V (G). Song starts and ends with I, IV.....C to F. It's really simple but those little twists are what make the magic.
     
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