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Weekend Reading- Modal Interchange

Discussion in 'Score Study Resources' started by Gharun Lacy, Jan 6, 2018.

  1. If you have't seen it, look up a paper called:

    Modal Interchange and Semantic Resonance in Themes by John Williams

    Legalities: (Not sure if I can post the paper)

    I just finished this. All of you trained musicians already know this but it was tremendously helpful for a rookie like me to organize some ideas. Being able to recognize when something has the "feel" of a mode but is not strictly in that mode.
    Aaron Venture likes this.
  2. Gharun, thank you for posting this. It looks to be a great study (for everyone). Though when I play through John Williams on the piano, I associate more of a Jazz influence (spiced with really interesting harmonies) as opposed to modes or a modal feel. For example, playing a D chord over a C bass could be called Phrygian mode, or just a D/C as in Jazz. They are both the same I guess, so maybe its just semantics, or how you're mentally viewing it. Still, its something to keep in mind while studying this academic work that there might be other ways to view the harmonic content and we can only wonder what was going on in JW's mind.

    For a direct link, you may have to sign up at Academia.edu to download a pdf but its simple enough. It looks like its posted at other sites too.
  3. @Gregory D. Moore
    My harmonic vocabulary is very limited and it makes transcription work a painful chore. Reading this article helped me put some of my transcription work in perspective. It helped me to think of a piece in say harmonic minor with bII substitution. All of a sudden, that transcription made sence. At this stage in my study, that is an easier leap for my brain that to think polytonally.

    Good stuff.
  4. Gharun, a few things come to mind about your comment. First, transcription shouldn't be painful. If it is, you're torturing yourself above your skill level and there's no point in doing this as you'll just frustrate yourself. Stick with simple things that you can easily digest. Then its both much more fun and you'll learn faster I believe. While listening to a CD, I like to listen to melodies and noodle them out on the keyboard. Just try for one or two notes as you're listening. Try concentrating on intervals more than harmonic vocabulary. Once you start recognizing simple intervals, transcription becomes much simpler, you'll start to hear melodic lines notes as intervals. But remember to keep it very simple at first and keep at it. There's not point in over-complicating things for yourself until you progress with simpler lines. The point is to get the intervals in your ear.

    Harmony is built upon intervals. Its easy to study complex harmony but not very useful if they are just formulas and rules. Getting the sounds in your ear is the most useful goal IMO. Harmony is just observation of musical practice and there are many different ways to analyze. While I'm big on harmony (I have close to every book in existence) I also recognize that without having the sounds imbedded in your ear, harmony study can be quite useless. Nevertheless, in the case of almost all composers, I think they are for the most part quite aware of what they are doing harmonically, even if they are improvising and playing serendipity. While some "Mike's" might deny this, I'm also certain they have both intervals and a deeper understanding of harmonic content imbedded in their brain even they are not paying attention to it or want to deny it exists. Most importantly though, they have the sounds in their head. And before they go to play the next notes, I think they hear them in their head. They are not just randomly "guessing" or taking a pot shot. When they play a minor third above, they know what it will sound like. And the same goes for chords and harmonic vocabulary. When JW composes, he is obviously very aware of the harmonic vocabulary, though I'm not sure how he is thinking about it. My guess is, he's hearing the melody in his head and then thinking harmonically both in traditional and jazz approaches. But its imbedded so deeply that its subconscious and appears both as a sound and as a harmonic image in his mind. I'm just guessing of course, but I'm sure he has all bases covered like that.

    You should check out Aimee Nolte (I learned about her thanks to Tack). She has some excellent advice about improvising and hearing the notes in your head that also applies to transcription. While this link might seem simple, she has some great tips and some much deeper videos if you search her channel. I think you might find them helpful.

    This one's pretty cool too in that it shows how she's thinking in her head before she plays (as well as musical Q&A). There are lots of other useful videos in her channel even if you're more interested in composing than improvising jazz.
  5. @Gregory D. Moore Thanks for the links and the insight. Very useful. I was exaggerating with the "painful chore" comment. I'm slower than most of the guys here but the speed is coming and so is the understanding. I've transposed plenty of JW's pieces while thinking, "What key is this?" I feels major but at times there are chords that are not diatonic. I've done enough that I could recognize the replacements by feel but I still didn't have last piece of the puzzle. The concept of the bVII replacement just put a lot of those transcriptions into context for me and all of a sudden, they made sense.

    I need to re-watch the vids when I get home.
  6. I figured you were exaggerating a bit as I've heard your work and you otherwise could not have made it through that article. Nevertheless, I thought some of the Nolte videos might be helpful and of interest. JW uses some interesting chords at times and often that's part of what makes his pieces sound so interesting.

    On a deeper note, Howard Hanson was a very strong influence on JW and he wrote a harmony book (Harmonic Materials of Modern Music - available on scribd) which I just started reading (its very complex and I don't understand it just looking through). I'm not sure how relevant or interesting his harmony book is (no one seems to talk about it ever, yet his influence on JW is undeniable) What is interesting about Hanson's work is how he goes outside the box of conventional melody and harmony, so its possible he was an influence for JW in this regard. You should at least have a listen to Howard Hanson's 2nd Symphony (score also available on Scribd). You'll hear about twenty or more very clear influences (if not direct lifts) used in JW scores.
    Steve Schow and Gharun Lacy like this.
  7. JW also writes modally on occasion. I love the Cloud City arrival music, F phrygian I believe. But the tonal center is tough for me to hear on that. Maybe I need to transcribe it to have a better handle on it.
    Gharun Lacy likes this.
  8. Greg
    I've been on the road a lot but I've listened to this piece about 5 times since you mentioned it. Great piece I love how the first 20 bars are so are nothing but development of a themes where the melodic motif stays the same but the harmony gets more and more complex. After that I can hear JW, Steiner, and Herrmann all in there just off the top of my head. This one is going on heavy rotation for sure.

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