Andihemitonic Heptatonic Modality – Characteristic Pitches

If you think I just made those words up, you’re absolutely right. To get up to speed on what the hell I’m talking about, check out my super-fun intro to AMH.

If you’re too lazy to go back and read, basically, I’ve come up rough list of all 7-note scales with no consecutive half-steps in some sort of odd attempt at a personal compositional theory. There are only 4 of them  – the Major, the Melodic Minor, the Harmonic Minor and the Harmonic Major, which amount to 28 useable modes.

Fun stuff.

The next step from here is to categorize and label all of those 28 modes. Like I said before, Berklee-theory quantifies each of the seven major modes with a “characteristic pitch” (CP). These CPs, in theory anyway, serve to give each individual mode it’s modal “flavor.” Here is a nifty chart with all of the major modes defined with their characteristic pitch (click for a larger version).

Major Modes w/ Characteristic Pitches

The question is, why exactly are the CPs defined this way? Most of us can come to a consensus that yes, the #4 is the defining note of Lydian, and the b2 is the defining note of Phrygian, but why is that? Common practice and tradition don’t help us much when we’re trying to look at modes besides these 7.

Well, for starters, every CP is on the diatonic tritone of the mode. The tritone is such a powerful interval in tonal music, and it remains a powerful interval when you’re dealing with the modes. We can see that this tritonal dissonance is important to hearing the “color” of each individual mode. Picking exactly which note on the tritone to call the CP is a much trickier prospect, but basically, whichever note of the tritone forms a weaker interval root (based on Hindemiths theory of interval roots) with the tonic of the mode is the CP. Don’t worry, I barely understand it either, but that’s the cleanest explanation I can come up with that doesn’t reference “common practice”.

Anyway, now we know were to begin when we’re looking at the modes of the Melodic Minor, Harmonic Minor and Harmonic Major – find the diatonic tritone and come up with the CP. The problem with this is that the major scale is the only one of these scales to have a single diatonic tritone. The other three have two tritones, which means that instead of one CP, we have to deal with two of them. It becomes hard to definitively say which of the two pitches is truly “characteristic” of the mode, so if a chord progression, chord voicing or melody is supposed to reflect these modes, it would have to have BOTH of the characteristic pitches. In a couple of extreme cases (Mode VII of Harmonic Minor, and Mode VI of Harmonic Major) the notes on the diatonic tritone really aren’t all too characteristic of the mode (from an aesthetic standpoint), so I’ve classified other pitches as being characteristic. Since all of this is supposed to be a personal compositional approach, these discrepancies don’t bother me too much.

So here are they are. Notice that no two modes share a pair of CPs – sometimes I violate the rule about interval roots so that all modes have unique CP pairs. Also notice how I named most of the modes – it’s just a Greek mode with an altered tone. Sometimes these modes are more widely known as something else, so I’ve parenthesized other possible names for each mode. Where I’ve chosen a CP that isn’t on a diatonic tritone, I parenthesize the “correct” CP. Click on the images for bigger versions.

Melodic Minor Modes with Characteristic Pitches

Harmonic Minor Modes with Characteristic Pitches

Harmonic Major Modes with Characteristic Pitches

Awesome! However, I’m pretty sure some of you who have made it this far (congratulations by the way)  are asking “uh, so what?” We have all the theoretical stuff lined up, but the cool stuff comes in actually applying it to music. My next couple blogs will be getting into that detail a lot more with studying implications for counterpoint, modal voicings, and other crazy stuff, so stay tune!




1 Response to “Andihemitonic Heptatonic Modality – Characteristic Pitches”

  1. 1 Marshall Pust February 18, 2010 at 4:20 am

    I found my way here through your AHM Etude videos on youtube, and I must say I am having fun learning some of this theory, mainly the characteristic pitches. I have a very very limited knowledge of music theory, just the basics, key signatures, modes, major/ minor harmonic/melodic, so I am interested in the more esoteric aspects, like Andihemitonic Heptatonic Modality. So thanks for provoking me into studying music, because I don’t do it nearly enough.

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