AHM – Etudes!

Wait, what? Actual music being written? Impossible! I figured that I might as well shut up for a second and write something that uses what I’ve been talking about so far in this series on AHM. To check out the compositional notes and theory behind these little ditties (and figure out what the heck AHM means), read my blog entries Intro to AHM, Characteristic Pitches and Modal Voicings.

These four etudes were written to exploit the concept of the “Modal Voicing” (explained in depth in that previous blog entry) in all four of the andihemitonic heptatonic parent scales (yeah…you should read the previous blog entries to figure out what I mean by that). They are non-modulatory, meaning that the parent scale of all of the localized modes stays the same throughout. Basically, the “key signature” doesn’t change. In the next blog entry I’ll start to tackle what I call “Gradational Modulation,” which takes a look at the most effective ways to move from one chord/mode to another when they do not share a parent scale.

One interesting thing that I discovered while writing these four etudes is that because the characteristic pitch of any given mode will be on the diatonic tritone(s), any voicing that contains both notes of the tritone(s) can be used for every mode of a parent scale. So in other words, in the key of C, if I had a voicing that I liked with F and B in it, that voicing could be used over D to create a D dorian voicing, over E to create an E phrygian voicing, etc. In Melodic Minor, Harmonic Minor and Harmonic Minor, the scale systems with two tritones, this “blanket voicing” is going to be the diatonic diminished 7th chord. Since the diminished 7th chord contains both diatonic tritones, it will always contain both CP’s of a particular mode.

Anyway, this first etude was written in the parent scale of C major, so effectively, it’s just diatonic C major stuff. Boring. However, I made sure to force every harmony into the modal voicing mold, so the end effect was a much more ambiguous chord progression. I toyed a lot with harmonic rhythm and different agogic accents, and that just made things even more ambiguous to the point where it’s hard to point out a specific key center for the whole thing. Presumably it’s C, but at times to me it sounds like A, then E, then D, and then at the vamp at the end G, and then after the last chord…uh….who knows? It’s a mystery. Although its just a whole lotta white key stuff going on, I wanted to “trick” the ear into think there might be something else. I made sure to use all 7 chord/modes just for the sake of the exercise.

Here’s the lead sheet and a nifty Youtube of yours truly playing it.

AHM Etude 1

The second etude I wrote with the parent scale of D harmonic minor. Instead of trying to obscure the tonal center like I did in the first etude, I wrote a simple minor melody that pretty definitively implied “D” as the tonic. I tried to imply functional relationships (for example, the “V-I” cadence at the end) while at the same time maintaining that general feeling of “static dissonance”. Since a lot of the voicings contained one or both tritones (the “blanket voicing” concept I mentioned earlier), there doesn’t seem to be much tension/release going on until the resolution to a minor triad at the very end. All the rest of the vertical structures are modal voicings except for the chord at measure 4. This is what I call an “anti-modal voicing” (woohoo, more jargon!), but I’ll talk more about that in a later blog.

A cool thing happens on the second-to-laster chord – there is a minor 9 dissonance between the C# in the tenor voice and the D in the melody. An arranging teacher of mine once called this sort of thing “subliminal dissonance,” where the dissonance is softened because it happens in a low voice and isn’t nearly as “in your face” as it would be if it occurred higher.

Anyway, here’s the etude for your entertainment (maybe?), and another nifty Youtube.

AHM Etude 2

I wrote the third etude with the parent scale of G Melodic Minor, but emphasized “A” as the tonic pitch. This is the very definition of modality – since I emphasized A, the entire piece is in “A Dorian b2,” versus the parent scale of G Melodic Minor. Awesome.  I liked the “unstable” effect I got in the first etude created by the shifting harmonic rhythms, so I did the same with this one by and making it in 5/4 and phrasing the melody and harmony in odd numbered measures. The melody I wrote over the harmony helps to ear to hear “A” as the tonic pitch,  shifting between A and D as emphasized notes. Like the second etude, there’s a really pronounced “static dissonant” effect, and its easy to hear the entire thing as just sort of blanket “Melodic Minor,” instead of hearing distinct chord progressions. I kept going back to a “Bb maj7#5” tertian structure in the right hand of the piano, and it worked beautifully as a modal voicing for several of the chord/modes I used.

Voila, Youtube & pdf. This one was fun to play, but it took a while to internalize the weird harmonic rhythm.

AHM Etude 3

This fourth and final etude was written with the parent scale of C Harmonic Major, and in my opinion, it sounds the most “functional tonal” out of all four etudes. I paraphrased “Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be?” as the melody, and once I started in on that, the rest of the piece practically wrote itself. The chord/modes simply cycle downwards from F lydian b3 all the way down to G mixo b2, although it’s easy to hear how you would interpret the chords in a tonal context and analyze them with roman numerals. I was the most lenient on writing “complete” modal voicings on this one, as there are several times where both CP’s aren’t present (measure 26, for example). Like the second etude, I end on a much simpler vertical structure for musical effect – this time its an open fifth. I’m tempted to turn this one into a fully fledged piece of music at some point, but it worked well as a compositional etude.

Youtube and pdf. Enjoy.

AHM Etude 4

The important thing about these etudes to remember is that they’re just that…studies in composition. Although often I find restrictions help me focus my ideas so that they are a lot clearer and more effective, a lot of the time I feel like “just writing, and damn the restrictions.” I’m coming up with this AHM stuff to give me new ideas for composing, not to quash the ideas I already have. Even a person as methodical as Schoenberg frequently broke his 12-tone system just because he thought another choice lead to a better aesthetic, and I’m no where near as methodical, so you can bet that there will be a lot of rule-breaking going on in the future for me.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed those little pieces. More music and theory is on the way.



1 Response to “AHM – Etudes!”

  1. 1 elissamilne February 22, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    Love them all. I was particularly fascinated to see what you’d come up with in your Major Harmonic etude after reading your comments on my scathing review of the scale!! And I’ve got to say, I might need to recant my hardline view on what the Major Harmonic can do… although I am still finding myself a Major Harmonic skeptic.

    Looking forward to hearing more….

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