Teach Yourself Music Theory – 25.) Modes of the Harmonic Minor Scale

Not only are there modes built from the diatonic scales of Major and natural minor, but there are modes of the harmonic minor.


Similarly, they are constructed with the same pitch-class collections, but starting on different pitches and spanning an octave from there.


Below are the different modes and names built from the A harmonic minor scale in the key of C:


NOTE: these are the names I use for the modes. You will encounter multiple names for the same scale, so always be open to change.

Practice building the modes, playing them, and memorizing the names.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 24.) Diatonic Modes

Now, there are more scales in music than just the major, natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor. In fact, I have came across a reference book that listed over 2,000 different scales. That being said, we are not going to cover all those (just yet), but we do want to cover a new way to look and build scales.


Modes are scales the encompass the same pitches as a key area, but are not technically our known major or natural minor. Their “tonic” and tonal sense of gravity is elsewhere away from the accepted tonic. Diatonic modes are ones constructed from the diatonic pitches of a key – we will go over this shortly.


There are 7 diatonic modes (6 to some people that do not include Locrian), with one scale built on each pitch of a key. Taking the key of C Major for example, here are the modes with their names:


Notice that each mode is a scale that travels an octave length in distance; basically C major scales starting on different pitches. However, they are all obvious different scales even though the contain the same pitch-class collection because of the intervals in the scale.

NOTE: the major scale is the Ionian Mode, and the natural minor scale is the Aeolian Mode.


To build a diatonic modal scale, you can do one of two things:


Say you wanted to build E Dorian. Dorian is the second mode – so, we know that Dorian comes from D Major, just keep the accidentals and start a scale on the second pitch. Or, you can memorize that Dorian is | 1 – 2 – b3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – b7 – 8 | and construct it from there.


Practice building the modes, playing them, and memorizing the names.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 23.) Relative Versus Parallel Keys

We have talked about this before when covering major and natural minor scales. So be sure to review those sections if these concepts seem unfamiliar or difficult.

Relative keys, are two key that share the same number of accidentals. We know that the key of D Major and the key of B minor are relative keys because they both have the same number of accidentals added to their key signature (two sharps).

We figured this out before that in a major key, the minor key (where the natural minor scale is derived from) is a m3 interval below the tonic. Vice-versa, in a minor key we can tell that the relative major is a m3 above the tonic.

Parallel keys are ones that don’t necessarily (if ever) share the same accidentals, but share the same tonic.

Let’s take a look at the two parallel keys of C major and C minor:

Notice how they don’t have the same accidentals, but they do share the same tonic of C. More to come on how to use parallel keys in composition, but more now this is learning on how to distinguish between relative and parallel keys.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 22.) Metric Accents and Syncopation

An accent (which we will cover more later) is an emphasis on a note during performance. Usually, this is indicated by the composer on the sheet music to tell the performer on which notes to put the accent.

However, accents can also naturally happen. We have talked about this before with metric grouping. Within a measure a specific number of beats are grouped together. Not only is it used for organization, but it helps tell the performer where to put the emphasis when playing.

A metric accents is a natural emphasis put on a note due to its placement in the meter. Below is a graph with the level of accentuation put on different beats of various metric groupings:

You have probably already realized this knowing that an upbeat is light, while a downbeat is strong.

Now for a new term:

Syncopation, placing the accent on a weak or unexpected part/division of the beat.

When the emphasis avoids the strong metric accents and is applied to the weaker beats, or to the beat divisions (eighth-notes, etc.), it is called syncopation.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 21.) Polyrhythms and Hemiolas

As you can see from the title, we are going to talk about some new concepts and add new vocabulary into our musical terminology usage.

Polyrhythm, is the juxtaposition of two different beat divisions happening at the same time. This will create an interesting composite rhythm of the combining beat divisions. Let’s take a look:

Above is a piece of music with a lot of beat divisions working together to create one polyrhythm. We can see that the C4 pitch is played on every down beat of the 3/4 measures, but the arpeggiation (breaking apart of a chord) of the C major triad below is in a division pattern similar to a 6/8 time signature. Play it out and you will hear it.

In the melody line, we see four notes in equal length of a dotted eighth-note. Within the 3/4 time signature, we have four notes of even value going against the quarter-note pulses and 6/8 division grouping arpeggiation. So that too is another addition to the overall polyrhythm.

A hemiola, is similar to a polyrhythm in that it goes against the conventional beat division – but it is more defined of when normal groupings of three become groupings of two:

Here is another exaggerated version of a hemiola, going from odd to even groupings:

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Tip #174 – Reimagining Purpose of a Circle-Of-Fifths Progression

To some people, a circle-of-fifths progression (a sequential chord progression with root movement all done by perfect fifths) is a very artistic way of composing music. Others may find it predictable because you know well in advance where the next chord is going to.

Take a look at this one for example:

You can view this as a simple circle-of-fifths progression, but how about another way:

You can also reimagine this as an overlay of IV – I – V movements. And now when you are in this mindset, you can control how to get out of the predictable pattern into a set key with the understanding that you have the momentum of a IV – I – V progression.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 20.) Mixing Beat Divisions

To remind: when you are in simple meter (4/4) the beat is easily divided into 2s or 4s, and when you are in compound meter (12/8) the beat is divided into 3s or 6s. Review old posts if you are not familiar with these concepts.

However, just because you are in simple meter doesn’t mean that you can’t incorporate compound meter divisions.

Take an example below:

We know that this piece is in duple meter because the time signature is 4/4, but there is a figure notated with a “3.” This is called a triplet, and it appears in duple meter pieces to tell the performer to divide the beat into three eighth notes of even length instead of two – just as you would find in a compound meter.

This can happen in reverse, too…

Thae a look now at this example:

This piece is in compound meter (12/8 and the beat is divided into 3s), but there are two figures – one noted with a “2” and the other with a “4.” They are called duplets and quadruplets respectively, and they divide the beats in compound meter pieces into even divisions.

Practice performing switching between these different divisions.

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