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I've heard a lot of music that is in a minor key but also has a flattened root note. I'm not sure if this is considered a flattened root, or a sharp 7th. For instance, in the key of Em, an E♭ (E flat) will be played which gives a dark sound. Or, if I was playing a chord progression in Em, I would play Em and then play Bmaj, which has that flat root.

Is there a specific mode this fits into?

Also, I've noticed this works with a sharp 6th. I'm not sure if this falls into the same mode as above, but for instance, I could play a chord progression in Em with these chords: Em, Bmaj, Gmaj, Amaj. Usually an Am would fit where the Amaj is, but instead the 6th of the key is sharp (or maybe a flat 7th?). Would this fit into the same mode as above, or is this something completely different?

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Instead of looking at it as a flat root note, you can think of it as a major seventh, which is present in the harmonic minor scale. In your first example, that would be

E F♯ G A B C D♯ E

You can see that notes of both the B major and E minor chords are present.

With a sharp 6th, it can also be a melodic minor scale:

E F♯ G A B C♯ D♯ E

Both scales do miss the D (which is found in the G major chord) characteristic of the natural minor scale (Aeolian mode) and the Dorian mode (as mentioned in the comments).

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  • With an A major chord in an E minor context, I'd describe the situation as E Dorian. Unless the D# note is being played at the same time as well. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jul 4 at 15:30
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica - an A major chord with D# included? Interesting! Not sure what that would be called. – Tim Jul 4 at 18:05
  • @Tim The question is a bit ambiguous, but it looks like the OP is asking about making one or two changes to an E natural minor scale, first D# and then C#, or both of them. If D# is in the scale, then the mode is not Dorian. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jul 4 at 21:07
  • @Tim I think that would be called Amaj#11 without the 9th or 7th. – awe lotta Jul 5 at 14:13
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This is no flattened root. You’re playing d#, the #7 of the harmonic or melodic minor scale.

In harmony this is the third of the dominant chord b d# f#. If d# is the bass tone you play the first inversion: d# f# b.

Look here:

Understanding minor key harmony

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There are two minor scales which have that note you ask about. The harmonic and melodic minors. In key Em, the note is D♯. In the natural minor scale, the D is left a tone below the tonic (E), so there isn't a really convincing leading note. To be a convincing leading note, it needs to be a semitone under the tonic, as it would be in the major scale/key.

So, for the harmonic minor, there's E F♯ G A B C D♯.

For the melodic minor, it's E F♯ G A B C♯ D♯.

The melodic minor was often used because the tone and a half jump between C and D♯ was thought to be too big a gap, so the C was sharpened as well to C♯.

Also to consider is E Dorian, which uses E F♯ G A B C♯ D (the notes from D major). While that would give the right notes for an A maj. chord, there wouldn't be scope for a B maj chord.

Having said that, in minor keys (which may or may not include the minor modes) it is common to mix and match. There are many pieces in Em which contain C, C♯, D and D♯.

But, to finalise, the note in question will never be a 'flat tonic' - it's always a leading note one letter name before that of the tonic.

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