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Let's please stay in the key of CMaj (C Ionian, D dorian, E phrygian, etc.)

If for example, if I have an underlying CMaj triad (C-E-G), but wanted to emphasize the middle note (E), I could solo using (E phrygian), or the CMaj scale, beginning on E.

Phrygian's formula is (1 - b2 - b3 - 4 - 5 - b6 - b7) or E-F-G-A-B-C-D

Phrygian's half-steps are between the (1 - b2) & the (5 - b6) or E - F & B - C

There has to be other ways to emphasize a particular mode & bring outs its flavor, other than just beginning on a certain root (ie; starting the CMaj scale on E, would yield E phrygian)

To really home in on the specific mode, would you target the modal root note (E) & only the notes that make up the half-step intervals (E - F) & (B - C)?

I've just recently read about "circling the root" of the mode? I guess this would mean to play the 7th & the 2nd often? Or alternate between 7-1, 1-2, 2-1, 1-7, etc.?

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  • I can't imagine anything you could do with an E Phrygian scale over a C major chord that would make me think anything other than "C major, ending on the third." The normal way to bring out a modal color is to use a modal harmonization, so centered on E minor.
    – phoog
    Sep 8, 2022 at 8:51
  • Related: music.stackexchange.com/questions/124546/… Sep 8, 2022 at 12:52
  • @Tim what is the logic behind both answering the question and closing the question? Sep 9, 2022 at 14:12
  • @MichaelCurtis - having provided an answer, I considered it to be a dupe, later. However, it appears it's back in circulation. Didn't realise I could close single-handedly, though. (Which I think is what happened - my vtc has disappeared...) with no explanation forthcoming.
    – Tim
    Sep 9, 2022 at 14:53
  • @Tim because of your gold tag badge for theory, your vote to close a question tagged theory will be decisive. Michael Curtis has the same gold tag badge, so his vote to reopen was also decisive.
    – phoog
    Sep 9, 2022 at 15:27

2 Answers 2

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Let's please stay in the key of CMaj

To add "modal color" the idea is to add various modal degrees relative to the tonic of C.

So, with a key of C major, we can say the mode is either "major" or "ionian."

If you want to add a lydian flavor, raise the F to F#, because C D E F# G A B C would be C lydian.

Importantly, to get a lydian flavor you must both raise the F to F# (raise the fourth scale degree to an augmented fourth above the tonic) and also you must _maintain C as the tonic. Do not inadvertently have the key drift to G major or some other tonic.

Then just continue in the same way, but adding various other modal degrees. If you want a mixolydian flavor, lower the seventh scale degree B to B♭, and maintain a tonic of C.

There has to be other ways to emphasize a particular mode & bring outs its flavor, other than just beginning on a certain root (ie; starting the CMaj scale on E, would yield E phrygian)

No. Starting a C major scale on E is not a way to get the phrygian mode.

enter image description here

Both of those are simply a C major chord, in C major. The second example, with the scale starting on E, does absolutely nothing to change the mode. To make it sound phrygian we need some modal pitches to get E to sound not like the third scale degree of C major, but as the tonic of E phrygian. C major and E phrygian are seemingly the same set of pitches, but in a Renaissance modal style, the new pitch that will differentiate from C major turns out to be the G...

enter image description here

I've just recently read about "circling the root" of the mode? I guess this would mean to play the 7th & the 2nd often? Or alternate between 7-1, 1-2, 2-1, 1-7, etc.?

Yes, but that should be stated as "circling the tonic of the mode." Roots are the foundation of chords. Tonics are the foundation of modes. If we want to a show adding modal color from major to a mode, maintaining the same tonic, it might be easier to show with something like major to mixolydian, rather than the extreme of major to phrygian...

enter image description here

...that is sort of a folk or pop take on modal harmony.

If you did something similar from major to phrygian, it sounds pretty extreme...

enter image description here

There is an important mode mixture progression in classical harmony that should be mentioned, because you asked about phrygian mode, the Neapolitan N6 chord...

enter image description here

...notice the D in the treble part is natural, and so the mode is minor, until it gets to the D♭ in the N6 chord. Basically, the idea is when the subdominant (fourth scale degree, in this case F) is in the bass, instead of using C or D in the treble for either a iv or iio6 chord, a D♭ is used to get the modal color of phrygian, and create a strong chromatic enclosure around the tonic C.

If you want to play modally, without changing key signature, but shifting to the various "modal tonics" for a given key signature, I agree the 7-1-2 enclosure idea, the "circling the tonic" idea, will work. But, harmonically avoid playing a proper dominant/subdominant or any diminished chord. So, with a key signature of no sharps/flats, C major, the "modal tonics" you could target are D, E, F, G, A, play the triads for those tones, and the diatonic II, IV, or VII chords relative to them, excepting any of those chords that might be diminished...

Dm G  Dm    or    Dm C  Dm
Em Am Em    or    Em D  Em
F  G  F     or    F  Em F     (F C F too, just don't play B♭)
G  F  G     or    G  Dm G
Am G  Am    or    Am Em Am

...these choices are subjective, but you will find a lot of these progressions in modal folk music, depending on your rhythmic/melodic themes you could even get something that sounds like Satie or Debussy with those progressions.

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  • "to get a lydian flavor you must both raise the F to F# (raise the fourth scale degree to an augmented fourth above the tonic) and also you must _maintain C as the tonic": alternatively, you continue to use the same set of pitch classes (e.g., the notes of the C major scale) but you change the pitch center, using in this example F as the tonic.
    – phoog
    Sep 9, 2022 at 7:37
  • True. I tried to convey that in the rest of my answer. Sep 9, 2022 at 14:11
  • Absolutely. I probably wouldn't have added this nitpick were it not for the question's first sentence.
    – phoog
    Sep 9, 2022 at 15:25
  • Sure, but if we are nitpicking you cannot stay in the key C major and also be in F lydian, which IMO is the crux of the problem. If it had been stated as "let's maintain the key signature of zero sharps/flats, C major, D dorian, etc..." it might have been clearer what needed explaining. Sep 9, 2022 at 16:50
  • The OP wrote "bring out modal color" which I think would normally be understood as maintaining a tonic, altering modal degrees, but then the OP described changing tonics with incidental mode changes simply because the key signature was unchanged. I've not seen music, none I remember, that modulates like D dorian, E phrygian, F lydian, etc. I think it's a misunderstanding. I don't think they meant pandiatonicism. Modally-ambivalent-diatonicism maybe? It's hard to untangle concisely. Sep 9, 2022 at 16:58
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By playing a C major chord, it won't really matter which note you start on - and there are songs which start on every note of the C major scale with a C chord underneath - it will sound like we're in key C.

E Phrygian is essentially a minor 'key', so using Em underneath will help emphasise this. By visiting Em often - along with some E notes - you'll give more of a Phrygian feel. Of course you can use the other chords that are diatonic to E Phrygian (same as C major, but it's also important as to where those chords go. Beginnings and particularly endings of phrases are important, just like if you were in key C, ending phrases on chord C and/or chord tones, it would indicate we're in key C.

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