2

While improvising today, I discovered that you can create some quite cool, melancholic sounds by adding the tritone to a harmonic minor scale. For A minor, the resulting scale would be

A B C D D# E F G# A

I guess, I'm not the first one to discover this, which got me wondering, whether there was some kind of a name for it.

The two uses that I found were to either play around the fifth (like E F E D# E), or to use it in conjunction with the raised seventh of the harmonic scale.

Analyzing the scale, it occurred to me that the D# is actually the major seventh of the dominant chord, which makes the second use quite logical (major third and major seventh of the dominant chord).

Are there any better insights into the use of the tritone with a minor scale? And is there a name for it?

  • 1
    You've just discovered the "blue note". It's basically a combination of harmonic minor and blues hexatonic minor. – Pyromonk Jul 3 at 14:15
  • It is impossible to guess or reverse-engineer what you have played, through exchange of textual messages. Can you upload a recording somewhere? A whole world of different harmonic changes and songs can be done with the notes of the C major scale: C D E F G A B. Or the A minor harmonic scale A B C D E F G#. Adding a note or two does not make the world of possible musical things any smaller, it makes it even larger. :) – piiperi Jul 3 at 17:30
  • 1
    @piiperi That's exactly why I asked: I felt like I've stumbled across the tip of an iceberg, and I felt curious, how other, more musical people than me, have named that iceberg, and what other aspects they have discovered about it. I didn't want to narrow the scope of the question to the specific spike of ice that I saw sticking out of the water. And, no, I didn't record anything. I just stashed the general idea away in my brain, in the hope of being able to find other good uses and variations of it in the near future. – cmaster Jul 3 at 17:43
  • 1
    Well said, a tip of an iceberg! :) I suspect that you probably lack the necessary tools to see what the iceberg consists of - a huge variety of different harmonic turns that can be done with a set of notes as wide as what you listed. And the thing is - if you use the notes to play melodic lines, your imagination may accompany it with harmonic turns that use even notes outside the set of notes you listed. :) Even with the C major scale, depending on how you play it, your mind may imagine e.g. a D major chord, B major chord, E major or A major chord somewhere, even though they contain sharps. – piiperi Jul 3 at 17:48
  • I'll make an answer with an example of what I mean. – piiperi Jul 3 at 17:51
7

...A B C D D# E F G# A

Just the list of tones isn't enough to describe in a meaningful way what is happening. It could have various musical meanings.

  • D# could be a chromatic passing or neighbor tone.
  • D# could be the temporary leading tone of E, harmonically V/v

A lot depends on the harmonic context. Even if you have playing only a single melodic line there is usually an implied harmonic context. The harmonic context will really be the thing that informs us about what it could be called.

Even this... E F E D# E ...isn't really enough to say.

D# looks like a chromatic neighbor tone, but whatever you played before it could imply something else.

...use of the tritone with a minor scale

That wording sort of implies a harmonic tritone. If you aren't playing A and D# simultaneously or outlining A to D# in some way, that wording might be a bit misleading. At least for me I would be expecting to hear the discordant sound of a tritone. Just E F E D# E alone won't necessarily produce that tritone sound.


EDIT

An additional point occurred to me that I think is worth mentioning. Whether this tone is a raised ^4 or lowered ^5 scale degree it is an alteration of a tonal degree. (The tonal degrees are tonic ^1, subdominant ^4, and dominant ^5.) Glossing over some details, tonal music basically does not alter those degree, or those alterations signal a shift in tonal center. That can be contrasted with alterations to modal degrees like the submediant where such alterations don't change the tonal center but change the mode. For example, in minor a raised submediant gives the modal flavor of the Dorian mode.

In terms of what to call this particular tone we can first ask if a tonal shift if occurring. If not, then some sort of unessential, embellishment is the likely best description. I don't think that changes anything about my answer above, but it might help to point out the tonal degree alteration aspect.

There is one other possibility. This may be stretch, but given that the OP mentioned in comments...

The harmonic context was basically a constant alternation between the tonic minor (Am) and the dominant major (E). Just a simple improvisation

...an additional thing should be pointed out.

Let's take the list of tones and permute them to start on E:

[E F G# A] [B C (D)   E]
                    ^
                    D#
  • the square brackets denote tetrachords
  • the parenthesis on D natural mean either omit or treat an unessential
  • the arrow shows the addition of D# to the scale

If we treat the scale this way, we get two harmonic tetrachords and the scale becomes E double harmonic. If you play this scale on A, you would call it the fourth mode of the double harmonic scale. According to Wikipedia the fourth mode is the most common mode of the scale.

Strictly speaking the D natural should be skipped in order to really define the double harmonic. In which case we are dealing with an altered tonal degree.

  • The harmonic context was basically a constant alternation between the tonic minor (Am) and the dominant major (E). Just a simple improvisation :-) – cmaster Jul 3 at 15:01
  • What would be a better term for the added note if I'm not using it as a harmonic tritone (i.e. not sounding together with A, but rather like an addition to the scale, using it next to either D, E, or G#)? – cmaster Jul 3 at 15:05
  • What style is this: rock, classical, blues? G# and D#, like G# B D# or G# E D# E or something else? – Michael Curtis Jul 3 at 15:12
  • +1 for tha last sentence alone - in A minor , D# isn't a tritone. And with D and E either side, it won't be. Maybe put an A in..? – Tim Jul 3 at 16:00
  • @cmaster, I added some detail about alteration of D versus just simply adding D# – Michael Curtis Jul 5 at 13:10
5

Adding the D♯/E♭ into your playing isn't much to do with the harmonic (or any other) minor.

It's a flat 5 in blues, or a sharp 4 in jazz. Take your pick - especially if you're a guitarist..!

It's a note that's been used and used since the early 1900s, as so out of tune it sounds really good.Works just as well in major keys too.Since it's between the sub-dominant and the dominant notes in a diatonic situation, it doesn't really fall into either camp. Did the player mean to play a semitone higher, or a semitone lower? What the heck, it's sweet and sour!

2

You may have been doing many different things with the notes, depending on how you emphasized the notes in relation to a beat you heard in your mind. Maybe you just flirted with the blue note - maybe you played something "modal" ... but perhaps you were outlining chord changes with the notes you played. Maybe your playing lead yourself to imagine chord changes you weren't even outlining! With the notes listed you could arpeggiate e.g. an Am, Dm, F, E7 chord. Or a Dm6. Or maybe you just played an A note and imagined something like a Dm? It depends on many things. Extra things that can be done by adding a D# note are e.g. B7, which would be a "secondary dominant" for Am. Or an F7 which could be seen just as a bluesy IV chord for C, but perhaps a bit like a tritone substitute for B7.

I really can only guess what really happened with your improvisation, but here's an example of something that could be done with the notes. First there's just an improvised solo guitar line, trying to outline a melancholic progression. Then there's the same solo, but with piano and bass accompaniment.

Many chords of the accompaniment use notes outside the set you listed. But when it comes to melodies, what you play is not all you hear! :)

Like you said in your comment, you may have just found the tip of an iceberg. To develop a sensitivity for harmonic changes, and an understanding of what it is that you're painting with your improvised solos, I recommend learning to accompany songs with chords by ear. I, IV, V, etc. C - F - G - C. Am - Dm - B7 - E7 - Am, etc. In my honest opinion, knowing harmony so that you can recognize and improvise chord changes, and how the melody notes interact with the changes, is a key to musical playing that's missing from some young players these days. They want to "play scales" or modes, but don't have a hands-on understanding for functional harmony. New pop songs seem to use just pentatonic scales, which are ambivalent about harmonic turns. A pentatonic scale can be played almost anywhere without knowing what's happening with the chords, and on the other hand, a pentatonic melody can be quite freely accompanied with chords. But when you play these notes that you have in your set - B, F, D#, G# - not so! That's heavy stuff, it says something about possible harmonic changes. :)

  • Thanks a lot, that gives me some stuff to think about :-) – cmaster Jul 3 at 21:06
  • @cmaster The solo was meant to exaggerate the harmony aspect, and the accompaniment was some sort of a realization of the harmony I was thinking about when playing the solo. Other people will get different ideas. But the point is, when you play the important notes like D# strongly on a strong beat, it can alter the harmonic feeling almost like if you had played a whole chord. Practice it: record your solo, listen to it and try to find suitable accompaniment chords that highlight the nature of the solo. – piiperi Jul 3 at 21:41
  • @piiperi - wouldn't the chords come first in that sort of situation. If I noodle without them, they're always going through my mind - otherwise I don't know where I am, and it's aimless. – Tim Jul 4 at 6:46
  • @Tim that's exactly the question I was trying to bring up - the improviser should have some sort of a structural blueprint of what's happening, and the OP seemed to lack the harmonic aspect of it. He seemed to be trying to make sense of individual notes without considering what kinds of harmonic structures might be built from them. At least for me it works both ways - whatever I hear brings suitable chords and possible changes to my mind as it's happening, and I usually try to beef up the changes or redirect it somewhere. When I make mistakes, they feed the action-reaction loop just the same. – piiperi Jul 4 at 7:12
  • In this case I started with an idea of something like Московские окна by Tikhon Khrennikov, because the E-D#-E thing reminded me of how it starts, and because things like that allows doing B7-E7-Am movements as well as Am - E/G# - Am7/G - Am6/F# and Gm6/E - A7 - Dm, which I thought were examples of strong movements that could be - if not outlined - at least brought to mind with the given set of notes. – piiperi Jul 4 at 7:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.