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I am learning music theory for fun and I am trying to understand different modes. I saw this video by David Bennett where he talked about how you can flatten an additional note in the Locrian mode to create a "Super-Locrian" mode.

This got me thinking, what would happen if we kept going and flattened everything? All that's left to flatten is the root note. However, when we flatten the root we just return to the major scale, starting on a lower note. So for C Super-Locrian, flattening the C just gives us B major. Flattening the root for the other modes seems to create a pattern:

If you start with C Super Locrian, flattening the root creates B major.

If you start with C Locrian, flattening the root creates B Lydian.

If you start with C Phrygian, flattening the root creates B Super-Lydian aka B Lydian augmented.

If you start with C Aeolian (C Minor), flattening the root creates a scale with the intervals 3H-H-W-W-H-W-H. I don't know what this is called and I couldn't find anything about it online, so maybe someone here can help me figure out what it is. It's like B Lydian Augmented, but the second degree is raised a half-step. It sounds dissonant, but not as dark and creepy as B Super-Locrian. Following the pattern as we have gone form major to Lydian to Super-Lydian, would this be B Super-Super-Lydian? B Hyper-Lydian?

Let's keep going. If you start with C Dorian, flattening the root creates a scale with the intervals 3H-H-W-W-W-H-H. B Triple-Super-Lydian? It sounds similar to the previous one.

Next, C Mixolydian. Flatten the C and we get the intervals 3H-W-H-W-W-H-H. Quadruple-Super-Lydian?

Finally, C major. I suppose the pattern stops here because we already have a B in the scale, so lowering the C to a B no longer creates 7 intervals. In other words, starting with B major, if we try to sharpen everything, we can't because sharpening the 7th just gives us the root.

My question is what are these modes or scales called (if they are even considered modes at all), and are there examples of them being used in music? Can they be useful or am I just arbitrarily creating weird-sounding intervals when I try to go beyond Lydian Augmented?

  • Generally, it's not considered "kosher" to have more than a whole step between steps in the scale. There are synthetic modes that may have more than 7 notes or fewer than 7 notes (e.g., the whole tone scale or the two diminished scales, whole-half and half-whole). – Don Hosek May 20 at 1:50
  • It's a strange interval, but I have found examples on Wikipedia of the 3H interval. Looking at this page, there are plenty of examples of scales with a 3H. In fact, what I just noticed while scrolling through that list is that my "Super-Super-Lydian" scale has the same sequence of intervals as the Harmonic Major Scale, except it starts on the sixth. The usual modes are formed by starting on a different scale degree in the major scale, so maybe doing that with the harmonic major scale produces a new set of modes? – txcy May 20 at 2:06
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    @DonHosek interesting that you should use the adjective "kosher" when middle eastern music is one of the most prominent of the traditions that are evoked by scales with augmented seconds. – phoog May 20 at 4:56
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    That 3H interval is very common - it appears in every harmonic minor scale, between notes 6 and 7. – Tim May 20 at 7:40
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    @phoog, yeah ironic! The Klezmer scale uses an augmented 2nd. I'm gonna say that's Kosher. – Michael Curtis May 20 at 13:53
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As you've probably guessed, adding flats to existing scales isn't exactly the "standard" approach to constructing/discovering new scales. But as a teacher, I really like it when students explore theory through experimentation, because there are patterns in music. Often, repeating a somewhat arbitrary pattern enables you to "derive" existing musical devices in a new way. You've chanced upon many interesting sounds here, and while some of the scales you've mentioned are more obscure than others, most of them are equivalent to named scales and can be derived by other means. I will focus on supplying you with those names (the ones I know, at least) and suggesting how some of these scales can be applied to modern functional harmony.

For starters, recall that the C superlocrian scale can also be called the C altered scale or the C diminished whole-tone scale. The former name comes from the fact that the scale contains a C dominant chord with all the alterations: C7♭9♯9♯11♭13, or simply C7alt. The latter name comes from viewing it as the concatenation of a diminished scale (WHWHWHWH, 8 notes per octave) and a whole-tone scale (WWWWWW, 6 notes per octave). The altered scale can also be viewed as the seventh mode of the melodic minor. In this case, the C altered scale is (enharmonically) equivalent to the C♯ harmonic minor scale.

So, we have four names for this scale, which amount to four different derivations of it, all of which are valid and can help explain its characteristics and functional properties in their own way. In my opinion, the name "superlocrian" is actually the least descriptive of the four, because (to my knowledge) we don't use labels like sublydian, superaeolian, or what have you to refer to other scales. But it's worth knowing, even if only to inspire theoretical exercises like the one you've undertaken here.

By the same token, your first two scales

If you start with C Super Locrian, flattening the root creates B major.

If you start with C Locrian, flattening the root creates B Lydian.

amount to alternative derivations of known modes, as you have already identified.

If you start with C Phrygian, flattening the root creates B Super-Lydian aka B Lydian augmented.

I would argue that the simplest name for this is the third mode of the G♯ melodic minor scale. This could therefore be used over G7alt, Bmaj7♯5, or any other chord derived from the melodic minor.

If you start with C Aeolian (C Minor), flattening the root creates a scale with the intervals 3H-H-W-W-H-W-H.

I would call this the sixth mode of the E♭ harmonic major scale. Its most common use case will be in the key of E♭ major, when you have a minor IV chord, especially A♭min(maj7). It could also be used over B♭7♭9 and D°7, both of which have dominant functions in the key of E♭ major, or over dominant chords like G7♭9 in a C minor context.

(There's nothing intrinsically wrong with an augmented second in a scale. We have one between the ♭6 and ♮7 in the harmonic minor scale with no issue. In freshman theory, you are often taught to avoid having a single voice sing a step of an augmented second because it's hard to land in tune. But this can be accomplished by choosing good voicings and doesn't preclude the use of the harmonic minor scale itself.)

If you start with C Dorian, flattening the root creates a scale with the intervals 3H-H-W-W-W-H-H. B Triple-Super-Lydian? It sounds similar to the previous one.

Now we're getting into more obscure territory. I would say the unusual thing about this scale is, rather than the presence of the augmented second, the presence of two half steps in a row (between the notes A, B♭, and C♭). While I don't have a name for it, this is the scale I would play over the chord B♭maj7♭9. That is a highly unusual chord, but it can have a dominant function in an E♭ blues tonality when used with care. I wrote about the maj7♭9 sound here, if you're interested.

Next, C Mixolydian. Flatten the C and we get the intervals 3H-W-H-W-W-H-H. Quadruple-Super-Lydian?

Wow! I've got no dice here. But my impression of this scale is that it looks a lot like D dorian with the seventh omitted and passing tone inserted between the fifth and sixth degrees. I would most likely play this over a Dmin6 chord, or perhaps Bmin7♭5, where C is an "avoid" note.


As a general comment, I think you'd find it worthwhile to explore the chord qualities associated with the modes of the melodic and harmonic minor scales. There are many interesting sounds there, some of which appear in the scales you've derived in your question.

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  • Very comprehensive (if advanced!) answer. +1. I'm incredulous that it's deemed hard to land in tune singing an aug.2. To me, that's like singing m3, say root to m3, or M3 to P5, or P5 to m7, or so many others. What's the problem? – Tim May 20 at 13:17
  • The issue has to due with temperament. If you think of this +2 as being the same "distance" as other m3 leaps, you won't land in the right spot, because in a harmonic minor context, that +2 leap is taking you to the leading tone, which is the major 3 of the V7 chord (not the m3 of a minor chord or the 5 of a major chord) and needs to be sung slightly flat to get it in tune. This won't be any problem for a good singer, but that's the reasoning behind the rule, and also helps explain why we have different names for enharmonically equivalent intervals in the first place. – Max May 21 at 6:59
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    Thanks for that. I don't believe many (any?) good singer will consciously consider the subtle pitch difference between m3 and +2. They'll just pitch it right. I did for decades before I discovered the technical difference. Not sure I agree with the last sentence. It's a technical thing - note names and distances. – Tim May 21 at 7:18
  • You're preaching to the choir (no pun intended)--I think pitching notes correctly is the singer's responsibility, not the composer's, and I'm baffled by many of the classical voice-leading rules that claim to exist for singers' comfort. But note that when our system of interval names was developed, AFAIK equal temperament hadn't taken hold yet and there was a quantitative difference between a m3 and a +2. (Counterpoint: there was also a difference between all of the various P5s and P4s but we don't have separate names for those.) This distinction has been revived in e.g. 17TET where D# =/= Eb. – Max May 21 at 7:29
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I think you may want to start with understanding "mode" means "mode of a scale" or "rotation of a scale."

If you change the starting note of a diatonic scale (rotate through the letters of the gamut) you get the "modes" of the diatonic scale...

CDEFGABC   1st mode 
 DEFGABCD  2nd mode
  EFGABCDE 3rd mode
   ...etc. etc.

The modes of the diatonic scale (or the major scale) are well known and have names. The second mode of the scale is "Dorian", the third mode is "Phrygian", and so on.

You can take the modes of any scale. It's common in jazz to use the modes of the ascending melodic minor scale. For example, the "altered" scale is the seventh mode of melodic minor. The Klezmer scale is the fifth mode of harmonic minor.

Sometimes that modes have names as distinct scales. Like the Klezmer scale. Some have a name that just makes a close match to a mode with a modifier, like the second mode of melodic minor is Dorian flat 2. If there isn't a well known name, just give the base scale and mode number.

you can flatten an additional note in the Locrian mode to create a "Super-Locrian" mode. ...This got me thinking, what would happen if we kept going and flattened everything?

There is something funny about that.

"Super Locrian" is another name for "altered scale" which is another name for "seventh mode of ascending melodic minor."

The funny thing is Locrian is diatonic, but ascending melodic minor is not. Depending on how the flats are added you can move through all the diatonic modes. Starting with a major scale flatten the seventh and then continue in perfect fifths.

C  D  E  F♯ G  A  B  C  Lydian

...we could start with a C Lydian scale, as above, 
but for simplicity start with C Ionian, all naturals...

C  D  E  F♮ G  A  B  C  Ionian
C  D  E  F  G  A  B♭ C  Mixolydian
C  D  E♭ F  G  A  B♭ C  Dorian
C  D♭ E♭ F  G  A♭ B♭ C  Phrygian
C  D♭ E♭ F  G♭ A♭ B♭ C  Locrian

C♭ D♭ E♭ F  G♭ A♭ B♭ C♭ Lydian

...enharmonically re-spell C♭ Lydian to B Lydian...

B  C♯  D♯  E♯  F♯  G♯  A♯  B

(Theoretically you can loop through the gamut of letters endlessly in that way usings sharps to ascend and flats to descend, but you need to use double, triple, etc accidentals to keep repeating the loop. It's theoretically possible, but not practical. It ends up enharmonically repeating the same 12 things.)

The point is the various modes of the diatonic scale will remain diatonic if you apply the flats in a series of fifths. But making Super Locrian from Locrian doesn't follow that pattern of flattening by fifths, which would add the flat on the tonic and produce a Lydian scale. Instead it flattens the fourth degree, and that breaks out of the diatonic pattern creating the pattern of ascending melodic minor.

I think the reason this works in diatonic is because all the diatonic tones can be re-arranged as a series of ascending perfect fifths. Melodic minor ascending cannot be rearranged as a series of perfect fifths. You can flatten notes systematically in the diatonic scale, but it won't work that way with other scales. You may get other known scales, but not necessarily is a systematic way.

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