Progression: Music Theory 108 – Extended Harmonic Devices, Pivoting, and Planing

- Posted January 8th, 2018 by

Hey dudes and dudettes,

Tuberz here with both the first post of the year 2018 for the Chipwin Blog (!!!) and my eighth article in the realm of music theory. Christmas was great. New Years was dope. I ate far too much food and to even that out, I need to let a little bit of air out of my fat head. Last month we covered the idea of Time Signatures and debunking the myth surrounding its difficulty by breaking it down into twos and threes. As I’ve been covering music theory for eight months now, if you have difficulty at any point, don’t dismay! Just backtrack through my previous articles to help get your head around the theory concepts I’ll be discussing. This month I’m covering additional harmonic devices that you can use, including the idea of pivoting to other key areas, and the idea of diatonic and chromatic planing.

Let’s jam.

not that kind of planing… but perhaps this kind is more exciting

So how extended are we talking? Where do we extend to?

Harmony exists on many levels and is seemingly ever evolving. What I’m hoping to teach you today is a little bit of 1800’s romantic harmony that still lends itself to the music of today. I’ll be covering two similar concepts with the express purpose of creating drama, tension, and excitement in your music. It will help to propel motion towards the climax of your track(s).

Pivoting? To what/where/how/when/why?

The idea of pivoting to another key plays around the idea that if confined to one particular key, a piece of music can become stagnant and boring. Using the same 7 notes for 3 minutes can wear on the listener. One way to change things up and give some new excitement to your music is to veer into uncharted territory. Try out a new key/harmonic area. By navigating to a new key it can make the piece of music seem like it has navigated away from ‘home’ either temporarily… or for good. There is an element of uncertainty surrounding the context of the music. The real question is just how far you want to navigate away, how you want to navigate there, and when you want to navigate there. You might be familiar with the half step key change, which is a staple of pop and rock music. If your song is in the key of C Major, the final chorus will step up to C# Major. The reason this happens is because it has an uplifting feeling. It has ‘risen’ from its initial position.

C major has no sharps or flats, whereas C# Major has seven sharps. That’s quite a big difference, but because C and C# are a minor second apart it creates a closer relationship and helps bridge that gap. We can look at closely related keys in what’s called a key grid. The key grid contains six keys: The Tonic, The Dominant, The Subdominant, and the Relative Minor of all three of these previously mentioned keys. Why? Let’s look at an example.

You can see that the relative minor keys are on the bottom, whereas the major keys are on top. 

I [Tonic]: C Major: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C
IV [Subdominant]: F Major: F, G, A, B♭, C, D, E, F
V [Dominant]: G Major: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G

vi [Relative Minor of Tonic]: A minor: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A
ii [Relative Minor of Subdominant]: D minor: D, E, F, G, A, B♭, C, D
iii [Relative Minor of Dominant]: E minor: E, F#, G, A, B, C, D, E

Across all of these six keys, there is, at most, one different note. Navigating from C Major into G Major only requires the tension of an F# which is a relatively small number of notes to introduce, therefore transitioning to G Major is remarkably easier than transitioning to A♭ Major [A♭, B♭, C, D♭, E♭, F, G, A♭]. The number of differing notes from the tonic to the new key is directly relational with the tension or drama. There is one other thing to think about when transitioning into another key however and that is the concept of brightness and warmth. Brightness is quite often discussed in sound production and engineering as the higher frequency information, though dates back to composers like Scriabin talking about each key having a distinct colour, like paint. Warmth is more frequently associated with lower frequency information as the opposition of brightness. These can be boiled down to more sharps equals brighter, and more flats equals warmer. It’s not an exact science but it’s a decent metric to use when thinking about how far you want to modulate.

The final idea of HOW to modulate was covered in a previous article, but I’ll briefly revisit the concept. We need to give a strong bearing of the new key by introducing chords that are closely related to the new key area. This is highly assisted by using the Dominant chords (V and vii°) of the new key, and even Secondary Dominants to assist the strength and fluency of this modulation. As an example: moving from C Major to A♭ Major would require an E♭ 7 chord (E♭, G, B♭, D♭) prior to the A♭ Major as our new Tonic.

C, G, B♭, F / Fm, C7, A (1st inv), E♭7 / A♭ 

Each of these chords highlighted in green adds a flat to our harmony in a very slow fashion. The B♭ is added in the B♭ in bar 1, and the C7 and E♭7 in bar 2. The E♭ is added in the E♭7 in bar 2. The A♭ is added in the Fm in bar 2 (on the first beat too which gives it a lot of emphasis). The D♭ is added in an interesting way as the A Major chord is spelled (A, C#, E) but C# is enharmonically the same as D♭. I abused this somewhat to give a sense of D♭ to the chord progression, as well as something called a Neapolitan 6th (we’ll get to this later).

Planing? Are we talking International or Domestic?

Neither. We’re talking diatonic and chromatic. Planing is a really simple way to take an idea and give it a bit of additional movement. It’s shifting the notes of a passage up or down by a certain number of steps. For example, looking at our first passage (two bars) of Reformat the Planet as shown here:

We can take that same string of notes and shift it down a few notes to here:

The E minor and A minor of the consequent phrase now sounds sadder (or whatever) in case your format corrupted or something.

but we could also do this:

Yes, I know there’s a C♭. Yes, I hate myself. It’s traditionally correct if I’m showing the exact Chromatic Planing.

So how do these things differ? Easy. One is Diatonic and the other is Chromatic. What does that mean? Diatonic just means that I’m using notes from within the existing key and just using the general contour of the melody, whereas Chromatic means that I’m shifting the notes by their exact distance from each other. A minor second in Diatonic planing may become a major second by circumstance, but in Chromatic planing it will always stay as a minor second. This adds a little bit of a spice for your music if only for a bar or two. This effect is sometimes also called Sequencing (which funnily enough is where a Sequencer gets its name from) and can be used to great effect to stretch out small pockets of musical ideas. It should be noted that Chromatic planing carries tension, but far less than if it was not the same string of notes. The reason for this is that our ear has already heard the relationship between these notes, so it recognises the fact that this is a similar musical phrase.

Thanks so much for tuning into another fun music theory post with me. I look forward to checking out what you guys do with this knowledge! Once again, if you have questions, recommendations for topics, or even just want to share what you’ve learned, get in touch with me at tuberzmcgee (at) gmail (dot) com. I’m always happy to listen/read/help out. Tune in next month for more words and malarkey covering the topic of additional harmonic tricks that you can use to pivot into other seemingly unrelated chords.



Note: traducción al Español por Pixel_Guy encontrado aquí.

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