Friday, August 28, 2015

Transposing from Major to Phrygian (Rakes of Mallow in Ionian and Phrygian)

Most fiddle tunes are either in Ionian (AKA the major scale, mode 1), Dorian (AKA "modal", AKA "minor", mode 2) or Mixolydian (AKA "modal", mode 5), and sometimes Aeolian (AKA "minor", mode 6).  You don't see many in Phrygian (mode 3), Lydian (mode 4) or Locrian (mode 7), if at all. So, I wondered what it would sound like to transpose* a tune from major/Ionian - the most common and normal sounding of all keys - to Phrygian - a weird, exotic minor mode.

*Is there a more proper term than "transpose" for when you move a melody from one mode to another?

For this experiment I chose the Irish tune Rakes of Mallow because a) it's in the key of G, b) it's a relatively simple tune and c) it was the first tune I thought of!  To do this I had to get the music theory part of my brain working.  I knew that Phrygian was the mode starting on the 3rd note of the major scale, so in other words the G-major scale from B to B (B-C-D-E-F#-G-A-B) would be B-Phrygian.
Rakes of Mallow in G-major
Rakes of Mallow in G-Phrygian
I then made note of those intervals and transposed from B-Phrygian to G-Phrygian.  Those notes are G-Ab-Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G. (FYI: these are the same notes as the Eb-major scale starting on its 3rd note).  I suppose another way of looking at it is, to go from Ionian to Phrygian you flatten the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th notes of the major scale.  I already had Rakes of Mallow written out in mandolin tab in G-major.  Based on that, I wrote it out in G-Phrygian, making sure to convert every A to Ab, every B to Bb, every E to Eb and every F# to F.  Those mandolin tab transcriptions are included above.

Another interesting thing to point out is how the chords changed.  Knowing that the G-Phrygian mode is really just the Eb-major scale starting on its 3rd note, I know that the G-Phrygian mode would use the exact same chords as the Eb-major scale.  (The I chord in Phrygian is the III chord in Major, the II chord in Phrygian is the IV chord in Major, and so on).  Using that logic, I think I wrote out the correct chords in the G-Phrygian version of Rakes of Mallow.

Rakes of Mallow is easy to play in G-major but very difficult and unusual feeling in G-Phrygian, partly because on a tenor banjo in the Irish tuning of GDAE you don't get to use any open strings when playing this melody in G-Phrygian.  (I bet if I had put it in B-Phrygian it would have been much easier because those are the same notes as the G-major scale).  But, I will say that by putting it in the Phrygian mode - with its half step between the 1st and 2nd notes of its scale - the tune takes on an almost Greek or Klezmer sound.

Listen and see what you think!


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