~ Three ~ 3 ~ the mediant ~

~ Phrgian mode ~ iii -7 ~ 3 6 2 5 1~

'the center pitch of the major tonality ...'

 

 

In a nutshell. Just like its bluesy minor third brother, the major third is also termed the mediant in legit theory circles. It is the essential pitch to making any of our components sound major. For the major 3rd interval or pitch in relation to a root pitch that is the key component to make any scale, arpeggio, chord, song, key etc., sound major. And of course it is the sweetness of a graciously sounded major third, really of all of our possible intervals, that not only can melt and fill our hearts with love but then lift our spirit of earthly trials from the darkest of darks towards the light who's brightness knows of no limits.

And as with each of our seven diatonic pitches, we build a now ancient mode on Three that we still today call the Phrygian mode, whose core spice immediatley brings to life our true Spanish / Flamenco essence, those deeply passionate pitches that resonate truly even when sounded on any plain old six stringer beater.

six string beater

Where in the music.We'll stylistically find the major third everywhere our songs are in a major key. From children's songs through folk, pop, rock, country, blues and jazz, the major third sets the tonality. With nine out of ten songs, or perhaps greater, written in a major key, we'll find the major third all over the American musical spectrum of sounds and styles. And anytime Hollywood needs the Spanish / Flamenco magic, Phrygian mode is the first 'go to' choice.

Where in history. This is a good question for sure. While we find the correct pitches to create the major third interval in both the Greek and medieval church modes, the oldest melody I know that we have a record of that clearly has our major third is Greensleeves. So surely from that point forward. So much of the music preserved from early eras was by the church. And we have a sense of the tonality of this early music from Gregorian chant. Gregorian chant is generally not in a major key.

Greensleeves of course would be secular or music of the world, not of the church. This would imply that the joyous nature of the major third and the major tonality was shared by all of the players outside of the church and sacred music in general. Think of the joyous nature of all of those fiddle tunes of the bluegrass cats. So much of that originates from the 1500's British Isles and ended up in the New World's eastern seaboard and Appalachia, becoming a giant root of the American folk tree.

wiki / Appalachia
wiki / old time fiddle tunes

A major third melody. Well, speaking of the joyous fiddle tunes and the nature of our major third, remember this classic melody ditty? Note that the first pitch in this arrangement is the major 3rd of the key center here as a pickup note into the line. Example 1.

key center
pick up note
wiki ~ Billy Boy

Additional melodies that start on Three. "Mary Had A Little Lamb", which Stevie Ray Vaughn cooked to perfection :) James Pierpont's "Jingle Bells" of course. John Coltrane's rollicking modulating extraveganza "Moments Notice" begins on the major 3rd. Also the Wolf/Landesman classic "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most." Both essential jazz tunes for sure. The bluegrass standard "Friend Of The Devil" by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, on and on and on.

Interval. The theoretical distance between One and Three in the major diatonic scale is a major third. This interval is two whole steps. Thinking C major, our pitches are the root C and E, a major 3rd above or two whole steps above. This is the major 3rd interval we find in any of our major chords. Example 1a.

Interval studies. Once our diatonic scales are mastered as whole steps and half steps, inspired players move on to the interval studies to help round out their melodic resource and vocabulary. Thirds are the next step in this evolution of our melodic resouce studies. In C major, one scale study in diatonic thirds. Example 1b.

Modern guitarist. For the emerging modern guitarist, there's a potential need to explore and possibly exhaust our 12 tone musical resource. The goal of this is termed here in Essentials as 'anything from anywhere.' Any scale, arpeggio, chord or lick from any of our 12 pitches over the range of the instrument. Tall order ? Absolutely, a career long endeavor of discovery and shedding. But even the longest journey begins with a first step. This last idea of permutating a major scale in diatonic 3rd's is such a first step one for the advancing guitarist.

Key center. As a key center, upon the third degree of the diatonic major scale we locate the Phrygian mode. Overall minor in its tonality, Phrygian is the core guitar color that creates the Spanish / Flamenco sounds often filtered into the American musical fabric. Examine the pitches of E Phrygian as extracted from the pitches of the C major / diatonic scale. Another essential scale created from within a scale? You guessed it. Example 2.

scale degrees
root
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
scale formula
.
1
1
1/2
1
1
1
1/2
major / Ionian
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
scale formula
.
1/2
1
1
1
1/2
1
1
minor / Phrygian
E
F
G
A
B
C
D
E

Phrygian melody. Please do notice how we've simply reshaped our core scale formula to create the Phrygian grouping by simply moving the first two whole step intervals to the end of the group. This allows for the Phrygian group to begin with its character half step interval.

A second quite common historical aspect of this group is that the chords used to support Phrygian minor melodies are very often major triads built upon the first three pitches of the mode. So sort of a 'Phrygian rub?' Like the 'blues rub?' Yep, exactly. Example 2a.

The sound is built right into the pitches. The beginning half step so very often gives the mode away. Do notice the G# in the first chord of the example just above. It's surely not diatonic but often essential in creating the Phrygian feel. All depends on the line.

Also, do try this chordal idea without the barre for the F and G chords and let the open strings ring out. Flamenco wizards such as De Lucia often strum using the tops of the nails on their strumming hands very very rapidly. Also try brushing or fanning the fingers down and drag the thumb nail back up for a counter rhythm.

wiki ~ Paco De Lucia
classical VIDEO

Harmony. Leaving our discussion of the Phrygian mode for now, let's get back to our discussion of all things diatonic Three. The chord built on the third degree of the diatonic major scale, our Three chord, is at its core a minor triad. It plays an important role in most of the American styles. Example 3.

Man that open E minor is one potent group of pitches. These two chords are close in the arpeggio of course, one pitch away really. Example 3a.

arpeggio degrees
root
3
5
7
E minor
.
E
G
B
C major
C
E
G
.

A slight variation creates another classic motion. This next idea simply rearranges the last two chords and adds one more. Here we start on One, move to Three on our way to Four. Example 3a.

Telling stories. The chord progression in this last idea is the core motion of a song titled "The Weight", by a musical group known as The Band. If your musical interests are anywhere in the folk, gospel, blues or rock direction, learn this tune. These are also cool chords in a reggae feel. Just a nice solid, non dominant loop that easy cycles and cyles right along. Great for telling a story, just might need a 8 bar bridge with a V7 to bring it around. Hmm ... got a hook for this one?

wiki ~ "The Weight"
wiki ~ The Band

Three / Six / Two / Five / One. Well thanks in part to our Baroque brethren, we have what we often call 'cycles of chords.' The following idea is one of these cycling critters. The Three / Six / Two / Five / One chord progression is an essential cycle of fourths motion that while sometimes found in pop music, it's mostly a jazz event. Thinking C major is our key, let's examine the following table of scale degrees, pitches and the ever handy cycle of 5th's picture and locate this sequence of pitches. Example 4.

scale degrees
1 / root
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
C major pitches
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C

From the chart we determine that the pitches represented by the numbers Three / Six / Two / Five / One motion in C major are E, A, D, G and C. The pitch E is Three, A is Six etc.We're simply replacing the numbers with corresponding letters according to key. Finding the letter name E on our cycle of 5th's keyclock, we simply work our way back couterclockwise to our tonic pitch C. Jazz artists might know this as backpedaling. Here are the pitches. Example 4a.

Building our diatonic triads on each of these pitches, we evolve the following chord progression. Example 4b.

"It's all just 3/6/2/5." As a wannabe student of Wendy Williamson decades ago here in Anchorage, Alaska, I heard this quote a number of times. Mr. Williamson, with his good humor and incredible piano playing, could and often would elevate or reduce everything into this root motion and chord progression. Years later it became a core link in how I came to understand the evolution of American harmony.

In using just the Three / Six / Two / Five, we gain a cycle of chords beloved of the jazzers, whom will often use the motion as an intro / outro or vamp for extending tunes or warming up. Once we evolve past just using the diatonic pitches, especially in making Six and Five dominant chord types by adding their tritone within, it's pretty much game on in regards to substitutions, endless ways to reshape the motion through exploration and its effect on the art being created.

endless ways to reshape

art

In the minor tonality. Our Three chord in the minor tonality is diatonically a major triad. Defaulting to our root pitch of A and the diatonic natural minor grouping of pitches, examine the pitches as we extract its Three chord. Example 5.

scale degrees
root
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
minor scale formula
.
1
1/2
1
1
1/2
1
1
A minor
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A
A minor arpeggio
A
C
E
G
B
D
F
A
Three chord
.
C
E
G
.
.
.
.

Easy do yes ? Cool with extracting the pitches from the scale to create the chord? Ok with the spelling of chords? How our scales become arpeggios and arpeggios become chords? Cool. If not, I'll be honored to be the one to hip you to the changes :)

A fairly common cycle of chords. This next idea starts us out on the minor One chord then uses the three major triads within our key center to close up the loop. Example 5a.

the diatonic 3 and 3
loops
perfect closure

Cool ? Extra push to minor with the augmented 5th of the V7, that one pitch tritone in relation to our tonic center pitch 'A.'

+5 aug. 5th
a one pitch tritone

Review. So we've a few solid and essential ideas surrounding Three. The major and minor triads and of course it's Phrygian mode, which goes way back in our histories. There's the '3 / 6 / 2 / 5' motions, so very common in popular Americana songs. A common turnaround, we can alter this motion and begin our historical evolutions towards the evential chromaticism and free jazz of the middle 1960's.

"The drummer; he inspired me to play like no one else I have ever met.

Chet Baker
1
#1
b2
2
b3
3
4
#4
b5
5
#5
b6
6
b7
7
8
b9
9
#9
-10
10
11
#11
12
b13
13
b14
14
15
#15
Footnotes:

(1) Isacoff, Stuart. Temperament ... The Idea That Solved Music's Greatest Riddle, p. 40-42. USA Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 2001

(2)Aebersold, Jamey and Slone, Ken. The Charlie Parker Omnibook. New York: Atlantic Music Corp., 1978.