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    "Sound Reasoning has been updated (August 2010) with a new set of lessons on hearing harmonies. Here is how the author describes the new materials: "Hearing Harmony" is an introductory course on […]"

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Hearing the Mode

Module by: Anthony Brandt. E-mail the author

Common Practice tonality is essentially a two-party system: Music is either in Major or in minor. Composers can blur the situation by shifting quickly between modes or blending them. But, with rare exceptions, these modes are the only alternatives.

A tonic cadence gives the strongest indication of the music’s mode. Recognizing cadences in in Major and minor will help you distinguish between them.

Major:

Minor:

Also learn to recognize the different scales of which each mode is comprised:

Major:

Minor:

There are other perceptual cues that aid in discriminating between the modes. Major and minor are often characterized differently. There is so much variety that any prescriptions are inevitably simplistic. Nevertheless, compared to music in Major, music in minor tends to be low, slow and constrained in register; or more frantic, tense and disjunct. Here are some prototypical examples of music in each mode:

Music in Major:

Music in minor:

You can use your emotional reactions to reinforce your aural analyses. In general, music in Major will provoke feelings of calm, triumph or joy, whereas music in minor will sound more subdued, aggressive, troubled or turbulent. Major is the mode of well-being; minor is the mode of distress.

Thus, learning to recognize the difference between Major and minor involves more than ear training. It engages mind training and feeling training: Evaluate the musical character and your emotional responses; these, along with analyses of the cadences and scales, will help you master this crucial distinction.

The exercises that follow are designed to increase your facility in distinguishing between music in Major and minor.

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Lenses

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Musical Examples
  1. Johann Sebastian Bach, Chorale 'Gloria sei dir gesungen' from Cantata No. 140, The Bach Ensemble, Joshua Rifkin, conductor
  2. Johann Sebastian Bach, Chorale 'Herr, ich glaube, hilf mir Schwachen' from Cantata No. 78, The Bach Ensemble, Joshua Rifkin, conductor
  3. Johann Sebastian Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G-Major, New London Consort
  4. Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 5, 'Finale', Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell, conductor
  5. Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Passion, Collegium Vocale, Philippe Herreweghe, conductor
  6. Johann Sebastian Bach, Two-part Invention in d-minor, Peter Serkin, piano
  7. Franz Schubert, Quartet in d-minor, 'Death and the Maiden', Budapest String Quartet
  8. Johann Sebastian Bach, Chorale 'Jesu bleibet meine Freude' from Cantata No. 147, The Bach Ensemble, Joshua Rifkin, conductor
  9. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 21 in C-Major, 'Elvira Madigan,' - II, Murray Perahia, piano, English Chamber Orchestra
  10. Hector Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique - IV, Boston Symphony, Charles Munch, conductor
  11. Arnold Schoenberg, Verklarte Nacht, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Pierre Boulez, conductor
  12. Johann Sebastian Bach, Concerto for harpsichord in d-minor, I, Antonio Janigro and I Solisti di Zagreb
  13. Ludwig Van Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 - II, Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell, conductor
  14. Frederic Chopin, Waltz in a-minor, Opus Post., Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano
  15. Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 8 in c-minor, Vienna Philharmonic, Pierre Boulez, conductor
Johann Sebastian Bach, Chorale 'Gloria sei dir gesungen' from Cantata No. 140, The Bach Ensemble, Joshua Rifkin, conductor (0:15)
Johann Sebastian Bach, Chorale 'Gloria sei dir gesungen' from Cantata No. 140, The Bach Ensemble, Joshua Rifkin, conductor (0:15)
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L'Osideau Lyre
Johann Sebastian Bach, Chorale 'Herr, ich glaube, hilf mir Schwachen' from Cantata No. 78, The Bach Ensemble, Joshua Rifkin, conductor (0:12)
Johann Sebastian Bach, Chorale 'Herr, ich glaube, hilf mir Schwachen' from Cantata No. 78, The Bach Ensemble, Joshua Rifkin, conductor (0:12)
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L'Osideau Lyre
Johann Sebastian Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G-Major, New London Consort (0:08)
Johann Sebastian Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G-Major, New London Consort (0:08)
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L'osideau Lyre
Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 5, 'Finale', Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell, conductor (0:09)
Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 5, 'Finale', Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell, conductor (0:09)
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Sony Classical
Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Passion, Collegium Vocale, Philippe Herreweghe, conductor (0:07)
Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Passion, Collegium Vocale, Philippe Herreweghe, conductor (0:07)
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Harmonia Mundi
Johann Sebastian Bach, Two-part Invention in d-minor, Peter Serkin, piano (0:10)
Johann Sebastian Bach, Two-part Invention in d-minor, Peter Serkin, piano (0:10)
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RCA Victor
Franz Schubert, Quartet in d-minor, 'Death and the Maiden', Budapest String Quartet (0:15)
Franz Schubert, Quartet in d-minor, 'Death and the Maiden', Budapest String Quartet (0:15)
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CBS Masterworks MOK 45969
Johann Sebastian Bach, Chorale 'Jesu bleibet meine Freude' from Cantata No. 147, The Bach Ensemble, Joshua Rifkin, conductor (0:20)
Johann Sebastian Bach, Chorale 'Jesu bleibet meine Freude' from Cantata No. 147, The Bach Ensemble, Joshua Rifkin, conductor (0:20)
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L'Osideau Lyre
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 21 in C-Major, 'Elvira Madigan,' - II, Murray Perahia, piano, English Chamber Orchestra (0:32)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 21 in C-Major, 'Elvira Madigan,' - II, Murray Perahia, piano, English Chamber Orchestra (0:32)
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Hector Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique - IV, Boston Symphony, Charles Munch, conductor (0:26)
Hector Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique - IV, Boston Symphony, Charles Munch, conductor (0:26)
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RCA RD86210(2)
Arnold Schoenberg, Verklarte Nacht, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Pierre Boulez, conductor (0:31)
Arnold Schoenberg, Verklarte Nacht, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Pierre Boulez, conductor (0:31)
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Sony Classical 48 465
Johann Sebastian Bach, Concerto for harpsichord in d-minor, I, Antonio Janigro and I Solisti di Zagreb (0:21)
Johann Sebastian Bach, Concerto for harpsichord in d-minor, I, Antonio Janigro and I Solisti di Zagreb (0:21)
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Pro Arte Records
Ludwig Van Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 - II, Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell, conductor (0:35)
Ludwig Van Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 - II, Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell, conductor (0:35)
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Sony Classical 89832
Frederic Chopin, Waltz in a-minor, Opus Post., Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano (0:24)
Frederic Chopin, Waltz in a-minor, Opus Post., Vladimir Ashkenazy, piano (0:24)
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London
Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 8 in c-minor, Vienna Philharmonic, Pierre Boulez, conductor (0:17)
Anton Bruckner, Symphony No. 8 in c-minor, Vienna Philharmonic, Pierre Boulez, conductor (0:17)
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Deutsche Grammophon