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Thread: modes... what's a "tension"

  1. #1
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    modes... what's a "tension"

    when speaking in terms of modes what IS a tension?

  2. #2
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    I think this site may answer your question:
    Click here I quote from the article:
    ........You are not completely restricted to the notes of the scale, however. As with ii-V progressions, there are some devices that you can use in a modal setting to add tension. One of the most popular of such devices is called sideslipping........
    Last edited by Malcolm; 01-29-2006 at 08:34 AM.

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    most tensions are a half step away from a chord tone. It's easy to play this on a piano, a little more difficult on a guitar.

    play a Cm chord, then play a Db over top. That's a tension because it's a half step away from the root. C Phrygian has a Db and that would be a tension in Phrygian. Play that same Cm chord and play an Ab. The Ab is a half step above the 5th. Ab is in C aeolian and C phrygian.

    Write out all your major modes in the key of C: C ionian, C dorian, C phrygian etc etc and look for notes that are a half step away from the chord tones. Those are the notes that have the most tension.

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    It usually has to be half-step away from an important note in that mode. For example, the tension created by the minor seventh for the major sixth (so we resolute to major sixth) in Mixolydian isn't that fine. The note that creates the tension has to be a lot less important than the note we wish to resolute to. VII - I half step is a good example for Ionian.

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    Quote Originally Posted by silent-storm
    most tensions are a half step away from a chord tone.
    but it doesnt have to be a half step away it can be a 9th above and be tension 9. Tensions usually resolve in the chord progession

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    true, but modern music has come to a point where notes like the 9th and 6th don't really have to resolve. That's why I tend to think of these as colour rather then tension. They are notes that can be added completely arbitrarily without much thought to where they are going. Yes, technically if you were to add a 6th to a minor chord, or in the dorian mode, that is a tension because if it goes to the V chord it's the leading tone, thus takes some of the cadential energy away from the V...but really that doesn't mean anything anymore, even if it is technically an 'avoid' note, thus a tension. I tend to think of tensions as notes that have to resolve, such as a b9 on a V chord. A natural 9 doesn't really have to resolve in order to sound correct.

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    In minor, the major 9th is a tension for the minor 3rd. In major, it doesn't really sound like a tension (unlike the minor/major 7th), it just makes for a different sound. Of course, this doesn't hold true if the 9th is used as a 2nd, so it depends on the voicing of the chord.

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