The Architecture of Music

Modes

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

The Relationship Between Negative Chords and Inverse Modes

Since the Suspended Pentatonic is a symmetrical scale its modes inverse about mirror lines. With inverse modes, every chord that can be played with a mode are all negative chords with the chords that can be played with that mode’s inverse. This occurs in a very exacting manner and even add variations are negative chords with inverse modes. Dashed connection lines have been added connecting the negative chords of inverse modes indicating this negative chord relationship. With symmetrical modes, the negative chords are found within the mode itself as can be seen in the 1st mode. And the 2nd mode’s missing root position chords are mirrored in that mode’s inverse, the 5th mode, as the missing 2nd inversions.

Symmetrical scales give us a way to explore negative harmony in music. Since most scales are imperfect and asymmetrical as explained in the scales portion of this website, symmetrical scales are rare, unique, and allow for negative harmony exploration within a single scale. The Dorian scale is also symmetrical. Traditional music theory considers the Dorian to be a minor mode since the minor chord can be played with it and the major chord cannot. However, since the Dorian is symmetrical just as the Suspended Pentatonic or 1st mode below is, the mode is actually neither major or minor which describes a mode as either ascending or descending around the circle of fifths. Symmetrical modes are just that, symmetrical, and neither ascend nor descend around the circle of fifths and thus are not major or minor. They are the symmetrical balancing mode of all the other modes and in concept are the tonic or tonal center of all the other modes since they are centered among the other modes harmonically around the circle of fifths. This idea is in contrast to traditional theory which considers the tonic to be either major or minor.

Negative Chords and Inverse Modes

Negative chords, negative harmony, and negative composition are relatively new concepts to music theory and symmetrical scales allow us to explore these concepts in a song using a single scale. Some basic ideas on negative harmony consider the major chord to be positive as it ascends around the circle of fifths and the minor chord to be negative as it descends around the circle of fifths. While the specifics of ascending and descending chords, harmony, and composition have yet to be clearly defined in music theory, as can be seen above, it is obvious some modes ascend and some modes descend around the circle of fifths. In the case of the 5th mode, it completely ascends and no 2nd inversions can be played with it. And the opposite is true of the 2nd mode which completely descends and no root position chords can be played with it.

I don’t want to set any rules about negative harmony, negative composition, or which chords are considered positive or negative. However, in general, some modes and the chords that can be played with them describe ascending around the circle of fifths and some modes and the chords that can be played with them describe descending around the circle of fifths. And symmetrical modes balance between the ascending and descending modes. If people are already composing music based on the chords possible to play with each mode then just by the nature of the modes as either ascending or descending they are describing positive and negative composition. We could of course go deeper into negative composition and explore negative chords and inverse modes. How you choose to explore these concepts in composition is up to you. The scale encylopedia in the book notes mirror lines and points out inverse modes.