What it is about

Bell ringing.

Written for grandson Onni to celebrate his arrival in the world.

How it was written

An eclectic mix of modal rock, chromatic harmony, and bells.

Whats going on?

Carillonning idea
Carillonning idea

This intriguing chord progression inspired the piece. It was recorded long ago in the 1970s but it was not until it was notated and analysed many years later that it yielded up its secrets.

The key is not immediately obvious. It might be D, because note D appears in every bar. However, the Bb6 chord does not form part of the D major or D minor scales. It might be G minor, since Bb6 is enharmonic with Gm7, but again, the chords do not fit either the G melodic or the G harmonic minor scales. Closer examination of the second and third chords provides some clues. The A7sus4 chord does not contain a third, so it could be a major or a minor chord. Similarly, the last chord, ADAD, is a power chord with doubled notes and it too contains no third and could be major or minor. One possible interpretation is Bb6-Am7sus4-Dm, which represents IV6-iii7sus4-vi in the key of F major.

This is progress. Yet F does not sound like the tonic. Could it be a relative key, one of the modes perhaps? And that is the answer. The progression works nicely as bIII6-ii7sus4-v in G dorian, and bVI6-v7sus4-i in D aeolian, both of which are relatives of F major. Conclusion: the piece is modal.

Plain hunt and bob

This is the opening salvo of bells in the piece: a plain hunt minimus in A. Plain hunt is the simplest of all bell ringing methods and minimus means it uses the minimum number of bells, which is four. Later on there is a slightly more complicated plain bob minimus in D and, at the end, a jazzy sounding arpeggiated G6/9 chord on five bells tuned GBEAD.

Bells are great. Trouble is, they do not like playing with other instruments and dominate proceedings if left to their own devices. The solutions are to programme your own bell, add a percussive amplitude envelope with a short tail to each bell so it does not resonate indefinitely, and reduce the overall volume significantly in the final mix.

Puzzle harmony

Carillonning chromaticism
Carillonning chromaticism

Puzzles are a great way to extend skills. Bach used to write puzzle canons for fun and there is a similar puzzle in the middle of this piece: how to harmonise the chromatic scale?

The solution shown in the lead sheet combines the techniques of chromatic melodic motion and parallel key modulation. The melody contains all the notes in the chromatic scale grouped into clusters of three notes a semitone apart. Since none of the common scales include two successive semitones this ensures the harmony is chromatic and has to change key. The actual chords are freely plundered from keys parallel to G. The progression is unusual but not atonal since the tonic note, G, remains the same throughout. The nonmodal diminished scale and whole tone scale are used later in the piece to spice things up, and polyrhythm makes the whole thing even more interesting, some parts are in 4/4 and others are in 6/8.

The best thing about parallel modulation is that it frees up chord progressions. No longer are you tied to the familiar I-IV-V and i-iv-V progressions, instead you can use the novel mixolydian I-IV-v, or modulate from one mode to another to create unusual progressions such as I-ivo-v-i from lydian to aeolian.

The treatment of chromaticism in music theory is more than a little convoluted. The techniques are largely unrelated and the terminology befogs more than it illuminates. To illustrate the point, here is a final puzzle you might like to try on a dark winters night: "How many of the following terms, commonly used in chromaticism, can you decipher?"

  1. acciaccatura
  2. altered chord
  3. appoggiatura
  4. borrowed chord
  5. chromatic auxiliary chord
  6. glissando
  7. modal interchange
  8. mordent
  9. Neapolitan sixth
  10. passing chord
  11. polychord
  12. secondary dominant
  13. trill
  14. tritone substitution
  15. turn

Plus a tie-breaker if you are playing the quiz with friends: "What is the difference between French, German and Italian chords?"

Tech spec

Title: Carillonning

Key: G dorian

Tempo: 120bpm

Length: 3' 40"

Track 1: trumpet melody

Track 2: trombone harmony

Track 3: steel guitar

Track 4: acoustic bass

Track 5: drumset

Track 6: percussion

Track 7: bells

Genre: Pop, Rock