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So, I'm sure I'm overthinking this and or I'm just very confused about the difference between keys and modes.

Say you're writing a tune in C Major and want to IMPLY that a certain chord would be E Phrygian (E, F, G, A, B, C, D)... would you just write that as E- ?

My confusion stems from the fact that, yes, that is an E- chord technically, but from a melody or improv perspective, F natural / D natural / C natural would be the notes that fit the tonal center.

I guess what I'm saying is, for example, G7 implies "fifth degree of C Major", so what chord symbol implies "third degree of C Major" ?
 

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You could write either E- or E-7. It's function is determined by chord(s) follow it. E-7 followed by a A-7 D-7...would imply Phrygian. If it E-7 A7 DM7, then it's Dorian.
 

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A common chord symbol for E Phrygian would be D-7/E. It captures the Phrygian sound, where as a straight E- or E-7 won’t. I don’t know of any situations where a Phrygian chord would be implied with a minor seventh chord symbol.
 

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LittleMushi is certainly right but, if you want to give unambiguosly the notion that you want a Phrygian sound I think you should specify the extensions of the chord. E-7(b9b13) will tame any attempt to play a dorian scale over it...
 

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A common chord symbol for E Phrygian would be D-7/E. It captures the Phrygian sound, where as a straight E- or E-7 won’t. I don’t know of any situations where a Phrygian chord would be implied with a minor seventh chord symbol.
Even better...
 

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Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
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I guess what I'm saying is, for example, G7 implies "fifth degree of C Major", so what chord symbol implies "third degree of C Major" ?

It's not a dumb question, I've seen many people including professional confused by this.

The answer is E minor in the key (centre) of C. As the III chord in C major, it actually has nothing to do with a phrygian mode at all.

Another way to look at this is that in the key of E phrygian the scale is E F G A B C D E and the tonal centre is E. There can be a C chord based on the VI degree of that mode and it is C major.

Many people get confused between the root of a chords and the tonal (key) centre.

So an E minor chord in a tune that is in the key of C has a root of E.

But C major chord in Em (phrygian) has a root of C, but the tonal centre is E.

The confusion arises if you have E minor in C, and you think E F G A B C D as a scale. You may want to realise that although E is the root of the chord, it is the III of the key (whose tonic is C), just as G7 has a root of G, but is the V of the key.



  • Root = 1st note of the chord.
  • Tonic = 1st note of the key.
 

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See it's about what I figured. So it's an E minor chord, I just have to use CONTEXT of what is going on around it to realize that it's probably an E- scale but in C rather than D major or G major etc. I'm so bad at theory, but I'm trying. Thanks.
 

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See it's about what I figured. So it's an E minor chord, I just have to use CONTEXT of what is going on around it to realize that it's probably an E- scale but in C rather than D major or G major etc. I'm so bad at theory, but I'm trying. Thanks.
I would say that if Em(7) is in the key of C major, then the first and most obvious scale to think of is the scale of C major. All the stuff with modes when you are thinking about chord progressions just compliactes things.

Em7 Am7 | Dm7 G7 | C can all be covered very simply witha C major scale.
 

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A common chord symbol for E Phrygian would be D-7/E. It captures the Phrygian sound, where as a straight E- or E-7 won’t. I don’t know of any situations where a Phrygian chord would be implied with a minor seventh chord symbol.
I believe that's correct.

Since you chimed in on this theory question, and you teach at Univ. of Maine, I'm curious about what academic credentials individuals typically need if they have the goal of teaching at the university level. Like, what is your degree(s) in?-- performance, education, theory, or something else? Have you had a lot of classes in theory, arranging and/or composition?
 

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I would say that if Em(7) is in the key of C major, then the first and most obvious scale to think of is the scale of C major. All the stuff with modes when you are thinking about chord progressions just compliactes things.

Em7 Am7 | Dm7 G7 | C can all be covered very simply witha C major scale.

See if I saw Em7 in a song I'd think C# and F# (I usually assume Dorian, which I'm sure isn't good). I'd NEVER think F natural if I saw Em7 but I guess I need to keep context in mind.
 

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A common chord symbol for E Phrygian would be D-7/E. It captures the Phrygian sound, where as a straight E- or E-7 won’t. I don’t know of any situations where a Phrygian chord would be implied with a minor seventh chord symbol.
So this would make the chord E, F, A, C (?) sorry, I'm grasping to learn here ;)
 

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See if I saw Em7 in a song I'd think C# and F# (I usually assume Dorian, which I'm sure isn't good). I'd NEVER think F natural if I saw Em7 but I guess I need to keep context in mind.
A shortcut I use is to look what key the song is in. In your example it's in C major (so no sharps or flats). When you have a chord like Em7, the only notes that might be different from the key the tune is in, are the chord notes. So E G B D. In other words (in this example): no notes that differ from the scale of C major. Only the tonal center will be E during this part of the tune.

It also helps once you get the sound of each scale (phrygian, dorian, etc) in your head. It's like using colours when you would be painting.
 

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See if I saw Em7 in a song I'd think C# and F# (I usually assume Dorian, which I'm sure isn't good). I'd NEVER think F natural if I saw Em7 but I guess I need to keep context in mind.
And this is the whole big problem with the scale syllabus.

It's true that wiyth jazz standards, there seem to be lots of IIm7-V7-Is, and so it's probably fair to say that if you see an E minor, there may well be a good chance the key (or rather *key centre) is D. and so F# and C# make sense. But as we see it's not always the case.

When I was lecturing in jazz impro and theiry (university students) I took over a system from the previous guy, who said "just teach them if they see a minor 7 it's a dorian mode. It was a real nightmare trying to dig just a little bit deeper into that, so I just ditched that whole concept and taught the students to identify *key centres and just think of that key/scale.

So (as above)
Em7 Am7 | Dm7 G7 | C = scale of C

Dmyb5 G7 Cm = scale of C minor harmonic)

*As we know in jazz, often the tune will not remain purely in one key throughout, so identifying key centres is crucial. It give you way more understanding of how the harmony funtions than just thinking in so-called modes.

For intsance we can see how pointless it is to think like this:

Em7 Am7 | Dm7 G7 | C

= E dorian A dorian D dorian G mixolydian C (Ionian)

OR

= E phrygian A aeolian D dorian G mixolydian C (Ionian)

Very complicated and musically just plain wrong.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
That's where my confusion comes in, because lord knows jazz tunes can change tonal centers like mad, so it's difficult (for me) to know when I should take a chord at face value (and play the scale that would commonly be associated with it) or realize that "hey, this should probably just reflect the key of the song"

In general, I need to get out of my head more when I'm soloing anyway and just use my ear, but that's a process that is taking a VERY long time...
 

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So this would make the chord E, F, A, C (?) sorry, I'm grasping to learn here ;)
E-F-A-C would work, especially if the chord symbol is F/E. You see this one a lot in Spanish influenced music (think Sketches of Spain or Chick’s tune La Fiesta), usually resolving to a major chord, like F/E to E Major.

I’ve also seen a Phrygian chord written as a susb9 chord, or just the root plus Phryg. or Phrygian like Dave P. said.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
E-F-A-C would work, especially if the chord symbol is F/E. You see this one a lot in Spanish influenced music (think Sketches of Spain or Chick’s tune La Fiesta), usually resolving to a major chord, like F/E to E Major.

I’ve also seen a Phrygian chord written as a susb9 chord, or just the root plus Phryg. or Phrygian like Dave P. said.
And that's another question, how common is a III chord in jazz? Is this typically only seen in certain types of music, like the aforementioned Spanish influenced pieces?
 

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We need to be careful hear as there is a huge difference between (1) an E minor that is the "tonic" of an E phrygian tune and (2) an Em7 in the key of C. In (1) we can think of a phrygian scale as mentioned.

The tricky part about this is that as dctwells mentioned, often those tunes do resolve to a major instead of a minor (aka Tierce de Picardie)

However to think phrygian when to chord of Em is in the key centre of C is a very different kettle of fish and (IMO) quite wrong.
 

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And that's another question, how common is a III chord in jazz?
Not as common as a IIm7 as mentioned above


Is this typically only seen in certain types of music, like the aforementioned Spanish influenced pieces?
I'm not sure there is a III(m) in those pieces.

If a tune is in E prhrygian, then E minor would be chord I.
 
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