Modal frame

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This article is about modal frames in music. For modal logic, see Kripke semantics.

In music a melodic mode [1] or modal frame is one of, "a number of types permeating and unifying African, European, and American song" and melody.[2] "Mode" and "frame" are used in this context interchangeably. Melodic modes allow melodies which are not chord-based or determined by the harmony but instead by melodic features. A note frame is a melodic mode that is atonic (without a tonic) or has an unstable tonic.

Examples and aspects of modal frames include:

  • floor note
the bottom of the frame, felt to be the lowest note though isolated notes may go lower
  • ceiling note
the top of the frame
  • central note
the center of mode, around which other notes cluster or gravitate
  • upper or lower focus[3]
portion of the mode on which the melody temporarily dwells
  • melodic dissonance
the quality of a note which is modally unstable and attracted to other more important tones in a non-harmonic way
  • melodic triad
arpeggiated triads which appear in a melody but not in the harmony. A non-harmonic arpeggio is an arpeggio whose notes or chord does not appear in the harmony of the accompaniment. The most common example is the melodic triad.[4]
a temporary modal frame contrasted with another built on a different foundation note. A "change" (as in chord change) in levels is called a shift.
  • co-tonic
a melodic tonic different from and as important as the harmonic tonic
  • secondary tonic
a melodic tonic, though different from and subordinate to the harmonic tonic
"Chel-sea" football crowd chant: minor third. About this sound Play 
  • pendular third[5]
alternating notes a third apart, most often a neutral, see double tonic

Other songs with modal frames indicated are "A Day in the Life" and "My Generation".[2]


The modal frame of The Beatles' "A Hard Day's Night" features a ladder of thirds axially centered on G with a ceiling note of B and floor note of E[] (the low C being a passing tone):[2]

"A Hard Day's Night" modal frame.[2]

According to Middleton, the song, "at first glance major-key-with-modal-touches", reveals through its "Line of Latent Mode" "a deep kinship with typical blues melodic structures: it is centred on three of the notes of the minor-pentatonic mode [on C: C, E-flat, F, G, B-flat] (E-G-B), with the contradictory major seventh (B) set against that. Moreover, the shape assumed by these notes - the modal frame - as well as the abstract scale they represent, is revealed, too; and this - an initial, repeated circling round the dominant (G), with an excursion to its minor third (B), 'answered' by a fall to the 'symmetrical' minor third of the tonic (E) - is a common pattern in blues."[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ van der Merwe, Peter (1989). Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 102–103. ISBN 0-19-316121-4. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Middleton, Richard (1990/2002). Studying Popular Music, p.203. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0-335-15275-9.
  3. ^ adapted from Ekueme, Lazarus. cited in Middleton (1990), p.203.
  4. ^ van der Merwe (1989), p.321.
  5. ^ adapted from Nketia, J.H. cited in Middleton (1990), p.203.
  6. ^ Middleton (1990), p.201.