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Chromatic mediants are used in music all around you. There is not a single major film music score that does not use them. They are also frequently used in (contemporary) classical music and jazz. But what about pop and rock? Bands like Radiohead are definitely not afraid to use them. So why not you?
Video Tutorial: Make Chromatic Mediant chord progressions and Melodies
Diatonic Mediants and Chromatic Mediants Explained
What are mediant chords and what are diatonic mediant chord relationships?
When chords have a mediant relationship, it means that they are a major or a minor third apart from each other. This counts for up and down. If mediants are diatonic, it means that they only use the notes that are part of the scale or key. And important to remember, diatonic mediant chords will have two notes in common.
If you look at the C major and A minor chords above, you can see that the root notes are a minor third apart and that they have the C and E notes in common. This means that C major and A minor share a mediant relationship.
What is a chromatic mediant and how do you use them?
When you want to make a diatonic mediant into a chromatic mediant, then you will need to adjust one or more of the notes. And you do this chromatically. This means adjusting your notes with a half step.
As you can see in the picture above, C major and E minor share a diatonic mediant relationship. The common notes are E and G. If I would raise the G to a G#, then we get an E major chord. Now we have a chromatic mediant. So E major is the chromatic mediant of C major.
Now that you know what a chromatic mediant is, we can find out why you would use chromatic mediants in your music. The use of chromatic mediants is to create exciting new chord progressions and to spice up your melodies and harmonies. It is by far one of my favourite techniques!
Traditionally you can devide chromatic mediants into two types.
- Chromatic mediant
- Double chromatic mediant
Chromatic mediants always have one common note. For example A major is a chromatic mediant of C major, because they both have the note E in them. But Ab major is also a chromatic mediant of C major, because they share the note C.
Double chromatic mediants have no common notes. The connection between these chords sounds less smooth than regular chromatic mediants, because all the notes are different.
I personally divide chromatic mediants into three categories.
- When you have to adjust only one note
- When you need to adjust two notes
- When you have to adjust all three notes
It’s completely up to you which category you choose and find suitable for your song or composition.
Chromatic mediant chord progression no.1
To create a chromatic mediant in this example, I only adjusted one not in the Am chord. I raised the C to a C#. This gives a chromatic mediant relationship of C major to A major. The progression sounds a lot brighter, because now two major chords follow eachother.
Chromatic mediant chord progression no.2
I really love how the chord connection of C major and Ab major sounds. It’s so powerful! As you can see, I needed to adjust two notes instead of only one. The A and the E are both lowered with half a step. So this chromatic mediant falls into my second category.
A great voice leading tip is to keep the common note in the same voice. Especially if it’s the top voice. This creates a more smooth connection
Chromatic mediant chord progression no.3
In this chromatic mediant example we only adjust one note. All you have to do is from the E minor, raise the G to a G#. This makes it into a E major chord.
With your melody you can accentuate this new note G#, by adding it to your melody.
Chromatic mediant chord progression no.4
In the next examples we will create chromatic mediants with minor chords. So we will make the major chord minor.
In this example the chromatic mediant of C minor and Eb minor share the note Eb. The only note that we had to change is lowering the G to a Gb. And just notice how dark this progression now sounds because two minor chords follow eachother.
Chromatic mediant chord progression no.5
In this example we had to adjust two notes to get this chromatic mediant. This is again a chromatic mediant from my second category. From the Eb major we had to raise the Eb to E and Bb to B. Now we have a E minor chord. The Em sounds a bit out of place, but you can make it sound more natural by playing the common tone in your melody for example.
Chromatic mediant chord progression no.6
This is a chromatic mediant relationship from my third category. The chords C to Abm is called a double chromatic mediant, because they have no notes in common. From my chromatic mediant categories, this is category no.3. Here you need to change all three notes.
As you will notice when you play the youtube example or play the chords yourself, this Abm chord really sounds out of place.
Chromatic mediant melody to progression no.6
With your melody you have the option to glue the chords together or emphasize the odd notes. In this case, the Cb with is the minor third of Ab minor, is also the major 7th of C major. Because Cb is the same as B.
You can create some amazing melodies by playing a scale that belongs to the chromatic mediant chord that you are currently playing. For example on the Ab minor you can play a Ab minor scale. Just try it out!
I just want to mention that you can get to the same chords by approaching chromatic mediants as modal borrowing chords and modal mixture. For example the chromatic mediant of C major and Eb major. This E major chord can be seen as a chord from the parallel key C minor.
Or dive into the beautiful technique of modal mixture, modal interchange and borrowed chords. Lydian & Ionian, Phrygian & Aeolian.
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Suggested Video Tutorial: Combining The Lydian Mode and Ionian mode Through Modal Interchange
The term chromatic mediants sounds a bit technical, but I will show you how original your music will sound and how easy it is to use them!
Hello everybody Xander here, welcome to Learning Music Skills.
The place where I talk about all kinds of music topics for becoming a better songwriter, producer and musician. Let’s get creative!
I’ve written five examples and after each one I’ll give you more practical tips and theory insights.
And also at the last example you will find out how chromatic mediants can really take your melodies into unknown territory.
So what are mediants and chromatic mediants? When chords have a mediant relationship, it means that they are a major or a minor third apart and this goes for up and down. When mediants are diatonic, it means that they only use the notes that are represented in the scale and also they have two notes in common.
If I would go from the C to the E minor, that would be diatonic. But if we change the E minor to an E major by raising the G, we have ourselves a chromatic mediant. Now the chords only have one note in common.
Here is example number one.
I will first start with the original progression and then immediately after that I’ll play the adjusted one.
The rule with basically everything in music is that the more things you keep the same the smoother and less noticeable the change will be. In this example I only raised the C from the A minor into a C-sharp. Thus changing it into a major chord. The result is that the chord progression has a more radiant sound to it because two major chords which are a third apart follow each other directly.
Example number two.
Do you notice how powerful the A flat major sounds? It’s really incredible I love this sound! But as you can see I needed to change two notes instead of just one. The result is that this chord stands out a lot more.
An easy way to integrate and connect this chord into the progression, is by keeping the common tone in the same voice. And it sounds especially good when you do it in the top voice like I did in this example. In a later example you will also see that it sounds very good when you do this in the melody.
Let’s have a listen to example number three and again I will first play the original and then straight after that the adjusted one will follow.
In this example I raised the G from the E minor chord making, it into an E major chord. This E major sounds a bit like a secondary dominant to me. For example if it would have directly resolved into the A minor then it would have functioned as one. The amazing thing is that we have such a strong result by just raising one note. Especially when you also emphasize this note in the melody. Let’s repeat the same procedure, but now let’s travel to the dark side and do it with some minor chords.
Example number four.
Do you notice that the E flat minor chord really grabs your attention? It definitely darkens up the progression a lot. Let’s take it one step further.
The E minor chord sounds a bit tricky to me and a bit out of place, but by sustaining the common tone in the same voice we can integrate it more. And this brings us to our last example which is definitely also the most notable one.
Example number five.
The A flat minor really sticks out and it even sounds a bit odd to me. Even though the A flat minor and the G share a common tone, it still sounds out of place. The reason that it sounds so out of place is because we had to adjust all of the notes. This means that all of the notes are foreign to the key and scale that we are in.
Let’s see if we can smoothen this progression a bit and integrate the chord a bit better by adding a melody that sustains a common tone.
The major 7 of C is B, and is also enharmonically the same as the minor third from A flat minor, which is spelled C flat. I find that by adding this common tone it integrates the A flat minor a bit better in the chord progression.
Now for a melodic bonus tip and this can be applied to our previous examples as well.
You can really spice up your melody by playing a scale that belongs to the chromatic mediant chord that you currently are on. So in our case on the A flat minor chord we play the natural minor scale of A flat minor.
And you can really get some interesting and rich melodies out of this.
I divide the chromatic medians into three categories just as I did in this video and there’s a system to it. Category number one is when you have to adjust only one note. Category number two is when you need to adjust two notes and category number three, you might guess it, when you have to adjust all three notes.
It’s completely up to you which category you choose and find suitable for your song or composition. And as you saw in our previous examples it’s not only used to spice up your chord progressions, but it’s also used to enhance your melodies as well. Just play the corresponding scale of the chromatic mediant that you are on… and you’re on your way to original melodies.
Just a word of caution! If you use chromatic mediants a lot, this can destabilize the tonal center of your chord progression. Which is not necessarily a bad thing but you just need to be aware of it.
The technique of chromatic mediants has been used by composers and songwriters for hundreds of years and it’s still used until this day. So you can definitely say that this technique has stood the test of time. There’s even more to discover about chromatic mediants than I was able to show you today and I would love to hear if you have any good examples or ways that you use them yourself.
In any case I hope you enjoyed all the examples that I wrote. Don’t forget to like and subscribe to the channel and for now…
See you next time!