Suspense, High Tension: Minor Chords a Half-Step Apart – Pt.2

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Create Suspense Using Two Chords


Continuing from part 1, we’ll take a look at how we can build a bigger ensemble piece using the previous two-chord structure of Em-Fm.

Minor Chords Min. 2nd Apart Ⅱ  (EX. 2-1-B)

This is an excerpt lesson taken from Behind the Score. Full video lessons, PDF scores, and MP3 audio files on this topic can be found here: Creating Mood Instantly with Two-Chord Structures

Click here to access the music scores (PDF) and audio files used in this article.

Ex. 2-1-B uses a similar Em-Fm structure (see Fig. B-1 at the bottom of this lesson). We expanded the instrumentation to include flutes, strings, and various synth elements. Instead of arpeggios, the bass instruments (cello/contrabass) play the chord roots while short, plucked synths reinforce the root and 3rd of each chord. Specifically, in m. 1, cello plays low octave E’s (root), synth 1 reiterates E (root) in a higher octave, and synth 2 alternates between G (3rd) and E (root).


mm. 1-4 (Synth 1&2 / Vc.) 


The steady flow of 16th notes (Synth 1 and 2) contrasts with the slower-moving bass, creating musical energy that slowly churns forward. Synth 3 adds harmonic detail as a subtle background element. Its ascending melodic line spells out the characteristic raised 7th of E harmonic minor(❶,❷). 

mm. 1-4 (Synth 3 / Vc.)



In measure 5, we introduce a melody, add contrabass to the cello, and add fast percussion (32nd notes, not notated in the score). Notice how the melody (flutes/string) appears offset by an 1/8th note (❸). Since each note is held for three beats, we might expect the melody to start on beat 1 (in our 6/8 meter) instead of beat 2. This simple displacement adds a little rhythmic syncopation and helps our melody avoid sounding too predictable. 


mm. 5-End (Fl. 1&2 / Synth Strings) 





The examples we demonstrated in part 1 and part 2 are stylistically different, but they draw upon the same concept of using two minor chords a half-step apart. We hope these examples are instructive for how you might develop music using this two-chord structure.


Fig.B-1 Em(Maj7) & Fm(Maj7) Chords 💡
 

💡 Theory in Depth) Minor-Major 7th Chord
Although the name may seem confusing, the minor-major 7th chord is simply a minor chord with an additional note placed a major 7th interval above the root. As a reminder, a major 7th interval equals the distance between the root and the seventh note of a major scale. Incidentally, a major 7th is also a half-step shy of an octave. For instance, in Fig. B-1, the notes E-G-B form an E minor chord. The D♯ is a half-step away from E, which is an octave above the root. All four notes (E-G-B-D) appear in the E harmonic minor scale. However, in the E natural minor scale, the seventh note is D. Therefore, we sometimes refer to the D♯ as the “raised 7th.”Composers often use minor-major 7th chords to create a highly dramatic, daunting, and even wondrous type of sound. Famously, Bernard Herrmann employed them to great effect in his main themes for the films Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960), both directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

This is an excerpt lesson taken from Behind the Score. Full video lessons, PDF scores, and MP3 audio files on this topic can be found here: Creating Mood Instantly with Two-Chord Structures

Click here to access the music scores (PDF) and audio files used in this article.