Minor Harmony: world 6 or 2?


So I’m in a Jazz Standards group on Facebook where I learn different standards. Usually I translate the chords and melody into IFR map terms, and I find that very helpful to help with soloing etc.

I generally think about this in terms of major (world 1) or minor (world 6) - so say Autumn leaves I’d think of the minor 251 as chord 6, chord 7 and chord 3 dominant, and I’d think of the opening line of the melody running 6,7, 1, 4. . .

However, it turns out it’s quite useful to think of lots of minor jazz tunes in terms of Dorian/World 2. So for example I’m learning Yesterdays at the moment. Harmonically it starts with a minor ii V I, and I started thinking of that in terms of 6 being the tonic. However, the way the melody runs it’s obviously kind of written as Dorian - if you’re using 6 as the tonic the third line for example goes:

6,7,1,2, b3, 3, b5 5, 1, b5,7
But if you think of that 6 as a 2 then you get:

2, 3, 4, 5, b6, 6, 7, 1, 4, 7, 3

Which feels neater and just more in tune with the music somehow to me.

Now I know that this is exactly the same musically, but if you go down the world 2 route then the minor 251 becomes something along the lines of 3-(b5), 6D, 2, and that feels much less intuitive than the 7, 3D, 6 - simply because you’ve just got remember the #5 in the 3D.

Anyway, so what I wanted to ask is how to other people think of minor harmony in different modes in IFR terms - do you tend to stick in world 6 and deal with extra accidentals in the melody/soloing as they come up, or do you translate the harmony into world 2 or whatever.

Sorry, if this isn’t making sense, just curious about how other people think about this!

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I’ve been coming across similar issues when I’ve been playing with some blues tunes. A blues in (key of) A could have a tonal centre of note 1, and we could happily use a pentatonic scale of 1, b3, 4, 5 b7. But it’s usually considered to be in Aminor, so could be thought of as tonal centre being note 6, and our pentatonic could be 6, 1, 2, 3, 5.

Well I’ve concluded it doesn’t really matter, the best model to use is the one that fits best with you. It comes down to different ways of interpreting the same reality, and it’s best to be flexible and keeping multiple options open.


@mem I agree entirely. I’m not sure if @ImproviseForReal & @MireiaClua would agree but I think the above paragraph could be read as a pretty succinct summary of elements of IFR philosophy, i.e. try the various ways out, with an open mind and an open ear, then go with what feels right? N.B. The answer you get today may not be the same one you get tomorrow. In some ways that’s scary, but in others it’s enriching. I’ll go with the enriching. :slight_smile:

This is a fantastic topic, Tim, and I’m sorry I didn’t participate in this conversation sooner. I think that all three of you (@Tim @mem and @DavidW) are on exactly the right track. Remember that ALL harmonic analysis is subjective. And while some songs are so simple that you could convince almost anyone to accept your harmonic analysis, that doesn’t make it any less subjective. (The fact that everyone in the world agrees that a particular tree is ugly doesn’t make that tree ugly in any objective way. Agreement is not the same thing as objectivity.) This might sound like nit-picking, but it’s actually a hugely important point to understand. And what I love about your comment is that this wisdom is already present in your words. You’re not asking whether that first minor tonal center in Yesterdays is the 6- chord or the 2- chord. You’re asking how other people like to think about it. This is exactly right, and it’s the perfect way to start a conversation about this song.

And you’re bringing up one of the classic reasons why we might prefer one analysis over the other. With what you’re calling your “dorian” interpretation, you are able to fit more of the notes into the key of the music, thereby having fewer accidentals. What’s curious is that you didn’t make this same argument for Autumn Leaves. You’re referencing Autumn Leaves as a classic example of the 6- tonal center. But the melody to that song ALSO uses #4 which would become a scale note if you were to use your dorian interpretation.

But you didn’t get tempted by this interpretation for Autumn Leaves. Why? Probably because the natural 4 also appears in the song. So you’re stuck with just as many accidentals even if you call that first minor tonal center 2-. But much more important is the 2-5-1 progression that starts the song. With the 1 chord and 6- chord being the most important tonal centers in western music, it would be really hard to convince anyone to accept any other interpretation of this song. (Again, that doesn’t make other interpretations “wrong”. It just makes them unpopular because they are not the most elegant interpretations available.)

My personal view is that the same is true of Yesterdays. You might not yet have enough experience with Mixed Harmony chord progressions to feel this same preference yourself. But the more you study jazz standards, the more familiar you’ll become with the most common chord concepts. And with that familiarity, I think you’ll start to see Yesterdays differently. What you’ll notice is that the entire song is made up of very familiar Mixed Harmony chord concepts, but only if you call that minor tonal center 6-.

Here is a link to a rough tonal sketch of this song so that we can refer to it:


Here are a few of the common movements and chord concepts that appear in this song:

  1. The opening 6- chord. You already stated this one yourself. From the moment we hear a minor tonal center, our suspicion goes to the 6- chord as our “usual suspect”. So calling this chord 6- is just about the easiest and most comfortable thing we can imagine.

  2. The third line (3D, 6D, 2D, 5D) is one of the most common bridges in all jazz music. It’s most often cited as the bridge to I Got Rhythm whose chord progression is so famous that we just call them “rhythm changes”.

  3. The fourth line (5-, 1D, 4, b7, 7-b5, 3D) might look odd because it starts with the progression that takes us to the 4 chord, then it goes beyond that to the b7 major chord, and finally slides up into the familiar 7-b5, 3D, 6-. But this is actually super common. Because the b7 chord is just the “4 of the 4”, it’s one of the most common Mixed Harmony chords in all contemporary popular music. It’s so important that we included it in IFR Jam Tracks Level 4: Mixed Harmony Essentials, which is the same collection where the 3D chord is introduced! And a very common thing that happens in jazz and bossa nova music is for this b7 chord to transition upward into the 7-b5 chord, exactly as we have here. By contrast, if you were to analyze this entire song with that first minor chord being 2-, then this fourth line becomes even stranger and much less common: 1-, 4D, b7, b3, 3-b5, 6D

  4. Notice also that natural 4 appears as a melody note in the fourth line. So with this song, as with Autumn Leaves, you’re actually not saving yourself any accidentals with your dorian interpretation. It’s true that the #4 in the second line would become a 7 which is nicer. But the natural 4 in the last line would become a b7. So you have the same number of accidentals either way.

  5. Finally, I just want to make a quick comment about that note #4 that’s troubling you in the melody. I’ll grant you that this one is an argument in favor of your dorian concept because it makes the accidental go away. But I just wanted to point out that #4 is a super common sound over both the 6- chord and the 3D chord. So while you’re right that the dorian concept can make this accidental go away, I think a better strategy in the long run is to learn to integrate #4 into your awareness in the 6th harmonic environment. In other words, you should absolutely continue to associate this sound with the dorian concept, but you should also learn to paint this dorian sound over the 6- chord or any other chord you choose. This is really the essence of Mixed Harmony, and it’s how we can bring so much richness into our melodies even when this richness is not contained in the underlying chords.

So those are some thoughts about why I find the 6- chord interpretation the most elegant and beautiful for this song. But again, all of this is completely subjective, if not to say outright imaginary. None of this is real. It’s all just an imaginary framework that enables us to picture and describe the sounds we hear. So as all three of you so wisely observed, whichever model is most beautiful and empowering to you personally is the only right answer there can ever be.


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Thanks so much for such an interesting (and detailed!) answer David, really appreciate it. There’s a lot to digest in there, but I thought I’d add a few comments.

I posted this in February when I was just learning the song, and was thinking out loud really. Actually as it turns out I settled on thinking about the D as the 6- rather than 2-. Not sure why particularly, just harmonically it felt much more comfortable to do so. Weirdly if I try and sing that particularly melody line it does still ‘feel’ better starting on 2, but starting the harmony on 2- didn’t stick at all!

But really interesting in your notes is the way you deal with the accidentals - and specifically the #4 - I think I’d written it as a b5, and to be honest there’s no particular reason for that, I tend to just pick at random, but actually thinking about that as #4 obviously makes much more sense as it obviously highlights the point of difference between the natural and dorian minor scales, so I’m going to try and take that away and work on playing with the 4 and #4 in some world 6 jam tracks and see if that sticks!

A couple of other minor points - in the 4th line I just tend to think of those first two bars as a 2,5,1,4 in whatever major scale it would be - I don’t know why, but I really hear that come out. It’s probably because I’ve done quite a bit on 251 as a concept. And also on Autumn Leaves it’s never ever occurred to me to think about that starting on 2 rather than 6 - not sure why, but I suspect again because the 251 is so strong in that that it literally makes no sense to try and reharmonise that! (Also I learnt Autumn Leaves from your standards pack, so it didn’t occur to me to question the teacher!)

Thanks again for the reply, really interesting thoughts!

Great thoughts here, @Tim! Let me just offer one tip about how to think about the accidentals. Rather than choosing the name at random (as you said, #4 vs. b5), think about which other note of the scale is getting replaced by this outside note. For example, in the case of the 6th harmonic environment with that dorian touch, which of the following two scales is nicer to think about?

6 7 1 2 3 #4 5 6
6 7 1 2 3 b5 5 6

Can you see that the first scale is just cleaner and nicer to think about? This is because every number appears exactly once. It’s really as simple as that. In the second scale (which are the same notes), you have no 4 and you have two different variants of a 5. What a mess!

Since your harmonic environment will always have exactly seven notes, there is always a way to write the scale such that each number appears exactly once, with nothing missing and nothing repeated. If you just look for this solution to any harmonic environment you want to represent, you’ll find that over time it really does make the visualization of these notes much easier, because your mental model is always so clean and simple. I just wanted to share that tip, but I love everything that you’re observing about this song. Thanks for sharing your process and your thoughts!


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Thanks David - and absolutely going to be taking that tip forward: I actually had this exact moment of realisation about the the scale degrees when I read your comment this morning: of course it makes so much more sense to use the ‘spare’ number in any given case, that now I see that it seems odd it never occurred to me before!