Negative harmony is one of those concepts that seem to be too obscure to easily understand and apply.
So I’ll keep it simple.
And I’ll show you what’s possible with some nice examples.
What It Is
Negative harmony implies starting with a mode or scale, and then calculating its negative version.
To do this, you:
- Select a scale or mode;
- Find its root note in the Circle of Fifths
- Use that root note as a reference point to draw a line across the Circle of Fifths, dividing it in two equal parts.
- Every note will now have a note symmetrically placed across the line.
- Those symmetrically placed notes will now form our negative scale / mode.
If you were to do this with the C Ionian mode (C D E F G A B), it would look like the images below.
So the negative notes would be:
With these seven resulting notes, we end up with either the C Aeolian mode or the G Phrygian mode, depending on whether you want to use the C or the G as your root note.
Which one is the right choice?
It’s a matter of preference, but most people tend to go with the C Aeolian mode, so we’ll go with that one.
Using the same logic, we can calculate the negative chords of C Ionian.
Unsurprisingly, the resulting chords all belong to the C Aeolian mode, like this:
What To Do With This?
Okay, all this knowledge is useless if we don’t know how to apply it.
So let’s listen to some examples.
Example 1: No Negative Harmony
In our first example, we’ll not use any negative harmony.
It’s just a simple song with a basic C Ionian chord progression: C – F – G – C
We do this so that you have something to compare later examples to.
Example 2: 100 % Negative Harmony
Now that you have the previous song as a reference, we can move on to Negative Harmony.
In this example, we’ll tale the chords and melody from our previous example, and convert them all into their negative counterparts, using the scheme shown before.
Our chord progression will now be something like: Cm – Gm – Fm – Cm
Example 3: C Ionian + Borrowed Negative Chords
Another alternative is using, mostly, the song in Example 1, but occasionally borrowing some negative chords.
So our chord progression could end up being something like this: C – F – Fm – C
Example 4: C Ionian + Borrowed Negative Chords + Borrowed Merged Chords
If you want to take things a step further, we can try merging the chords from the original mode with their negative counterparts, like this:
C maj + C min
D min + Bb maj
E min + Ab maj
F maj + G min
G maj + F min
A min + Eb maj
B dim + D min
You need to be careful about chord voicings, though. Otherwise, the merged chords will sound like a mess.
But if you are careful, they can sound very interesting and unique:
So, the example below will be similar to our previous one, but instead of just borrowing negative chords, we will also borrow merged chords.
It sounds like this:
That is Negative Harmony in a nutshell.
Spend some time exploring it and your chord progressions will never be the same again.
If you want a tool to explore Negative Harmony with ease, I’m glad to tell you that you can do it with our latest version of SLModes.