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The Silver Spear - what mode is it in?
D major? A Mixolydian? F# Phrygian? Something else?
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January 1, 2016 - 9:24 pm
Member Since: June 21, 2015
Forum Posts: 240
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I know that traditional Irish tunes are often in a mode other than regular major (Ionian) or minor (Aeolian), with Dorian and Mixolydian being common modes. Usually I can kind of figure out what mode a piece is in, but it is more difficult to classify The Silver Spear.

Here is a version I learned from a local Irish fiddler.

(also attached below as mp3)

It is similar to setting 1 on The Session


except that the version I play here is simpler (less ornamentation) to be more suitable for beginners. The version on The Session is described as being in D major. It does indeed have the key signature of D major (with F# and G# and all other notes played as naturals), but to my ears The Session setting sounds like the tonic note is A, not D. So I would probably have classified it as A Mixolydian. Would you agree with that?

However, the version I learned locally is subtly different. It mostly sounds like it has A as the tonic note, but it ends on F#. So is the tonic note actually F# rather than A, meaning that it is perhaps in F# Phrygian mode? Or does it start in Mixolydian and end with a brief excursion into Phrygian?

Please excuse the squeaks and other not-so-beautiful features in my performance here. I could say they are partially because I am using my cheap violin (with no finger tapes for an intonation aid) while traveling and partially because I am still a beginner, but really I need to practice the tune much more. But I am very curious about the mode so I thought I would post the query now. Thanks!

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January 4, 2016 - 4:54 pm
Member Since: January 19, 2014
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Yes @Fidelestre, The Silver Spear is, more or less, mixolydian mode.  At least, in the sense that the song is in they key of D, but revolves around the often repeated A note. However, keep in mind that modes don't reveal themselves when isolated from the accompanying chord progressions.  While there are only two chords in The Silver SpearP D maj. and G maj.,  it is the repetitive playing of the A note harmonizing against the D chord that gives it it's mixolydian nature. 

A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort. ~Herm Albright


January 5, 2016 - 9:56 am
Member Since: June 21, 2015
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Thanks, @Uzi , this is helpful. Interesting point about the importance of the harmony players in helping to bring out the modal character of the music. I have been listening to various recordings and the feel is definitely different in versions with and without guiatr or other chords to accompany.

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