Chromatic Mediants and Metric Modulation

Today, we will be looking at an example of how chromatic mediant relationships can sound by creating unexpected harmonies and also some tips on things you can do with rhythm to surprise your listeners.

What is a Mediant?

Before we go into chromatic mediants, we have to understand what a mediant is. It is basically a third relationship above or below the note we are using as reference. For instance, if you are in the C major scale and use C as the reference pitch, the third above it is an E, and that is its natural mediant.  If you go the other way around, the third below C is the A and that is the submediant of C. 

These relationships occur with pitches, chords and even tonalities. In this case, because we are in the C major tonality, the mediant of the C major chord would be an E minor and its submediant would be the A minor chord. 

mediants - pitches and chords

Chromatic Mediants

But if you change the chord quality of any of these chords, for instance, if you would have an E major instead of E minor, you would be introducing a chromatic tone to the C major tonality. In this case, it would be the G#. That is basically the reason why it is called a chromatic mediant chord relationship (see picture below). 

You could also go from C to Eb major. You would still be introducing chromatic tones in the C major tonality and maintain a third relationship between C and Eb. 

Usually, the chord qualities involved in these relationships are maintained, meaning that if you are using a C major chord then the following chord could be either and E major or Eb major and A major or Ab major.  

chromatic mediants of C major

This is just a brief introduction to the topic and if you want to learn more about this, please follow the links below to read more about it in the blog:

Chromatic Mediants in Practice

Now, let me show you what I did using mostly chromatic mediant relationships throughout a music example. 

I’m starting on the C major tonality and here we have the A minor and F major chords where F would be the submediant of Am. After that you hear the F# minor which is the chromatic submediant of Am. So there’s a little bit of back and forth between natural mediant and chromatic submediant in this case. 

chromatic mediants example 1

There are lots of other examples in this bit like from Bb major to D and then another chromatic mediant between A major to C major that I basically use to return to Am and return to the C major tonality.

As you can see, this is a nice way of navigating between tonalities as an alternative for using dominant chords or other substitutes.   

Here is how it sounds:

In another part of the track, I also played around with chromatic mediant chord relationships and this time you can hear me going from a C# to an E major and then go to a C natural, A major and then return to C#. 

chromatic mediants example 2

In the last four bars of this section, we still have chromatic mediant relationships but not always, like in the case of E to A major or in the end when we go from F# major to E major.  

Here is how this section sounds:

I was a bit heavy on the chromatic mediant usage for the purpose of demonstrating how it sounds but you can use these chord relationships interspersed in more common chord progressions like in a I – IV – V where you can use a chromatic mediant to add some unpredictability to harmonies.

Like in this case where I use Ab major as a chromatic mediant to F major and then use it to go to G major. This could also be interpreted as a tritone substitution chord movement – from Ab to G; and then I use G major to return to C major:

chromatic mediants with simple chord progression

You are not limited to the usage of chromatic mediant relationships only between chords or for chord progressions. You can also use it as a way of establishing relationships between tonalities.  

As is the case in the beginning of the initial section of this example. I start with A minor and an E minor chords and then I use a D half diminished and the G minor 7th chords. The latter do not belong to C major, but they do belong to E flat major tonality. So, there is a chromatic mediant relationship that was established between C and the Eb tonality.  

chromatic mediants - tonality relationships

I also used this device to return to Am, at the end of this section. The Db maj7 #11 chord that hints to the lydian mode, comes from the Ab major tonality and is a major third apart from the C major tonality to which I return to. 

Another idea for using third interval relationships is by applying it to chord sequences like in this example where you have an A and Eb major chords that are transposed a major third up giving place to C# and a G major chords.

chromatic mediants in chord sequences

Here is how it sounds in context: 

Metric Modulation

Because I was working with chromatic mediants and we have lots of modulations going on, I thought about, why not have some type of modulation in the tempo as well. So, my final tip for today is about rhythm. 

Throughout the track, I played around with different measure subdivisions while maintaining the same base tempo, in this case 122 bpm, to create the impression of speeding up or slowing things down a bit. 

All I did was basically use a 4/4 time signature but instead of having the regular four beats per measure, I would have 5-6 or even 7 beats per measure in a 4/4 time signature to imply a change in the tempo.

metric modulation - 5 beat subdivision of 4/4 time signature

This is different from having a 4/4 and then switching to a 5/4 time signature because if I maintain the same tempo I will only have an extra beat per measure without feeling any tempo changes. 

This is a nice way to surprise your listeners and introduce some novelty. Here are some examples in context: 

Here the bar is subdivided in 5 beats and then goes to 7 beats per measure:

Now we briefly go from 7 beats to 4 beats per measure and then use 6 beats per measure to introduce that triple time feel in a 4/4 time signature:

And finally move back to a 5 beat subdivision, near the end:

This is one of the ways you can use to create what is called a metric modulation. There are other ways you can do this by using polyrhythms, but we won’t be covering it now. 

Explore these ideas and try to incorporate them in your songwriting. Check out the links in this post if you need to learn more about the presented concepts.

It’s all for now and until next time! I’ll leave you with the full track.

Happy composing!

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