As the music for the avatar boards, shop, equipment menus and all actions regarding medals (fusion, evolution, and keyblade medal selection), “Shipmeisters’ Shanty” is arguably a main theme song in disguise, simply because of the nature of how often you will hear it while playing Kingdom Hearts Unchained X. The bouncy, syncopated energy of this piece breathes life into and reflects the whole atmosphere the game. In today’s article we’re going to talk about a somewhat advanced but very fun and interesting music theory concept: modal mixture.

Before we get into that though, let’s listen to “Shipmeisters’ Shanty”:

Note: There’s a good chance that this track will be taken out of the update tonight, as KHUx officially changes its name to Kingdom Hearts Union Cross. Whether or not this lovely theme is still in the game tomorrow, I still wanted to write about it now ^_^

So what exactly is modal mixture? Modal mixture is when a piece of music borrows notes from a parallel key. In this case, “Shipmeisters’ Shanty” is in the key of C# Major, but there are some borrowed notes from C# Natural Minor (the parallel minor of C# Major).

The difference between relative and parallel in regard to major and minor keys is most easily understood from looking at each pair’s key signatures or names. For example…

  • The key signature of 4 sharps can be either E Major or C# Minor—these two keys are said to be relative. That is, E Major is the relative major of C# Minor, and vice versa: C# Minor is the relative minor (relative natural minor) of E Major. Both keys have the same set of notes, but differ depending on where the tonic, or starting pitch, is.
  • C# Major and C# Minor have different key signatures, but the same tonic, or starting pitch. C# Major and C# Minor both begin and end on C#, therefore these two keys are parallel.

Let’s look at and listen to the scales of C# Major and C# Natural Minor.

C# Major Scale.jpg

C# Natural Minor Scale.jpg

While “Shipmeisters’ Shanty” is overall in the key of C# Major, there are parts in the song where you can hear borrowed notes from C# Minor. Those occurrences are at 00:08, 00:16/00:32 (the melodies at these two sections differ only in rhythm of the final pitch, so the excerpt I’ll show you will be the one heard at 00:16). Go ahead and listen to those parts again, and see if you can hear notes that sound just slightly out of place!

Here’s the part at 00:08.

shanty excerpt 01.jpg

Notice the second to last note, A♮. This note does not normally occur in C# Major, but it DOES occur in C# Natural Minor. With just this one note changed, though, it’s hard to say for certain that modal mixture is occurring. Plus, the melody goes to A♮ for just a moment before returning to G#. However…

Here’s the part at 00:16.

shanty excerpt 02.jpg

Now you’ll notice that there are two natural notes, A♮ and B♮. Because these two notes occur in the C# Natural Minor scale, and especially because they lead right up to the tonic, it’s safe to say that this is modal mixture. There is simply no other explanation!

Listen to how it would sound were those two notes not lowered:

shannntttyyyy.jpg

You could argue that the melody would sound more upbeat and happy were the entire song in a major key, but wouldn’t you agree that the addition of those little chromatic notes, that little bit of modal mixture, adds a bit of whimsy that makes the piece all that much more interesting? ♪

Stay tuned for more Single-Track Analysis Articles of tracks from Kingdom Hearts Unchained X / Kingdom Hearts Union Cross! One article every day in the month of April 2017!

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One thought on “STA: KHUx.05 – Shipmeisters’ Shanty / A Lesson in Modal Mixture

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