A modality is a colorful and imaginative transformation of a module.  Simple modalities include: repeating a motivic idea in the minor mode which had been stated in the major mode; repeating a pattern in a dotted rhythm which had been stated in an even rhythm.  In contrast, rational transformations are systematic and precise.  Examples include: a real answer to the subject of a fugue (instead of a tonal answer); the precise augmentation or diminution of a rhythmic pattern; twelve-tone technique, in which the intervals of the row are always precisely the same.  Modalities abound even in twelve-tone music, however, in so many instances where minor seconds are echoed in major seconds and minor thirds in major thirds.

The distinction between modal and rational manipulations of an idea applies to rhythm and other aspects of a musical work as well as to pitch.

Riff Modalities

Lester Allyson Knibbs, Ph.D.
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