Chromatic Mediants

Chromatic mediants are a concept in music theory that involve the relationship between two chords that:

  1. are a third apart, and
  2. share at least one common tone.

These chords are typically from different keys or modes and have different root notes. The term “chromatic” refers to the fact that these chords often involve chromatic alterations (notes outside the key signature).

The chromatic mediant relationship is denoted as follows: If you have a chord, let’s say in the key of C major, and you move to a chord whose root is a third above or below, such as E major or A♭ major, that new chord is a chromatic mediant.

For example, in the key of C major:

  • C major (I) to E major (III) or A♭ major (VI) would be chromatic mediants.

Chromatic mediants have certain characteristic qualities and functions in music:

  1. Unexpectedness and Color: Chromatic mediants introduce harmonic shifts that are not typically found in diatonic progressions. The sudden shift to a chord with different tonal qualities creates a sense of surprise and color.
  2. Modulation and Tonal Ambiguity: Chromatic mediants can imply a temporary modulation to a new key. Since they often involve notes outside the original key, they create ambiguity about the tonal center, which can be exploited for expressive purposes.
  3. Expressive and Emotional Impact: The chromatic mediant relationship can evoke strong emotional responses due to the unexpected harmonic movement. Composers use this to convey emotional shifts or intensity in their music.
  4. Use in Film and Contemporary Music: Chromatic mediants are frequently employed in film scoring and contemporary music to create dramatic and unique chord progressions that capture listeners’ attention.
  5. Voice Leading: The shared common tone between chromatic mediants allows for smooth voice leading, adding to their appeal in harmonic progressions.
  6. Expansion of Harmonic Palette: Chromatic mediants extend the harmonic palette beyond the conventional diatonic chords, enhancing the complexity and variety of chord progressions.
  7. Consonance and Dissonance: Depending on the context, chromatic mediants can create moments of consonance or dissonance, offering composers a versatile tool for crafting tension and resolution.

Overall, chromatic mediants provide composers and musicians with a way to introduce harmonic surprises, emotional shifts, and tonal ambiguity into their music, enriching the listening experience and adding depth to their compositions.