Modal Interchange – How to Write a Melody with Music Theory from Opeth “Heart in Hand”

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Learn how to write a melody (or guitar riff) using modal mixture, as heard in Opeth “Heart in Hand” off their upcoming album “In Cauda Venenum”. Subtitles/CC available.
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Legendary Swedish band Opeth (progressive metal) just dropped the lead single “Heart in Hand” from their upcoming thirteenth studio album. The song launches straight into a one-note groove that might seem disappointing to first-timers, but Opeth fans would know the band are merely laying a root-note foundation for something special to be built on. And we only have to wait until the fourth bar before that something special is introduced. What is it? A mind-blowing melody! What’s so great about it? Many things, but let’s start with the fact that Opeth play both the minor 3rd and major 3rd in their melody. And not only that, they play each 3rd for the exact same duration, giving their melody an equal amount of minor and major emotion. As if that wasn’t enough, the next thing you’ll notice is probably the dissonant ♯4 that suggests they’re in Lydian, which is a major mode as it has a major 3rd. However, the instantly-recognizable note combination of minor 7 and major 6 then suggests they’re in Dorian, which is a minor mode as it has a minor 3rd. And then, just to confuse things even more, they throw in a ♭2 that suggests Phrygian. So after all that, what mode is Opeth’s melody actually in? All of them! How? Well, Opeth are using a technique known as modal interchange (or modal mixture), which is just a fancy way of saying they wrote this melody by combining two or more modes that have the same root note, known as parallel modes. But, Opeth’s use of modal interchange only works because below their melody, they are exclusively playing the root note. For example, if they were playing a minor chord below, then the major 3rd in the melody would clash with the minor 3rd in the chord. But as it’s just the root note below, literally anything can go above!

Alright, now you’re gonna learn how to use this theory to make your own version. And for the example in this lesson, we’ll be using our version that we made earlier. So, start by setting up five bars of 4/4, with your grid set to 1/16 notes, and your tempo set to 120 BPM. Opeth use E as their root note, so we’ll use it too. And by the way, these dark notes below are our root-note bass line (which is on another track). They’re all muted here though, they’re just here for reference.

STEP 1 – THE 3rds
Right, first things first, or rather, third things first. Arguably the best way to start mixing modes, is to play the major 3rd and the minor 3rd. People are not used to hearing music with both 3rds, so as soon as you play them both, your listeners will know that something special is happening. Also, try to play the 3rds for the same duration, like Opeth do, as that creates a potent 50/50 mix of major and minor.

Now it’s time to use those characteristic modal notes. So, start by playing the ♯4 somewhere for that Lydian feel. Then, play the 6 and ♭7 somewhere to get that Dorian vibe. And then, play the 5 somewhere to stabilize the melody and provide your listeners with a brief moment of normality amongst the modal mixture madness.

STEP 3 – 1/16 NOTES
Lastly, for some extra spice, sprinkle in the ♭2 for that moody Phrygian sound, but be sure to play the 2 somewhere as well, for a little normality once again. And they go great before or after the root note, so throw in a couple roots as well.

Hack Music Theory is a pioneering method for making great music that stands out, so you can move and grow your audience! Taught by award-winning music lecturer Ray Harmony and his protégé wife Kate Harmony, from their home studio in Vancouver, Canada. Ray has been teaching music theory for 24 years, and along the way he’s made music with Serj Tankian (System Of A Down), Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine), Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad), Ihsahn (Emperor), Kool Keith (Ultramagnetic MCs), Madchild (Swollen Members) and many more! Hack Music Theory teaches relevant and instantly-usable music theory for producers, DAW users, and all other music makers (songwriters, singers, guitarists, bassists, drummers, etc.) in all genres, from EDM to R&B, pop to hip-hop, reggae to rock, electronic to metal (and yes, we djefinitely djent!).


© 2019 Revolution Harmony
Revolution Harmony is Ray Harmony & Kate Harmony
All content (script & music) in video by Revolution Harmony
Thumbnail photo courtesy of


Hack Music Theory says:

When writing your modal mixture melodies, remember: What you play after each 3 will be affected by that 3's major/minor quality. For example, in our version we play the 3 followed by the ♭7, so that ♭7 feels Mixolydian. But in Opeth's version, they play the ♭3 followed by the 6, so that 6 feels Dorian (not Ionian or Mixolydian) all because of the ♭3 before it. Magic tricks are fun, right?!

Vovin Lonshin says:

another video full of great theory! so much to play with in the future!!


Thank you, love this video a lot.

Рофланыч says:

Hi Hack Music Theory. It would be aweseome if you make video on writing deep house melodies. Thank you very much

Garrett Romero says:

I know you've done TesseracT before, but I absolutely can not figure out the time signature of their songs Eden from the One album. I've been trying for years.

Justin Nogle says:

Opeth is friggin great, as is this lesson. Thank you! Modal mixture mesmerizes and motivates musical musings. Marvelous!

Kent Courtney says:

The end guitar really tied everything together. I like the big lettering, too. That looks great on my iPad. No squinting with my tea.

Nayib Charles says:

Eternity forever, Fantasy

Amer Alameddine says:

Thanks a bunch for breaking this down! Opeth's sound is one of the most interesting and varied ones in metal for me, and I'm glad you took the time to offer some insight into how it works. It would be rad if you hack Mastodon next, they have a bunch of really cool melodies that you don't normally hear in metal too. Keep up the awesome work!

Willian Wyler says:

I love you guys and I love Opeth! Very inspiring video again! But it is also frustrating, because at the moment I don't have time to make music 🙁
As soon as I have some time I'll post something in the HMT forum. Have a nice weekend!

Jason Keisling says:

I also use reaper and I haven’t figured out how to drag-select multiple midi like you do. When I try it starts drawing more notes. Are you holding down a key while dragging to change the function?

Jason Keisling says:

Love Opeth. I’ve seen you do some thom Yorke videos lately. Could you do one on how to achieve his glitchy drum sound?

Jaye Parker says:

We just love you guys – I know you are busy BUT, (the infamous but) is it possible to do an entry to intermediate level class or series dedicated to the mechanics of home recording (analog or digital) i.e, 12 tracking ect., (we are using the Korg D-12) so that we can follow? Thanks again for an insightful & revealing class –

Muhammadreza Haghiri says:

Hello my friends!

It was a very hot day here and I wanted to get back home, I just took a subway train, and I sat there. I was exploring Spotify and then I found Opeth released new material! It was great! I listened to the song for three times while I was in the train. It's really good material for a hot day, specially when you're tired of work. I loved the song. And about the hack … I really like how Opeth writes music. The first song I heard from them was a cover from Deep Purple (I think Soldier of Fortune), but when I heard to their originals I was like "WOW, this is my new favorite band". And It's 5 years of listening to these great Swedish fellas. May Odin be with them m/
And at the end, have a nice weekend my friends <3

Ben Asaro says:

Thank you for covering this; Opeth is amazing and you both did a great job of breaking down some of the madness contained within their music!

Bryan Reed says:

You two are so cute.
Do you think that the original band wrote the lead with such depth of music theory in mind, or that they just played with what sounded good?

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