# Bassy Bill's Beginners' Basic guide to scales and modes

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by BassyBill, Feb 21, 2010.

1. ### BassyBillThe smooth moderator...Gold Supporting Member

Mar 12, 2005
West Midlands UK
Yeah - teaching is not as easy as it seems (I know, I've done it for a living for over 20 years). There's a huge difference between stating something you know to be the case and actually explaining it, and I sometimes think knowledgeable folks like yourself can underestimate that difference. That's why not all great players can necessarily teach, I guess.

Anyway, thanks for looking in! It's nice to know there are other people out there willing to try and encourage others to learn.

2. ### Evil Undead

Oct 31, 2009
LOL alright calm down

I've re-read the entire thread through again, and I'm going to go and digest it now and see what I can make of it.

I apologise again for bombarding with the questions... I'm very eager to learn but my problem is that because I've been struggling with it for so long I kinda wanna learn it all yesterday if you know what I mean.

Didn't mean to hijack the thread and make it less enjoyable for others though.... sorry guys

3. ### ryco

Apr 24, 2005
97465
.... but if you find thinking in intervals easier, here's how I think of modes:

Ionian = Major scale = R M2 M3 P4 P5 M6 M7
Dorian = minor scale w/ 6th raised a half tone (M6) = R M2 m3 P4 P5 M6 m7
Phrygian = minor scale / 2nd lowered a half tone (m2) = R m2 m3 P4 P5 m6 m7
Lydian = Major scale w/ 4th raised a half tone (Aug 4)* = R M2 M3 A4 P5 M6 M7
Mixolydian = aka "Dominant" = Major scale w/ 7th lowered a half tone (m7) = R M2 M3 P4 P5 M6 m7
Aeolian = natural minor scale = R M2 m3 P4 P5 m6 m7
Locrian = aka "half diminished" = minor scale w/ 2nd lowered a half tone (m2), and the 5th lowered a half tone (dim 5)* = R m2 m3 P4 d5 m6 m7

notes:

when I say "minor scale" I mean Natural Minor scale (ala Aeolian, aka "pure" minor)
R = root; M = Major; m = minor, d = diminished; A = Augmented; P = Perfect (4th, 5ths and Octaves are considered "Perfect")
to raise a "Perfect" 4th or 5th it is considered Augmented, not Major
to lower a "Perfect" 4th or 5th it is considered diminished, not minor

if this is too confusing then go back to thinking in steps as BassyBill has so generously laid out. (or delete)
Thinking of modes in scale types was my light bulb moment in theory class; YMMV

4. ### Menjou

Apr 8, 2010
Subscribed!

Thanks a lot for taking a part of your valuable time and investing it on us!

Really great lessons!!

5. ### nasr20de

Apr 24, 2010
Western North Carolina
Great thread! To the top with it so its not forgotten
I'm about 1 month into learning how to play and this is about the best way I have seen it explained great job bassybill !

And since no one asked I hope your injury is fully healed.

6. ### John DGuest

Dec 27, 2009
Subscribed. Keep up the good work bassybill. This is very informative to many of us, and I fully appreciate your patients.

7. ### BassyBillThe smooth moderator...Gold Supporting Member

Mar 12, 2005
West Midlands UK
Hey - I've been meaning to update this for a couple of weeks. I'll get on to it as soon as time allows.

8. ### abstractart06

Apr 6, 2008
ATLANTA, GA
BassyBill, Thanks for breaking this down for me. I knew that modes were derived from positions in the major scale, but now I understand how the patterns work on any note of the scale. Just that info alone opens the door to basic theory. Teachers would say "practice scales and modes", but I didn't get the relationship between them before.

9. ### OneMeanZ

Feb 15, 2009
Bristol, TN
This has been the information that made the light go off in my head. Just wanted to post to say thanks to bassybill and all of those contributing!

10. ### TobyBass55

Dec 7, 2009
MI
BassyBill,
Thanks for the explanations. I just used this thread while trying to figure out what was going on with a song I was trying to play. So the thread came in very handy! (And I would never have figured it out without checking on this thread a few times.)

11. ### ericw

Aug 19, 2009
Hagerstown, MD
If we are talking about modes again (and I apologize for the length):

I understand how modes are constructed and so on. My question is how and when to use them. I often hear people selecting notes that sound unsuspected yet interesting (I guess this would be described as 'playing out'?). Can substituting modes be used to explore this kind of note selection? I will clarify my question after explaining my current approach to creating basslines.

Usually, if the singer/songwriter I play with gives me a new song to learn I identify the chord progression(s), the key the song is in, and if there are any key changes. Then, as I improvise a line to the song I will generally rely on chord tones and major/minor/pentatonic scales with the root being that of the current chord I am playing and, sometimes, the 'correct' mode for the chord I am playing (if I'm playing over the ii chord, I will identify and play the second mode - dorian).

If you have enough time or are soloing, could you play an improper mode over the current chord? E.G. if the song is in C and we are currently playing the Am7 (the vi7 chord), could I possibly play A Dorian (the second mode - A B C D E F# G A) as opposed to the 'correct' A Aeolian (the sixth mode - A B C D E F G A) and would it be interesting? I will experiment with my example tonight...

12. ### McKay

May 5, 2010
Central California
My first post on the site

What a great thread and the explanation is perfect for me.

Cant wait for more, thanks for doing this!

13. ### BassyBillThe smooth moderator...Gold Supporting Member

Mar 12, 2005
West Midlands UK
Hi Eric - your question is really way beyond the scope of a beginner's thread like this one. But I'll have a go...

A Dorian over an Am chord in the key of C might sound just great or just vile, depending on the context of what else is going on in the tune (particularly, what order you play the notes and what chord is coming up next). And do remember that slavishly going up and down ANY mode nearly always sounds stilted and unmusical, regardless of whether it's the "correct" one to play, or not. SELECT your notes using your knowledge and ear, rather than just letting the former select your notes for you. The best answer to your question, imo, is the old Duke Ellington saying, "If it sounds good, it is good."

For example, I've been learning an R&B tune for a gig I have this Saturday. It's clearly based on C# Phrygian for the majority of the tune. But there are notes used all over the place to lead from one scale tone to another for musical effect, and that effect is very cool. This is why it's important to listen to as much stuff as you can and work out what's going on by playing it. There's a lot to be learned from that. I find actually transcribing stuff helps a lot as I tend to analyse it as I go along and ask myself "Why does that work well there?" It also helps with my reading skill and that is something that's very worthwhile to me. It also makes me realise that although there are "rules" for telling you what to play in any given situation, these are best treated as guidelines and there's exceptions to each rule all over the place - they're made to be broken, after all. And transcription is a great way to relax! Win, win, win.

But the single most important thing to do, in my opinion, is to enjoy learning from what you're doing. This is one of those situations where the journey is way more important than the destination. Or to put it another way, asking the right questions might teach you more than getting the right answers. Sounds like you're willing to try things out and that's a great way (perhaps the only way) to find out what works in the way you want.

I hope that's helpful!

14. ### BassyBillThe smooth moderator...Gold Supporting Member

Mar 12, 2005
West Midlands UK
Welcome to TB, have lots of fun! This is a great site and you'll learn useful stuff here all over the place.

15. ### queevil

Aug 6, 2009
Waco,TX
Subscribed. I know all of this already but I'll keep following along. You'll eventually veer off into something that I haven't learned yet and probably pretty soon. My knowledge of theory is still pretty rudimentary. Good job bassybill.

16. ### ericw

Aug 19, 2009
Hagerstown, MD
thanks bassy

17. ### MEKerSupporting member

May 30, 2006
I deleted my posting, bassybill-------so he had corrected the error you pointed out, but no deletions as you suggested, so your pointing out there was an error remained after it had been fixed----which threw me for a loop.
Now its all good and I will continue to be subscribed for all the excellent postings/information here.
Best and thanks.

18. ### Charles Obscure

Sep 4, 2007
Thanks for this thread bassybill! As a beginner to theory and such, I have a similar mental block to Mr. Evil Undead. It almost seems like a switch gets turned off when I hear or read certain combinations of words regarding theory, scales and modes. Much like Ryco's post above. No offense is intended Ryco! I've been playing guitar successfully for 20+ years without this knowledge, but when I took up bass a couple years ago, it was my intention to learn.
I think my problem is that I don't entirely understand what those words mean, and it's up to me to do some more research into the terms used in order to grasp the concepts that are presented using them.

So far, this thread has been very informative from the first post, and I too have subcribed to this. bassybill, please do continue with what your intentions were when you started this thread.
Thanks all!

19. ### greencow

Feb 7, 2008
A sugestion if I may, it would be a lot easier to read this information if it was all up in the first post(aswell). Right now one can get lost between to paragraphs.
Otherwise great material....

20. ### Waterpilot

Jun 13, 2009
North of Seattle
Just a quick bump to see if/when the chord tone or spelling chords part is comming any time soon...