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Crash Course in Modes

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by SirFunk, Apr 9, 2006.

  1. SirFunk

    SirFunk Supporting Member

    May 24, 2001
    Topeka, KS
    I know that there are tons of music theory books out there that cover modes. What I'm wondering is if anyone has any book they recommend as a crash course in modes. Something that breaks them down logically and provides good methods for practicing them in a memorable fassion as well as methods for applying them to playing.

    Any suggestions?
  2. Kam


    Feb 12, 2006
    Minneapolis, MN
    I'm not familiar with any specific method books, I learned them from Terry Burns' books in conjunction with his instruction. I don't if they're available nationally, you could emailing him: tburns@mcnallysmith.edu

    The basic rundown is understanding how the modes relate to the major scale.

    Getting them under your fingers can be achieved by playing some 2-octave modal scale patterns that you are comfortable with, practice them ascending and descending. Then descending and ascending. Then ascending up on and descending down the next one (Ascend Ionian - Descend Dorian - Ascend phrygian, etc).
  3. SirFunk

    SirFunk Supporting Member

    May 24, 2001
    Topeka, KS
    Thanks I'll check it out.

    I should have mentioned that I've been playing bass for quite a while and i'm going to music school. I know what the modes are, where they come from, and how to figure it out. It's just a matter of getting them on the top of my head and under my fingers.

    Anyone else have any other ideas?

  4. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    I'll assume you know all the major scales so I'd say start with the dorian mode and play it in at least 2 octaves. Then also play the minor triad arpeggio (in 2 octaves) from that mode. So if you're playing C dorian, you'd play the Cminor triad arpeggio up and down (2 octaves). Try to figure out at least two different ways to play it.

    Once you have done all the dorian modes and have the dorian sound in your head, move on to the next mode and do the same thing.

    There really isn't a shortcut. It's just a matter of putting in the time.
  5. SirFunk

    SirFunk Supporting Member

    May 24, 2001
    Topeka, KS
    Hmm.. Well i've done such things before. I feel like they don't stick however. I can play them until they get pretty fluid over a few days and then if i go a few days without playing them I have to start over from square one (aka. ok.. play a c major scale starting on d, ok that's dorian... etc.)

    I'm guessing that they don't stick because they arn't really applied to anything usefully musicial.
  6. Freddels

    Freddels Musical Anarchist

    Apr 7, 2005
    Sutton, MA
    OK, if you're doing them and they're not sticking then I suggest that you say outloud each and every note that you play. This will slow you down a bit and it will make you think (especially when descending). This helps cement the notes of the particular mode in your head and also reinforces the location of the notes on your instrument.

    Also, you may want to have a drone note playing so that you can play over it. If you're playing Eb Dorian then have a drone Eb going. This will also help with your intonation.
  7. Kam


    Feb 12, 2006
    Minneapolis, MN
    One thing regarding implementing modes into your playing, and I'm assuming you're talking about jazz, is superimposing modes as a way to play outside while still being inside. For example, solo using a locrian scale relative to the major key or key center of a tune. Find a mainly diatonic tune...Blue Bossa would be a very simple example to start with. It is in C minor...so consider that the aolian mode. (Sorry, I'm probably butchering the spellings.) Solo using the Ionian scale and arpeggios, so Eb Major. When it gets to the ii-V7 in Db Major you can change the Eb dorian mode or whatever you want to do. This is just an example, doing this won't immediately be the hippest thing you've ever heard, but it should give you a good idea of what modes fit well where...so on and so forth...

    Of course to do this it would be good if you had band in a box or something like it to play changes for you. Most guitarists and pianists I play with are strongly against the proposition of comping for an hour while I get my licks down. ;)

    Once you get the basic implementation you can try stuff like the modes of harmonic and melodic minor...they can get pretty out. :bassist:
  8. Leco reis

    Leco reis

    Sep 2, 2004
    Astoria, NY
    write a tune in the mode you are working .
    Then get the sound in your ears and improvise on it
  9. ToR-Tu-Ra


    Oct 15, 2005
    Mexico City

    I don't think of modes that way, like D dorian is a Cmaj scale but starting and ending on the D. That would make it difficult to transpose in other keys (for me, anyways).

    I think modes in terms of intervals:

    Ionian: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
    Dorian: 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7, 8
    Phrygian: 1, b2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7, 8
    Lydian: 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7, 8
    Mixolydian: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7, 8
    Aeolian: 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7, 8
    Locrian: 1, b2, b3, 4, b5, b6, b7, 8

    Then you can sort them:

    Ionian, Lydian and Mixolidian are "major" and only differ from each other by one note, so fingerings are very close.
    Dorian, Phrigian and Aeolian are "minor". Aeolian being the natural minor scale can be used as a starting point to compare the other two, which again, only differ in one note.
    Locrian is still pretty close to the "minors" althoug its semi diminished, just one note away from phrygian.

    Try playing this kind of games so your really understand the modes in and out. Maybe what I just said isn't really helpful to you, but try to find a way to make understanding modes easier for you.

    Sorry for the long post
  10. j_tour


    Feb 1, 2006
    Dan Haerle, "The Jazz Language" is precisely a short book which tells you pretty much everything you'd want to know about the modes of the major scale, the harmonic minor scale, and the melodic minor scale.

    It's a nice little book which doesn't make the mistake of presenting the simple concept of modes as a lifelong project or anything. If I may add that once you really know something about the sounds of the major-scale modes, the modes of the harmonic and melodic minor scales are going to present very little additional effort to master, at least in concept.

    I'd really suggest getting to *know* the standard, harmonic minor theory before getting into the melodic minor flavors. At the very least, it will help you understand music theory in it's most primary forms.
  11. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    The only problem I have with this approach is that if you look at a chord (ex. Cm7) the chord itself tells you nothing of its function in that key. Thinking "well Dorian, Phrygian, Aeolian, or even Locrian work" turns the tune into a set of changes rather than the unique song you are playing.
  12. ToR-Tu-Ra


    Oct 15, 2005
    Mexico City
    You're right, that's only the way I went to learn each mode and how it sounds, you know, to get it really inside me so it can come out natural... which is what I thought the original poster was asking. But yeah, you should keep in mind that Ionian is the scale for the I chord, Dorian for the ii, phrygian for iii and so on.

    To know what the hell a Cm7 is doing in any given tune you just have to look at the progression and do a bit of "math".
  13. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
  14. no books, but I've got a nice little pnemonic device:

    I Don't Particularly Like My Algebra Lessons.

    Starting from C you just go up one step in the scale with and play it as if it were a C major scale starting on whatever degree.

    I = Ionian (starts on C)

    Don't = Dorian (starts on D)

    Particularly = Phrygian (Starts on E)

    Like = Lydian (Do I have to say it? F!)

    My = Mixo-Lydian (G)

    Algebra = Aeolian (A)

    Lessons = Locrian (B)

    You can learn the procession of whole/half steps and apply them to different keys as you go. Now, as for the practical application, that's a whole other ball park:p Have fun with that.
  15. Another pneumonic is

    ALI does punch loud mouths

    A-Aeolian L-Locrian I-Ionian

    Two books I've used and/or teach with.

    Melodic Bass Library by Jimmy Haslip (modes, pentatonics, whole-tone, blues, altered scales)

    The Improvisor's Bass Method by Chuck Sher
    In particular Chapter 10 - Chord Extensions
    Lots of good theory and practical exersizes.

  16. +1 Thats what I do. Write a song for each mode with a solo/improvising section.
  17. degroove


    Jun 5, 2002
    Wilmington, DE
    This is the way I am trying to apply modes. I have a question though...

    When walking major/minor using an arpeggiated approach, I would try to hit the Root and the Third to differentiate between the major and minor.

    If I am playing Dorian over a minor ii chord, the scale would have both a minor third and a major sounding foruth. If you are trying to elicit the sound of the scale which results from the alteration of those scale tones, what do you choose in the line?


    Beat one - Root
    Beat two - Minor Third
    Beat three - which???
    Beat Four - Octave

    Would the Mjor Fourth be a good choice for Beat Three? I do understand that personal choice is a big part here, but from the theory standpoint, what is the "following the rules" option?
  18. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    degroove, Dorian mode has a minor third, major sixth, and minor 7th. With C as the root that would be C,D,Eb,F,G,A,Bb. We don't describe 4ths as major or minor.

    The easy answer, at least the ones I tell my students, is that notes you play on the strong beat are #1. In 4/4 time that is beats 1 & 3. Initially I tell them to play a chord tone on these beats. As you get better at walking and listen to more of it this can go out the window, but is a good place to start.

    After we play through a chart I make them write out what line they want to play. This is a technique I stole from Rufus. Then we play it and change what doesn't sound right to us. Sometimes muscle memory takes over and this is in an effort to combat this. My old teacher was big on the shape of a line too. He had be trace my written lines on tracing paper.

    To directly anwer you arpeggio question
    1 - root
    2 - minor 3rd
    3 - 5th
    4 - minor 7th

    But don't play that. Try that Rufus thing. You'll come up with more interesting lines.
  19. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    Also, stay away form 4ths.
  20. ToR-Tu-Ra


    Oct 15, 2005
    Mexico City
    Signed in too late... +1 on what fingers said. Writing down the bassline you want to play gives you a visual idea of how it works. You can see how it goes up and down like a snake, really fun!

    In conclusion: chord tones on beats 1 and 3 and avoid the fourths.

    For a dorian chord/scale you might want to consider the major sixth which is what gives it that dorian flavor and makes it different from aeolian.

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