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how do modes work, really?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by ILLINOX, Jun 29, 2011.

  1. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    Geez, I don't know about that. My band has a tune with a section that is simply Dmin BbMaj7.

    Over the BbMaj7, I play an e-natural in my line; because the tune is in D natural min (relative minor to FMajor) and the BbMaj7 chord thus functions as the vi chord of Dmin (IV chord of FMajor). That's a practical application of modality. Of course, the general rule of "no natural 4th with a natural 3rd" applies too.
  2. Modes are scales. As the term modes is commonly used, it refers specifically to the seven possible rotations of the diatonic scale.

    Diatonic scale = heptatonic scale built with five whole-tone intervals and two semi-tone intervals, with the latter maximally separated from each other.

    Since the diatonic scale has seven notes, it is not symmetrical, and has seven unique rotations. Hence, the seven modes:
    T-T-s-T-T-T-s = Ionian (Major scale)
    T-s-T-T-T-s-T = Dorian
    s-T-T-T-s-T-T = Phrygian
    T-T-T-s-T-T-s = Lydian
    T-T-s-T-T-s-T = Mixolydian
    T-s-T-T-s-T-T = Aeolian (natural minor scale)
    s-T-T-s-T-T-T = Locrian
  3. jimmyjames


    Mar 30, 2011
    they are both pointless and very important at the same time lol

    A minor is A minor is A minor... but A minor is the came as C Major and its the same as E Phrygian and blah blah blah

    each mode as its own feel so you can use them to consciously change the mood or feeling of a tune, or you can use them just to find your "footing" on the finger board...
  4. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    Here's a different way to look at modes and Malcolm Amos' point brought it to mind. Modes only affect non-chord tones. For example, an Amin7 chord could function as the II chord of G Major, the III chord of F Major or the VI chord of C Major (and of course as the i chord in A Natural minor, but common modes, or Church modes, are based on Major tonalities, so let's stick to a Major key scenario).

    So, as long as you only play the notes a c e g over an Amin7, you can't go wrong, and the particualr function of the Amin7 chord is not important to you. However, I rarely stck to the chord tones in my bass lines; adding b9, 9, #9, #11, b13 and 13 (plus non-key/chromatic connecting tones). Thus, modes become important, because modes tell the musician whether the non-chord tones (i.e., 9, 11, and 13) should be b, natural, or #.
  5. uethanian


    Mar 11, 2007
    they don't.

    we're not playing modal music.

    most people ignore that "mode," in concept is not just a scale to be played up and down, it is a collection of notes that have certain melodic tendencies. in the age when european musicians were thinking modally, there were strict rules that governed composition. today, there are virtually no such rules to composition (although there are 'guidelines') so the idea of rationalizing modern music in terms of modes doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

    if modes help you to solo or understand composition, that's cool. but i feel like there's waaaaaay too much focus on them in music education. you should fully understand functional harmony before touching modes.
  6. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010

    Every time you play a b natural over a Dmin7 chord you're playing "modal music." It's not as if an entire composition needs to be like Miles' So What. That's a "modern classical" definition of "modal music." But employing non-chord tones in a bass line over a chord with consideration for the function of that chord is using modes.

    For that matter, blues is modal music. A blues, which is rooted in A, is not in A Major. It's in A Mixolydian, D Mixolydian and E Mixolydian.

    Now, if you want to say that a rock&roll progression like B G F# E has no relationship to modes, then I'm with you. Modes really only apply when a harmonic analysis of a chord progression is possible in terms of diatonic chords to a Major key, etc. You may not play music like that, but I do. Even the rock songs I write have "jazz theory" structure.
  7. But modes aren't needed for that, if you're playing fairly diatonically within a key. If you know your key, you already know what those extensions should be without recourse to modes. If I know the notes in the key of C major, I already know what all the diatonic 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths would have to be off all the scale degrees. Resorting to modes adds no explanatory power in that setting.

    If you're using a lot of chromatic alterations that aren't in the key, then that changes the game. The "modes of the key" still won't help, however, because you'll have gone outside the key. You then get closer to needing a "chord-scale" approach, whereby each chord really does need its own scale/mode. But that's probably a bit past where the OP is.
  8. I don't think that's true at all. Music is not modal music unless modality, as opposed to conventional major/minor tonality, is its basic organizing principle. That's what "modal music" means. What other meaning could it possibly have?

    This may help explain what I mean:

  9. Actually a lot of people think that a fair amount of folk and ethnic music, as well as some jazz and rock and even some classical, is best described as modal. So you may be playing modal music and not know it.;)
  10. +1

    To the original poster go get yourself a copy of the Guitar Grimoire, Scales and Modes. It seriously changed my life. It's a guitar book so just ignore those high strings:cool:
  11. SanDiegoHarry

    SanDiegoHarry Banned Supporting Member

    Aug 11, 2008
    San Diego, CA
    "Modes r pointless" - - Really? Really?

  12. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters

    It's now so clear to me. :hyper:
  13. henry2513

    henry2513 Supporting Member

    May 9, 2011
    Los Angeles, Ca
    Learn the modes and you can play anywhere on the fretboard and always be in key, it's a way to connect the entire fretboard so that you're not stuck playing in one position - you can play anywhere you choose. They're the first step in building a musical vocabulary.
  14. Roy Vogt

    Roy Vogt

    Sep 20, 2000
    Endorsing Artist: Kiesel, Carvin, Accuracy, Hotwire, Conklin Basses, DNA, Eden
    The best way I can explain them is to say that they can match the Diatonic Chord progression (Imaj7-iim7-iiim7-IVmaj7-V7-vim7-viim7b5-Imaj7):
    C-d-E-f-G-a-B-C (the upper case notes are the R-3-5-7 of the chord tones)
    Since you're always using the same 7 notes, you can generate the individual chords out of each scale, so they are interchangeable. Each one has a tonal quality (Dorian has a b3 and b7 and a major 6th, for example) and you can use each as a standalone sound as well as Miles does in "So What"
    I hope this helps out.
  15. You should probably look into modes again. Try playing that C Maj scale while another instrument plays a d min chord, or an e min chord, or a F Maj chord and so on. That's when the magic happens.


    Jun 20, 2011
    Wow... that's a lot to digest. Thanks to all of you! Phideck and Uethanian were able to explain things to me in ways that I understand best. I suppose I should have spent more time on the question:

    I've been told so many times about the "magic of modes" but everytime I attempt to explore them, even during the instruction of people that do understand modes, I don't get magic, I get mess. Whether it's a one note fill, speedy Flea-fill or just attempting to substitute modes for roots.
    I hear about the "arabian sounds" and "egyptian sound" or the "latin sound" But... for me... only rock sound. I'm tired of rock sound.

    I understand what modes are, I understand how modes work (in theory) but they don't work for me.

    so the question is: what am i doing wrong? how come the only modes that do "ring true" for me are fifths and octaves?

    thanks for all your time guys; I want to get this!
  17. Have someone play a static d minor chord over and over again and play a C Major scale over it BAM! d Dorian. Then have them play an e minor chord over and over and play the same C Maj scale BAM! e Phrygian. Then try all the other modes.

    F Lydian
    G Mixolydian
    A Aeolian (natural minor)
    B Locrian

    They are all the C Major scale (ionian mode). When you are doing this try to play the C Major scale and hang around the note of the mode you are in instead of the C's.
  18. uethanian


    Mar 11, 2007
    i thought a bit more about what i was meaning to say -

    first, that "mode" is a monophonic concept. that is, it's a system that lays a framework for melody, but has nothing to do with triadic harmony. the old european theorists pushed the idea that the modes were taken directly from the ancient greeks, but in reality the modes were the result of chaining 7 perfect fifths together, giving them inaccurate greek names and explaining them in terms of greek tetrachords. at the time, and because intonation was strictly pythagorean (built on pure perfect fifths), thirds and sixths were not considered consonances. by the time composers were combining 3 and 4 melodic lines, accidentals came into use, harmony became somewhat more flexible, and triadic harmony started to develop.

    modes are still very much a part of modern arabic/turkish/indian music. that's an entirely different discussion and i shouldn't get into it here, but my point is that when we use mode to describe a scale over a specific triad in a specific key, we are taking it completely out of context. you may say "well we just do things differently now and you're getting caught up in semantics." that may be true. it's just that people talk about the european modes like they are some musical absolute, when in reality there are more times modes are not applicable than when they are.

    EDIT: interesting tidbit, the actual greek modes went like


    the greeks also thought of scales as descending/ascending rather than ascending/descending.
  19. pringlw


    Nov 22, 2008
    Seattle Area

    Actually that's not correct. Modes are simply different scales that use the same notes. They are not "major" or "minor" because what we call "major" and "minor" are simply two of the different modes. The major scale is Ionian Mode. It became so popular in Western music that we gave it a special name - the "Major Scale". But in Greek or mode terms, its simply the first mode - Ionian. If we were looking at C major (Ionian) it would be;

    C, D, E, F, G, A, B

    What we call the "minor" scale, is the 6th mode or Aeolian mode. "A" Minor (Aeolian) is;

    A, B, C, D, E, F, G

    Notice that one is a major scale, and one is a minor scale but they use the same notes. That's why A minor is the relative minor of C major. But in the end, these two (major and minor) are only 2 of the 7 modes. They are the most popular in modern music - but they are not the only scales or modes. So if someone says all the modes are the same - think about it. Does C major and "A" minor sound the same? They have exactly the same notes - but they sound very different. They are 2 of 7 modes - nothing more nothing less.

    When you play around with the others - you learn about their different characters (much like major and minor are different). So for example, the second mode is Dorian. In this case it would be;

    D, E, F, G, A, B, C

    So they have their own quality, but they also have a practical purpose. Knowing your modes (and its easier to learn than you think) allows you to play any scale on any fret. This gives you huge range for soloing.

    Also, the finger physics of each mode is different. Mixolydian mode has a really easy pattern on the bass - and so knowing it allows me to rip through a solo very fast and very easily - with no thought at all. The fingers just jump around much faster than with the standard major (Ionian) mode. So if the key is C major, I can play G mixolydian and it sounds great - because its all the same notes - but in a different order so it gives a different quality.

    Anyway, if you play jazz, or if you solo, it's worth knowing modes.

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