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how do modes work, really?

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

  1. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
    There's a lot of misunderstanding of modes here - as well as misinformation.

    If anyone can, after playing this, convince me that it's not in a Phrygian mode, but 'really' just D Major, there's a special prize waiting for you.


    By the way, I do NOT subscribe to the jazzbo teaching method of assigning a different mode to every chord in a tune.
  2. Gear_Junky


    Jul 11, 2000
    without calling modes useless, would it still be true that some people incorrectly use the term "modes" to refer to guitar and bass scales practiced in various fret positions? I.e. I know all the natural tones all over the fretboard. I practice those patterns - from 1st through 12th position. Does that mean that I'm playing "C Major" scale when I'm on the VII position, but an "A Minor" scale when I'm on the V position? Not really, because unless I'm soloing to a chord progression I'm not really playing music at all - I'm practicing patterns.

    That's the way Bill Edwards explains it in "Fretboard Logic" - he even says that many teachers misuse the term.

    When you first learn to play all over the fretboard you learn position scale patterns. They are NOT modes (unless you're playing them in a particular chordal context). Just like you don't play notes (you play tones, of which "notes" are a character represenation on paper or possibly a name, like "C"), you also don't play modes outside of a song or composition.

    As to real MODES, I am still trying to wrap my brain around them - it's a process. I suspect that I don't really run into a lot of modal music (which I would attempt to play). I have a deep interest in them, but being a late starter I doubt I'll ever fully develop a command of them via my instruments (guitar and bass).

    Mostly I live in Major, Minor and Pentatonic/Blues lands.
  3. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
    I think your statement is correct.

    I've seen this:

    || iim7 V7 I || OR || Dm7 G7 | Cmaj7 ||

    With a set of instructions to play a D Dorian scale (over the Dm7), then a G Mixolydian (over the G7), then a C Ionian scale (over the Cmaj7).

    Too much to think about. You'll sound like a college jazzbo. Better to just use the collection of notes commonly labeled C Major Scale. It'll work. In this context, go with Thaos627's assertions.


    Jun 20, 2011
    ok so then, where would I use modes? How would i use them?


    Jun 20, 2011
    BTW BassyBill; thanks for the link; I'm pulling plenty out of your thread. I just needed it broken down to a really simple level for me :D
  6. BassyBill

    BassyBill The smooth moderator... Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    Good to know, thank you. I think I might be forgiven for quoting some of my explanation (edited slightly) from that thread here, as it may be useful to anyone who finds this thread of yours in a future search. A few people just starting out in their study of modes seem to have found this clearly written, and I'd like to thank anyone who has done so for taking the time and trouble to read it carefully, as there's quite a bit of information in there (although I did limit this to natural modes and will leave synthetic modes for another time).

    Link to the original thread:

  7. The kind of situation Stick Player alluded to above is such a place. One context in which to use modes is a situation where what's going on harmonically is better described as modal than as conventionally major/minor in a functional harmonic sense. That is, when a piece or musical sequence can be said to be "in" A lydian, say, rather than E major.

    If you're not sure what I mean by functional harmony, maybe do a little research on it.

    You would use a mode the same way you use the scale associated with a key--to help guide your choice of notes. If you know the chords of a piece, they will tell you what your primary note choices are likely to be, but how you connect them and the non-chord tones you use in your lines are governed by the tonality or modality you happen to be working in at the time.

    Did you read the Bernstein link I posted earlier?
  8. pringlw


    Nov 22, 2008
    Seattle Area
    The real question is....

    What mode is best for metal?:bag:

    Ionian of course:D
  9. BassyBill

    BassyBill The smooth moderator... Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    But that would depend on which sub-sub-sub genre of metal you were hoping to play (in your friend's garage). For nu-metal, you'd be best tuning your bass C# - Fb - A - Db and playing in E# Superlocrian mode (regardless of what else was happening in your immediate vicinity). But for black metal, you should retune to G - A - W - D, turn all the lights off and play in F Hungarian loud enough for the pizza delivery guy to know which door to knock.
  10. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Interesting topic. Its worth the time to check out the link Richard posted to the Bernstein lecture. The script is worth the time, but to really understand the subject get the musical selections that he picked; The Association, The Beatles, The Kinks, Brahms, Debussy... a great collection of music that shows the power of the modes. Each one is a small world of unique sound and musical posibilities.
  11. MNAirHead

    MNAirHead Supporting Member

    Roy's was the most elequent answer (and useful)...

    Thank you.
  12. MNAirHead

    MNAirHead Supporting Member

    I'll add...

    To a bassist... the relevance and use is slightly different than for a chordal or melodic instrument.
  13. 251


    Oct 6, 2006
    Metro Boston MA
    No offense taken, Bill. If the OP has gotten to dealing with modes, it is also time to hear what is being played from the listener's POV. Less than that is the tail wagging the dog, aka solos of endless scales & patterns with little melodic value.

    Modes are difficult to grasp as a concept because they just look like the same scale. 'Look' being the operative word. They look the same on a chart but sound different in subtle ways. The show down over; Is this Phrygian or Dmaj is a good illustration <no offense intended, it is a relevant point>. The answer is "yes" if you are reading rather than listening. I suspect this thread is too fragmented to go much deeper than that with any focus.

    Thx for sharing your thoughts. I find what you say really interesting. :cool:
  14. henry2513

    henry2513 Supporting Member

    May 9, 2011
    Los Angeles, Ca
    Everyone here is overthinking it, ignore the nomenclature for now and take the modes for what they are in a practical sense: a way to connect the entire fretboard in any key and still be in key. Think geometrically about them.
  15. Billnc


    Aug 6, 2009
    Charlotte NC
    Modes are sounds, not positions on the fretboard. It is possible to play every mode in every position.
  16. henry2513

    henry2513 Supporting Member

    May 9, 2011
    Los Angeles, Ca
    Hence - think geometrically and practically I.e. forget what they are called and think of how I can use them to make music and expand my musical vocabulary.
  17. Well, but that's not really what they are in any sense that I can see. They would be of no real value if that were all they were, because they would add nothing. You can "connect the entire fretboard in any key and still be in key" without any recourse to modes, and do so more simply and effectively IMHO. It sounds as if you're really talking about positions rather than modes.
  18. devine


    Aug 22, 2006
    Owner: Scott's Bass Lessons
    Hey guys,
    Modes each have there own personality… to really get into this don’t practice them like this… C Ionian for a little while, D Dorian for a few minutes, E Phrygian for a few more etc etc. Practice them over a drone, for example use your E string as a drone, first play E Ionian, then E Dorian, next E Phrygian etc etc. That way you start to learn the ‘sound’ of the mode.

    As for what are modes??? In simple terms think of it like this…

    Any major scale has 7 notes… Easy!

    Each note of the major scale has a chord built from it…

    Each chord has a corresponding scale... these are the modes.

    So there’s a little more to it than that but once you get your head round ‘what’ the modes are then you can start to learn them and there individual sounds.

    Piece a cake!!!


    Free Online Bass Lessons - Scott's Bass Lessons
  19. A bass grimoire is also available.

    But, simply knowing a book full of scales (= mode, it's just a word to describe the musical context of a scale) is not very useful without knowing the the functions and harmonic relationships of those scales.
  20. henry2513

    henry2513 Supporting Member

    May 9, 2011
    Los Angeles, Ca

    Ok well let me rephrase that as I was typing my answer while hopping off the subway.

    You can connect the entire fretboard using the modes and your ideas will work harmonically. I can play an idea in C major in 1st position using C ionian or I can play over C major in 5th position - G Mixolidian, or anywhere else, i.e 3rd position or E Phrygian and my idea will still work harmonically over C major and be in line theoretically. I can play across the entire fretboard and use the entire harmonic range of the instrument this way. While this is still very basic it's still effective. It doesn't touch on the whole gamut of other ways you can add variety i.e melodic minor modes, diminished scale, chord substitutions blah blah blah blah....

    Sure you connect the fretboard without any recourse to modes but your choices are limited. I can play a 3 octave C major scale but that's very rudimentary.

    If you think if i geometrically it makes more sense. Geometrically as in not viewing the modes as scales but looking at them as patterns that span the entire fretboard.

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