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how do modes work, really?

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

  1. Cool, but that's not playing modes. That's just using the C major scale from different points and in different positions. You're still just playing in C. And that's not what modes are--they're not just the major scale starting from different spots. That's the very misconception that some of us here argue so strongly against. (See for example, Pacman's sticky on scales.) I don't mean to be harsh, but the idea that you have to be starting from the 1 of a scale to be using that scale is a fundamental error.

    Modes are also not finger patterns.

    Modes as you describe them don't give you a single option beyond what's already inherent in the key.
  2. silky smoove

    silky smoove Supporting Member

    May 19, 2004
    Seattle, WA
    This has probably been touched on already in the thread, so forgive me if I'm reiterating the same information:

    One of the most useful things to know about using modes as a backing instrument, is to know which modes sound good behind which chords. Say the guitar player is playing a m7 chord, a sus4 chord, a maj7 chord, etc. Knowing which modes work well with those types of chords, and the tonic of the chord itself will give you a better understanding of what will sound good behind the chord in addition to simply matching the tonic. It's just another tool to have at your disposal.

    It's also handy when going into a jam and the guitar player says "It's kind of a D dorian thing." and you can play along without ever having heard the phrase. The positive upshoot of this is when the drummer looks at you and says "How did you know what to play?" :smug:
  3. henry2513

    henry2513 Supporting Member

    May 9, 2011
    Los Angeles, Ca
    What I'm referring to is an oversimplification of what the modes are but In my opinion an "actionable" way of looking at them and a good place to start.

    And yes, you don't have to start from the 1 of a scale but I think it's a good way to learn how the modes work across the fretboard.

    I know that there are major/minor modes and that you can apply them in different ways for more options but that goes beyond the scope of what I'm talking about here.

    I was fortunate enough to have an excellent teacher when I started playing and looking at them in this was a great place to start.

    And modes or any other scale become finger patterns on the fretboard, I don't know what else to call them if you look at them in a practical sense.

    The OP is looking for a practical way to apply the modes not a lesson in harmony and theory or musical nomenclature and the way I describe them is a practical way to BEGIN using them.
  4. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    skimmed this thread, but here's my no doubt redundant explanation of modes:

    ==========================modes for beginners=========================
    Modes (for beginners)
    Note: this assumes you know
    1.) the major scale
    2.) basic note names , flats and sharps, preferably on your fingerboard.

    What are Modes?
    -Modes are particular category of Scale.
    -The exact musical meaning of "Mode" has changed over the centuries.
    -In contemporary music theory, the modes are generally considered to be variations of the 7 note "diatonic" scale.
    -The Major and Minor scales are the first examples diatonic scales we usually learn.
    -Beyond the diatonic scale, a modal approach has also applied to other scales, such as the melodic minor and harmonic minor.

    There are 2 ways to explain /understand modes: Relative and Parallel.

    Relative Modes:
    same set of notes (one key), different root.
    Usually the first way modes are learned.

    For example, these modes are relative to C major:
    Root 	 	Mode		Scale tones 				
     C 		Ionian 		CDEFGAB (aka C Major)   
     D 		Dorian 		DEFAGBC
     E 		Phrygian	EFAGBCD
     F 		Lydian		FGABCDE
     G 		Mixolydian	GABCDEF
     A 		Aeolian		ABCDEFG (aka A Minor*)
     B 		Locrian		BCDEFGA
    Each relative mode is in the same key, C major in this example.
    This pattern can apply to any major scale, not just C major.

    Parallel Modes:
    Different sets of notes (many keys), same root.

    for Example, these modes are parallel to C Major:
     C Ionian 		CDEFGAB 		(aka C Major)
     C Dorian		CDEbFGAbB 		(CMaj with a b3, b7)
     C Phrygian		CDbEbFGAbB 		(CMaj with a b2, b3, b6)
     C Lydian		CDEF#GAB 		(CMaj with a #4)
     C Mixolydian		CDEFGAbB 		(CMaj with a b7)
     C Aeolian		CDEbFGAbBb  	(CMaj with a B3,B6,b7 aka C Minor)
     C Locrian		CDbEbFGbAbBb 	(CMaj with a b2,b3,b5,b6,b7)
    Each parallel mode is in a different key.
    This pattern can apply to any root note, not just C.

    Relative and Parallel Modes are 2 approaches to the same concept, they are *not* different concepts.
    It's important to learn to see how the 2 illustrations above are actually the same idea operating in different ways.

    Points to consider:
    1.) Relative modes are the simplest way to show how modes are constructed,and how they relate, but can easily be misunderstood/misused if oversimplified.
    2.) Thinking in Parallel modes emphasizes that each mode has a feel of its own, and is not "just" a major scale, but how they relate to each other may be less clear.
    3.) Modes have been used to analyze what notes "work" over various chords (usually in the context of a Jazz solo)
    4.) As a result, there are many "Chord N = play Mode X,Y or Z" type formulas, often seen by beginners as an easy answer to navigating chord progressions.
    5.) Some feel that such formulas can lead to "playing scales" instead of music, and are not as useful as understanding harmony and using your ear.
    6.) As a result, beginners are encouraged to learn Intervals*, Arpeggios*, Chord Tones*, Harmonizing Scales*, and other fundamental things before Modes.
    7.) because full understanding of Modes requires full understanding of the above fundamentals, some argue that Modes themselves are fundamental.
    9.) The 3 biggest "controversies" over Modes that tend to erupt on TalkBass:
    A.) Which is "correct" or "best" way to explain /understand Modes: relative or parallel?
    B.) Are Modes the "correct" or "best" way to determine what notes to play for a given chord progression?
    C.) Nit-picking poorly worded/ misunderstood explanations or examples.
    10.) If it you like how it sounds, none of the above matters.

    *If you don't understand what these terms mean, STOP WORRYING ABOUT MODES and learn those first.
  5. masterFlash


    Jul 6, 2009
    Modes are really easy.
    Its just another way to play a scale.

    Take a scale any scale. Start on the first note and play all the notes in that scale up to the next octave.

    Congratulations you just played The IONIAN mode of that scale.

    Now Start on the second note of that same scale. Play all the notes of that scale up to the octave of your starting note.

    Congratulations you just played the DORIAN mode of that scale.

    See it's easy.

    Keep going.

    Start on the 3rd note of the scale and run up an octvae, only playing the notes in the original scale. HAHA PHRYGIAN mode of that scale.

    Mambo4 has listed the order of the modes, so now you know what it all is.

    WHY do we talk about modes?
    Thats another thread.
  6. henry2513

    henry2513 Supporting Member

    May 9, 2011
    Los Angeles, Ca
    Great, comprehensive explanation.
  7. JTE

    JTE Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA

    Modes should be learned only after you have a solid understanding of building four-note chords (the seventh chords), the harmonized major scale, and the WHY of what ii V I, I IV V, I vi IV V, etc. mean.

    Second, run away from anyone who says "Use D Dorian then G Mixolydian, the C Ionian for a ii V I in C". That totally obliterates the very vital point that those three chords are not only in the same key, but DEFINE the key.

    Third, never try to learn modes by the oft-repeated process of learning them all from C Ionian, D Dorian, etc. Instead learn them all from the same root so you learn C Ionian, CB Dorian, etc. That way you learn HOW THEY SOUND.

  8. Good point!
  9. NineSpine


    Jun 19, 2007
    Do not offer advice on a subject if you don't know what you are talking about. Modes seem pointless to you because you don't understand them, and in response to your ignorance you have chosen to be smug instead of learning.

    If you think C Major and A Minor are the same and don't sound different, I think you may want to consider a new hobby.
  10. wow, what an enigmatic question.
  11. Billnc


    Aug 6, 2009
    Charlotte NC
    What he said (again!)
  12. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    But as you say, if one already knows that passage of entire tune is in the key signature of E Maj, the what use is the term modal? The only real difference between my example and yours is the duration of the modality. Well, that and one other thing, and I've been thinking about this a bit today:

    A tune that's in A lydian is rooted in A (I just mean the pitch A). It feels like A is home, but not quite like it usually does. That's because it's not in A Maj,, it's in A lydian - which is the fourth mode of E Maj (because A is the fourth scale degree of EMaj); hence any melody or scale or bassline needs a D# (not a D-natural) if that scale degree is played. So even though the home port is "A," the home port is the somewhat restful IV chord of E Maj, but not very restful I chord of A Maj. In A Maj, you'd play an A Maj7 chord; in A lydian you play A Maj7(#11). You don't have to play the #11 (a D#) as part of the chord, but any melody or bass line would have to play a D# not a D-nat in the AMaj scale to make it A lydian.

    Note: in many jazz minds, anytime a scale includes the 4th (also called 11th as an upper extension) scale degree of a Major scale, it is #ed. This avoids the clash of the 4th with the natural 3rd. Substitutions like this (there are many others more complicated) help to shape the somewhat uncoventional scalar sound of jazz.
  13. Gear_Junky


    Jul 11, 2000
    I know that it's pointless to try and debunk everyone who is "wrong on the internet" :smug:

    but at the same time, the OP and many others, including myself, when I was wondering about modes for YEARS will get a huge dis-service and CONFUSION because of this misapplication of terminology.


    So, here are the notes in the C Major scale (yes, these are also the notes in A Minor and 5 other modes) and learning these patterns in EVERY position (meaning fret) is a must, but playing them all over the instrument is still NOT PLAYING MODES! It's not learning to use modes! It's learning where the notes are. It's like learning the 12 notes on the piano (and then they repeat). Knowing these notes and patterns (which are movable, so you can transpose into any key) is not merely a valuable tool (like true modes may be), this here is a basic requirement, a pre-requisite to musicianship, IMHO. It's not really an option, unless you have the luxury of perfect pitch, but even then, you still want to communicate with other musicians.

    This is exactly why this particular supposed use of "modes" never enters the vocabulary of a non-string instrument student.

    Yes, one could say that it's pointless to argue about terminology. But terminology exists not for the point of being snobby, but for the point of removing ambiguity and confusion (much like grammar, actually).

    I am a self-taught, semi-literate hobby musician, I'm really not in position to look down on anyone, but I remember the frustration and confusion when my instructors (who were great players, but moron teachers nonetheless) tried to present positions as "modes" and you had to figure out which "mode" you had to play over a chord or a progression. I've even heard star guitarists use (misuse) the term.

    I also remember people around this forum (who I assumed were all infinitely wiser than me) saying things like "modes are the coolest thing you can do on bass", etc.

    So this is not about being right or winning an argument (with virtual strangers), but a matter of not perpetuating incorrect, confusing and unhelpful information.

    And I would agree, it's possible to progress as a musician for a few years before worrying about the real modes. Just learn the natural notes all over the board, learn the major/minor patterns in every position, learn pentatonics and blues scales, as well as arpegios, octaves, intervals, etc. Eventually you'll figure out the real modes too (I still haven't really learned them all, but I understand the concept now).
  14. But duration is really important. You need it to establish key/tonal center. Duration matters. It can be the difference between a tonicization and a modulation. A momentary tonicization doesn't truly change the key; a modulation does.

    The value of knowing that A is the tonal center rather than E--in this example, knowing that you're in A lydian and not in E major--is that it allows you to shape your playing accordingly. You will connect chords differently depending on which one is "home" and which ones are "away."

    As for the other point, to establish key, the "key signature" of E is not sufficient. To establish key, or mode-as-key, you need two things: (1) the set of notes (E F# G# A B C# D#) and (2) the tonal center (E or A or whatever). It takes BOTH to make a key (for the moment, I am using "key" in the sense that includes modes as keys, which not everyone does). A given set of notes with a tonal center of E is not the same key as the same set of notes with a tonal center of A. That's what modal music comes down to: that the same set of notes means something different when it's related to a different tonal center. It's a little like the way two sentences containing the same words can mean different things depending on how they're put together. Man bites dog /= dog bites man.

    Remember also, as I'm sure you know well, that key signature does not determine key, it only reflects it. It's a notational convenience.

    Did you mean NOT "the somewhat restful IV chord of E major"? I'm a bit confused by what you're saying in the last sentence here (the first three make perfect sense).

    Well, not necessarily. You might not be playing any 7ths at all, much less higher extensions.

    I'm with you there.
  15. +1. See also Pacman's sticky scale thread; this topic comes up there as well.
  16. pringlw said more or less exactly what I was going to say. Modes are a valuable tool and definitely worth learning.
  17. Gear_Junky


    Jul 11, 2000
    by the way, i was thinking too, that the term "key signature" really covers them all. A piece may be in C Major, or A Minor (or the other 5 modes), but its key signature will be the same - the "no sharps, no flats" one. It's the piece itself, the changes in it that establish it's tonality (major/minor) or modality (the other five, of which some sound "kinda" minor, others "kinda" major, others "kinda" neither, some way more useful/common than others).
  18. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    Yes, of course it is - which is why I posted the "except for one thing" discussion.

    I did mean what I typed - I was taking a simple example of modality - Imagine a Zappa interlude/guitar solo rooted on A, but in A lydian. The bass plays A/octave with fast root/octave and fifth patterns and Zappa plays the A lydian scale for his solo. The other guitarist is likely playing either an AMaj7th or just a simple A (rock style - this is where the theory diverges a bit). So the AMaj chord sounds like the key because it locks the ear in as an A chord, but in fact, Zappa is noodling, etc. on A lydian. So the ear still hears A more than E as the home base, but truly it's not either in a pure sense, it's A lydian, which confuses the conventional ear. It's A, but it's not really A. A Maj is familiar (and very restful), A lydian is not (but as a Major7th chord, is somewhat restful, but somewhat movement-filled because it's a IV not a I - it feels like it wants to go somewhere else, but it's hard to know where because it's sort of already there), but the average ear doesn't connect it with EMaj of which is it a sibling.

    Do you have a more complicated example of a lydian concept that I'm missing?

    Fair enough, but I rely on extensions at times.

    Just so you know, much of my tone was directed at the folks here with questions about modality - so take that w/ a grain of salt. It's not a complicated thing if you understand it, but it can be hard to explain.
  19. if I understand you properly (sorry, just woke up), you may want to check out a thread I posted a couple of days ago in the general instruction category. I can't link to it now but it is called "key signature confusion: pink floyd - speak to me (breathe in the air)".

    The key signature said it was E minor (one #) but the progression was E dorian. Which led to the confusion. I thought the key signature should have listed it as D major (two sharps) but I was wrong. The key signature is a guidleline. It really just tells you if the tonal centre is a minor chord or a major chord and which note. It doesn't get that specific. It will only tell you the note in terms of the ionian mode or aeolian mode, not the other 5. For example if you read Good Times Bad Times by Led Zeppelin, the key signature is E major, which has four #'s (D# being one of them), but the song is in E mixolydian and when you approach the first D there is a natural symbol in front of it.

    However you may be right (and again I may have read it wrong), if you meant that if the key is in C major that you can play the other 6 modes on top of it depending on the chord your on: on the C major's V chord you could play G mixolydian, on the C maj vii you could play B locrian, on the C maj ii you could play D dorain, etc. If you're playing strictly within the C maj scale.

    And you don't have to play as I said above, that is just one approach. You can play different chords and notes that aren't part of the mode at all to add something different, but in that area I'm very hazy, and am just trying to get a grasp on all of the possibilities myself.
  20. Okay, I gotcha. I think we're looking at it pretty much the same way.

    One point I would reemphasize, though, because i'm a little confused by some of the thought expressed in the bolded portion above. If you're really "in" A lydian, A really is the home base. It really is the "tonic" of that "key." IOW, it really is a I in A lydian, not a IV of anything else. Non-major/minor modes may not have the dominant function inherent in functional harmony, but they do have tonicity, in their way.

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