1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  

how do modes work, really?

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

  1. Quite right about the piece itself establishing the tonality/modality.

    But "key signature" might be a slippery term here, the reason being that that really refers to writing, and many (most) people may not bother to write modal music with specific "mode signatures." IME they more often tend to use the key signatures of the nearest major/minor key when they write. Thus, a tune in C mixolydian might be written in C major, with Bb accidentals added as needed, and the tune might be referred to as being "in C."

    In addition, the key signature never establishes the tonality/modality, it only reflects it to a greater or lesser degree.

    I think maybe what you mean is something like "note complement" or "set of tones"?
  2. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    I wrote a song once in the key of F, basically, except that it always kept going to a G major chord (not G7, just G). Well, a G major chord includes a B natural. So, since B natural is an augmented 4th in the key of F, it means my song was Lydian.

    On another note (pun intended), I found out when I played lead guitar that I liked the sound of a certain pattern. When I studied it, I found it to be Dorian, not natural minor, or anything else.

    But, using modes to work through every single change in a song is useless to me. I just use them as a point of reference to understand how some harmony works. Like, how I also love Mixolydian for its b7 major chord. (Rock music is full of Mixolydian stuff).
  3. Buxtehude


    Jan 5, 2011
    Modes came before scales and were used exclusively in medieval western music. Each one was considered to have a different mood or purpose. They can also be used in jazz for specific chord combos.
  4. Buxtehude


    Jan 5, 2011
    Rubbish. The modes came first. The Ionian is a derived mode
  5. Gear_Junky


    Jul 11, 2000
    Also, didn't the modes come way before tempered tuning?
  6. JTE

    JTE Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    OK, to expound on this...

    Modes are useful if you're playing modal music. If you're playing chordal music they might lead (though through a convoluted process) to the "good" notes, but it's a terrible way to get there. So before you start worrying about learning modes, make sure you OWN basic harmony theory. Our job as bassists is to both connect the rhythm with everything else going on musically and TO DEFINE THE HARMONY. In order to fulfill the second part of that job, we have to understand the harmony.

    So, start with owning the diatonic major scale- know how to build it, how to figure out the correct notes (including correct enharmonics) in any key, what it sounds like, and how to physically play it smoothly in any key up and down the neck over at least two octaves. It's simply not enough to just be able to play it in a couple of positions, you need to be able to see it and know it in any key anywhere on the neck.

    Then, learn the basic chords- if you don't know that a Dmin7 is D F A C, how can you define the harmony for the rest of the band? That's critical. Know the major, minor, augmented, and diminished triads. Know the 4-note chords (major 7, minor 7, dominant 7, minor 7 b5, and diminished chords).

    Then go back to the major scale, and learn the logic of the harmonized scale. It's not enough (nor really useful) to simply know that the I and IV are major 7, the ii, iii, and vi are minor 7, the V is dominant 7, and the vii is a minor 7 b5 (a/k/a half-diminished). You need to understand WHY and how those were all derived from stacking the same scale up in thirds.

    When you have all this, then the modes will not only make more sense to you, they'll be easier to understand, and most importantly you'll be able to see where they're useful and where they're NOT.

    See, the common practice of someone telling you to learn the modes by going from C Ionian to D Dorian, etc. totally confuses what modes are. Each one is a separate SOUND and simply playing D E F G A B C doesn't tell you anything about Dorian.

    However, if you play C Ionian (C D E F G A B C) and listen to it (sing each note as you play it, or better BEFORE you play it, you'll hear the sound of the major scale. Now, play C Dorian (C D Eb F G A Bb C). Same root, but different intervals. THAT'S what will get the sound Dorian in your head.

    Why do I despise the "play D Dorian then G Mixolydian the C Ionian for Dmin7 G7 C" crap? Because if you really understand harmony you know that those three chords relate to each other in the key of C. They define the key-center of C and to think of them as three separate entities destroys the connection between them. If however you understand chord tones you'll already KNOW that your strong target tones are the D F A C then G B D F then C E G B, and your passing tones come primarily from the key of C. No reason at all to mentally or musically switch gears with each chord change.

    Where to use modes? Well, let's look at a simple two-chord vamp repeating. Amin7 to D7. That's clearly NOT the key of G, even though those two chords in isolation in a song progression would define C. But for this two-chord vamp (like in Santana's "Evil Ways"), it never goes to the I chord. There's no melodic nor harmonic pull to the C tonic. Therefore I'd approach this as A Dorian. Not that I'd think of it as "the G scale starting on A", but rather that I'd be thinking of it as A B C D E F# G, thinking of the minor third between A and C, the perfect fifth between A and E, and the leading tone between F# and G.

    But before you concern yourself with modes (and get bogged down in all the awful teaching out there on them, and before you get mesmerized by the "mystery" of modes or the "100 secrets of bass"), learn chords.

  7. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    Hmmm...all these years (I first took jazz theory in 1982 in college) I've conceptualized A lydian more as its own island within E Major than it's own tonality. I'm not sure it's critical how it's conceptualized - as long as the notes are correct. But, your position on this makes me think: if A Lydian really is a tonality, can I start to think of it as a I chord instead of a IV chord? Then a typical I VI II V in A lydian becomes:

    AMaj7(#11) F#-7 B7 EMaj7

    This creates a somewhat sonically-odd twist on a familiar pattern (good thing I play guitar too - I'll check it out). Is this anywhere near where you're trying to go?
  8. pringlw


    Nov 22, 2008
    Seattle Area
    ? Modes are scales...
  9. More or less. But as for the typical progression you mentioned above, I would just say that if you're in a "modality" rather than a conventional key, you will likely not have some of the same functionality. So you might not encounter the same progressions or root movements, or at least not as often. We use dominant 7th chords on the 5th scale degree a lot in major and minor keys because they resolve in a way we find satisfying. A chord based on the 5th scale degree may not resolve so satisfyingly in one of the other modes, and so you may be less likely to use it, or may use it differently. IOW, 1-6-2-5 may not be a "typical" thing to do in A lydian, regardless of how typical it might be in A major..

    Tonic-subdominant-dominant don't have the same force in, say, E phrygian that they do in, say, E major, because they don't function as such (except for the tonic).
  10. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    I only used the I VI II V example as a simple familiar concept - and it does sound "dry" because the resolutions happen at the "wrong" time in my lydian example.

    But based on what you said above, it indeed appears that modes are little more than isolated tonalities that are related to more familiar Major or minor tonalities. So to me, it doesn't really matter what modes are; if I see a chord I can ascertain its function in the overall construct of the tune and I can choose appropriate scales to play over it - whether it be an extended passage over one chord or a Chick Corea or Wayne Shorter piece that might jump from one modality to another.
  11. pringlw


    Nov 22, 2008
    Seattle Area

    henry2513 I'll throw in some support for your position because I agree with it.

    You can take a very high brow approach to modes that is deep into music theory and is very pure. There's nothing wrong with that but it becomes very difficult to understand for someone who is seeking to learn.

    But learning about modes has a value that goes beyond constructing a piece in Lydian. It helps you understand all the patterns and placements on the fretboard and that gives you more options.

    When I am soloing, I frequently use modal patterns. In that particular case, I am not so much thinking "this should sound Mixolydian or Phrygian" - I am simply exploring all the range of the fretboard so my fingers can simply and elegantly stay in key no matter where I find myself.

    Now a purist would say "that's not really playing in a mode" - and they would be right. However it is a very simple and practical application that gets someone down the learning curve. If you enter into it that way (as I did) before you know it, you know the modes cold and can rattle them off rapidly (both in terms of playing them, and reciting the notes).

    This is a brilliant foundation upon which to start really exploring the tonal characteristics of modes.

    Like you, I had a GREAT teacher on this. One of the best there is frankly - and this is how he got me started. Prior to this I had many many lesser teachers who never failed to make my head spin with their bewildering explanation of music theory.
  12. In the end, whatever gets you where you need to go is good. I think a lot of the discussions we get into here are really revolving around what's going to give you the best odds of getting there. You can't argue with success, however it's achieved, but you can certainly argue about how to increase your chances of achieving it.

    All that said, I think it makes sense to focus on methods and approaches that have, in our best judgment, the best chances of yielding good results. Experience and reason seem to tell us that not all approaches are equally likely to do that. Which, I guess, is why we discuss this stuff.

    If you've gotten success with the approach above, then it's all good. Seriously. My reservations about it are that, to me, it's actually not a simple and practical way of going about things but, rather, one that's actually more complicated than it needs to be. My bias is, I'm an Occam's razor kind of guy, which means I have a thing against additional complications that don't bring any additional explanatory power or practical utility. All else being equal (the key point of course), simpler is generally better when you're trying to get a handle on something.

    See, the way I was taught, I addressed every bit of that stuff you talked about above--all the patterns and placements, all the positions, all the note locations, the range of the fingerboard, staying and straying out of key, stepwise movement, intervallic stuff--without ever having to bring in modes at all. (Not saying I mastered it at all, just that I had to deal with it.) Modes are simply not needed to do any of those things. That's why I say that addressing these kinds of things as if they're uses of modes is actually complicating things rather than simplifying them, because it brings in another explanatory concept without really giving you anything you didn't already have. To an Occam's razor guy, if modes add nothing *in that setting*, that means they're expendable *in that setting*. (As opposed to the other settings in which they *do* add something.)

    But again, music is about results, and results matter more than how you get there. I just always want the best odds I can get, and that's what i would try to offer anybody who wants to get into this stuff.
  13. Cool, but you might just as well say that it doesn't matter what *keys* are--you just look at the chord and choose appropriate scales to play over it. I mean, that's one way of looking at it, and there are instances of music where that seems like the way to go. It seems to me, though, that a lot of the time you benefit from having a bigger picture of the harmonic space you're inhabiting. First, because there isn't just one scale to go with a given chord, as i know you know; second, because how you *connect* chords and the notes and rhythms you emphasize are quite often influenced by what the chord is doing in relation to its neighbors and the piece as a whole--you can often connect them more fluidly, effectively, and musically if you look at them as related in specific ways.
  14. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    Despite a few years of theory and many years of jazz gigging, or perhaps because of them, that's pretty much what I do. I mean, in many jazz tunes, the key the song is actually written in is almost meaningless when you start dealing with II V of II V of II V, so it's more a question of identifying evolving and/or revolving tonal centers.

    But I digress...and I haven't played jazz for a number of years now, but thanks for the discussion.
  15. Fair point. And thanks for the adult discussion.
  16. Gear_Junky


    Jul 11, 2000
    OP: how do you feel about modes so far? :smug:

    5 pages of thread (with serious potential of a black-hole megathread and enough material for a book).

    This is exactly how tedious the actual process of learning them will feel too ;)
  17. Billnc


    Aug 6, 2009
    Charlotte NC
    Actually learning them is easy, realizing there is more important stuff to waste your time on than figuring out how to use them is hard. It's like buying a 3/4" wrench and saying "How do I use this?" If a 3/4" nut doesn't come along you're not using the wrench.

    When you learn a G7 chord do you ask how to use it?


    Jun 20, 2011
    **** yeah! I gots me some modes!

    After making this thread and reading all your thoughts and methods and much of BassyBill's thread, I sat down tonight just went at it. Wow!!! I think I hit the tip of the iceberg right there! so excited. Thank you guys!!!

    I think the best advice to go along with the explanations for me was when someone said to start a loop on your pedal (or whatever you have) and just play over top. That's what made it for me.

    So much more understanding.

    Alright, now how about this; I wrote one pattern that I was able to find two major scales that it fit into and they didn't fit into each other (Cmaj and Amaj.) They both sound pretty good, but each has a "bum" note in it.
    How would you guys know which one to choose?

    Thank you so much for your replies and patience, guys!
  19. uethanian


    Mar 11, 2007
    +over9000, to everything in your post.

    scales are collections of notes. modes (in the correct sense) contain specific information about how to organize those notes.
  20. Groove Master

    Groove Master

    Apr 22, 2011
    Author of Groove 101, Slap 101 and Technique 101
    Too bad that everytime there is a topic about modes on TB it gets all confused especially for newbies or people that want to learn about them because it gets mention all over the place when we talk about music, chords, scales and harmonic functions. So if it gets mention so much then they must be important and useful and guess what? They are and they are even more for us, bass players because our role is to provide (beside the time and groove), the fundation of the harmony. When the bass plays a wrong note, it gets notice more then any other mistakes from the other players most of the time and these wrong notes are often a lack of knowledge about harmony and chords functions and a wrong usage of modes and scales.

    For me, the modes that are the most important to study are the ones from the major scale of course, some in the minor harmonic scale and all the ones in the melodic minor scale even if they don't actually fit the harmonic functions based on their degrees that they are built on. But the ones from the major scale do have specific harmonic functions in relation with the tonality or the key center.

    So the important thing to know about modes and especially the ones from the major scale is their specific harmonic function and the specific note that make them different from the other ones that fit the same chord symbol. For example a Emin7 chord in a song has a specific function that is important for the bass player to know because if the specific note that make that chord functions and sounds as a dorian, a phrygian or an aeolian is misplaced or wrong then the key center and the sense of harmony get unclear and muddy for the listenners.

    A minor 7 chord can be built from 3 differents major scales and each one will have the same 1-3-5-7 but each one of them will have its specific note that will make the sound and the function of the mode.

    Another area that it can be interesting for a bass player to use the power of its notes choice would be in a jam session or an improv situation for example. Let say that there is a big vamp over a Emin7 chord. In a funk or fusion setting there are good chance that the Emin7 will be treated as a dorian for its extensions up to the 13 and the relationship with the A7 as its dominant to create a ii-v color in D major that would be favor by jazz musicians but that same Emin7 in a rock or blues groove might be more interesting as an Aeolian mode that would bring the sound and chords of G major. Then the bass player can bring the harmonic content of the specific major key.

    So by knowing some theory and the usage of the modes, a bass player will outline the harmony better and can create musical and functional chord progressions in a strong way.

    I love modes and I use them all the time in my work as a pro and I think they should be studied and teach for their applications in harmonic context because they do have a sound and a specific note that make them differents from the others scales that fit the same chord symbol. I think that last thing I just mentionned is the most important one about them.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.