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how important are learning modes in rock bass?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Kevjmyers, Dec 10, 2004.

  1. Kevjmyers


    Dec 10, 2004
    Boulder. CO
    I'm immensely intrigued by the use of modes in jazz. Miles and Coltrane are the epitome of perfection. What about a rock bassist? Instead of the education factor (or the fact that modes are just flat out fun to thump out on bass!) how important are they in a student's education? I'm really into theory and reading and modes are the one thing that elude me. Incredibly frustrating and time consuming to try to nail within a song context on the fly but fun to practice. I'm caught in the modal quagmire! Please help!
  2. Not at all important, necessary, or relevant. A modal approach to playing can be seen as an extension of a chordal approach. Using chordal approach, you choose from notes in the current chord so you're solidly consonant. Using a modal approach, you're in key, and emphasizing the root note of the current chord more than a non-modal approach would, but not necessarily consonant. The former is more useful for rocking, since consonance and less complicated chords are hallmaks of the genre. Of course, there's nothing stopping you from rocking out with modes in mind, but you start to move from straight ahead rock to weird avant garde stuff the more you do it. That's fine, but they're not a traditional rock thing.
  3. I respectfully disagree. For a lot of rock, you're essentially playing in modes. For example, in a song like, I dunno, "Sweet Home Alabama," which is basically D-C-G or something like that (can't remember the real key right now), you would probably be playing a lot of D mixolydian. Other examples abound.
  4. Without a doubt, absolutely vital.

    It will increase your scope and ability to improvise within a groove.

    If you want to be a bass player who at a very minimum can pull off an interesting solo without bricking out of key, modal knowledge is essential.

    A chordal approach to playing can be far more limiting.

    Most importantly, it will increase your super powers over guitarists.
  5. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000
    I think it would depend on how intricate the rock music is. If it's something like Motley Crue, then I'd say that not knowing modes wouldn't be too big an issue. If it's something progressive like Dream Theatre, Rush, Tension Experiment, etc, then knowing the modes would be important due to the various key/chord changes that occur in the song.
  6. Dynna


    Oct 23, 2004
    You can solo if you want, but even WITHOUT soloing, modes are what taught me to hear intervals. I learned the modes numerically first. I just memorized the numeric quality of each(Dorian being 1 2 b3 45 6 b7), and then once I started learning the notes of each(both "modally" and each off of ONE root note), I learned the spatial relationships between them, and thusly, intervals.

    After that, you can solo with them if you want, but you'll have a better idea what you want to play, and how, b/c you know your intervals.
  7. Kevjmyers


    Dec 10, 2004
    Boulder. CO
    Thank you all for helping me in my quest for modal manipulation. Someone told me modal knowledge over all the registers of the neck will enhance neck awareness quicker than say memorizing where each note is by intertwining lows and highs with each "run".

    Theory was fun for me until I encountered modes. Now a billion "little crossroads" has unfolded before me and the quest for all this knowledge seems to be diminishing my overall playing because I'm thinking too much. Yet theory is such a vital tool (especially when your ear is adequate like mine is) I need it to fall back on. Without perfect pitch I feel I need to be music theory whiz. Just when I'm coasting along I encounter modes and all their infinite migraine inducing fervor.
  8. Eric Grossman

    Eric Grossman

    Nov 3, 2004
    St. Louis
    Endorsing Artist: Hipshot Products and SIT Strings
    Knowing your modes, is absolutely vital, in any style of music. Modes help you to see the neck in a way that makes sense, sort of like a road map.
    It has little to do with your style. The knowledge of modes is a toolbox that you pull from. Knowing modes in all 12 keys, will allow to be able to play in key in any postion, anywhere on the neck. How that can be seen as unimportant or irrelevant, escapes me.
  9. cowsgomoo

    cowsgomoo gone to Longstanton Spice Museum

    Feb 8, 2003
    although Miles and Coltrane are indeed the epitome of perfection, modal jazz is often popular with people new to jazz because it's frequently easier to noodle over a static vamp or chord sequence that outlines one single modal center than traditional jazz changes (which often get their momentum through shifting total centers...).. and get something that sounds kinda-ish like modern jazz :)

    but for rock music, i'd say it's useful to know how modes fit into the harmony you're working with... for example, if your chords go: Am - F - G - C... the Am down to F tells you that you're in a minor mode with a flattened 6th... i..e probably A Aeolian... so automatically you've got a grip on which modes work well over the other chords...

    obviously this will only work with DIATONIC harmony, but there are enough examples of that in rock music to make modes worthwhile enough to learn
  10. jeff schmidt

    jeff schmidt no longer red carded, but my butt is still sore.

    Aug 27, 2004
    Novato, CA
    John Paul Jones.

    Knows the modes.


    Knows the modes.

    Chris Squire.

    Knows the modes.

    The most lyrical and melodic ROCK bass players KNOW the modes and how to superimpose different modal sounds over various chords.

    You mentioned Trane and Miles, - most rock players stick primarily with Major scale harmony - whereas jazz demands command of melodic minor, diminished, & whole-tone harmony - and the ability to re-harmonze various qualities to gain more melodic and harmonic freedom.

    But for rock music - if you get major scale harmony under your fingers you'll be 10 times the bassist as the guy who always plays root, 4,5,6,8 box patterns.

    Learn the modes. Love the modes. USE the modes.

  11. RicPlaya


    Apr 22, 2003
    Whitmoretucky MI
    I was very suprised when I learned the modes I found out I was playing modes a lot of times without knowing it.
  12. Kevjmyers


    Dec 10, 2004
    Boulder. CO
    One of the major issues I'm facing now is when to outline a chord/chord change with it's basic tonic vs. it's relative minor (If its a major) or one of the modes. What do the hallowed halls of music theory suggest is the most appropriate time to dress up a major key? (Whenever you want as long as it sounds good?) Are there serious no-no's involved? When is it pertinent to use a relative minor (Aeolian) or any of the other modes that fall within the key?

    I know the "do what sounds good to you" response to this question, and its the obvious answer. I guess I'm seeking a more definitive way to apply the various tones available. Modes have such sonic personality that I'd like to learn when the proper application would suffice. Dancing around the tonal center is a major part of music.
  13. I'd do my best to answer that in some fashion, but I'm not entirely sure what you're asking. Say you want to "outline" a C. Are you asking, when can I use C ionian, D dorian, E phrygian, F lydian, et al over that C? Or are you asking, when can I use C ionian, C mixolydian, C lydian, C dorian, et al over that C?
  14. Kevjmyers


    Dec 10, 2004
    Boulder. CO
    C Ionian, D Dorian etc. over the C Maj. chord. However that second scenario you mentioned just opened up a whole new can of worms! Ugh!
  15. OK. Keep in mind that this is just my (possibly idiosyncratic) way of looking at it, not gospel. For the first scenario (C ionian, D dorian, etc), the big answer is: it depends. IMO there are some situations where it's just a waste of time to think, now I'm playing C ionian over a C, now I'm playing D dorian over the C. You're still working with just the same set of 7 pitches, so it's a lot easier to think of yourself as playing within C ionian, but just emphasizing different tones out of the 7 available. No point making things more complicated than they have to be.

    Now, suppose that you have not one chord but a progression in the key of C. C-Dm-Em-Dm-C-C-C-C, one beat per letter. Now, you could think of that as going from C ionian to D dorian to E phrygian to D dorian to C ionian, but why bother, when the chords are going by so fast? Since we're in C, and this progression is a diatonic one within C, might as well just stay mentally in C ionian and just think of yourself as emphasizing different tones out of the 7 available.

    OK, suppose the chords go by more slowly--say, 4 measures of C, 4 of Dm, 4 of Em, 4 of Dm, 4 of C. Here, the sound of each chord has more time to "set," as it were. It's staying around long enough to feel like a kind of harmonic center for a few bars. In that setting, you *might* elect to think modally--4 measures of C ionian, 4 measures of D dorian, etc. The possible advantage of this kind of approach, especially perhaps for a rock bass player, is that it could help remind you that the "1" of the mode is your root, the note that you might want to lean on a lot. But again, you don't have to think this way. You could, once again, think of yourself as being in C all the time, and just emphasizing specific tones within the 7 basic options offered by C, to achieve specific harmonic effects with specific chords.

    [Note: when I talk about thinking of yourself as being in C all the time, I don't mean that just wandering around in the C scale will work. Selection of notes matters. I'm referring to something similar to what Chris elsewhere has called parent tonality.]

    There's a lot more to this, but let me pause for the moment. BTW, Chris is a practiced pedagogue and has posted a lot of good theoretical material here. You'd be well advised to look up some of his stuff, and Pacman's, and a number of others.

    As for the second scenario, one point I'd make is that, as has been said elsewhere, the modes are tonalities in and of themselves. They're not *primarily* derivatives of the major scale, though practically speaking they can be derived that way. I've long argued that a lot of rock and pop, as well as folk, is essentially modal. Think of the million forgettable songs you've heard that go something like E A D A. Typically, the E is the tonal center, but you've got the D naturals in there, which are not in the key of E major. I would say that you would tend to play that song in E mixolydian for the most part.

    There's a lot more to this, but hey, I've gotta catch a train. I'm sure others will weigh in with sage advice. Good luck.
  16. Correlli


    Apr 2, 2004
    New Zealand
    Chord and Complementry Scales

    C Major - Ionian, Lydian
    C Minor - Aeolian, Dorian, Phrygain
    C7 - Mixolydian, Locrian
    C Major 7 - Ionian, Lydian
    C Minor 7 - Aeolain
    C Minor 7b5 - Locrian
    C9 - Mixolydian
    C sus 4 - Ionain, Mixolydian

    More info: chrisbfield@hotmail.com
  17. With respect, I think this is helpful to a point, but it could actually end up being misleading in that you seem to be steering people away from some things that could actually work perfectly well. For example, there are many situations where you might want to play a C dorian or a C phrygian over a Cm7; it's unnecessarily limiting to think that C aeolian has to be the complementary scale for that chord. Everything depends on where you are harmonically--what the chord is doing in the harmonic situation you're in.
  18. Kevjmyers


    Dec 10, 2004
    Boulder. CO
    Thanks a lot Richard for taking the time to explain this to me. You did a wonderful job of getting me to grasp modal concepts. The more studying and applying I do the more everything makes sense. I feel the mastering of modes are the final portal one must hurl themselves through for music ultimately making 'sense'. It is an exciting endeavor indeed. Already in my practicing I can tell that modes are very crucial to overall musicianship...even in rock.

    I guess it comes down to improvising vs. the ability to sit down and write out your basslines on staff paper. The ability to spontaneously whip up all the modal knowledge on the fly (especially 2 or more chord changes per measure) is something I'll need to practice further. As opposed to already attaining the knowledge and taking my time writing crafty basslines.Perhaps doing enough of that will help my improvising.
  19. From this post I gather that most rock bassists would be doing good to be able to use the modes of the major scale. Do you think there is any sense for rock bassists to learn the modes of melodic minor scale, the dimininished scale, or the whole tone scales? How applicable are these scales for most rock music?
  20. Correlli


    Apr 2, 2004
    New Zealand
    Do the Diminshed and Whole Tone scales have modes? From my research, they don't. These are symmetrical scales that show no specfic key center. Also, compare C Melodic Minor Mode 2 with C Phrygian. I think you'll find there's only a semi tone difference.

    Lastly, I would never use a Major key in rock music, always a Minor key.

    "Sad, but true"