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Modal theory training material

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by WeeTee, Mar 8, 2014.

  1. WeeTee


    Apr 24, 2005
    Hi TB'ers,

    Can anybody recommend any good training material (excercises, quizzes etc.) on modal/chordal theory? Something along the lines of "Here's a chord progression: XX YY ZZ. List appropriate modes for soloing over it." and stuff like that.

    I'm a classically trained cello player, so I have quite a strong theory background from the classical side. I've also been playing bass (self taught) for about 15 years now, but I've never had any formal training on "jazz" theory, and my bass playing has mostly been pre-written bass lines, no improvisation. This means that while I know the common modes on a theory level, I'm not really fluent with them - the time it takes me to think through them means that I can't use any of that stuff in the heat of the moment.
  2. Wish I could help. I will say that changing the mode with each chord change is not the way to do it. You kind of want to identify key-centers, even if only briefly used, to connect a single mode over two to four chord changes, so that it matches naturally with the phrasing.

    Here on TB I think you will find many telling you to forget modes and instead work of off chord tones, chromatics, and leading tones. It really should all work together, for example don't tryout use modes as a crutch to ignore the tensions in a given set of changes, and also remember if it sounds good it is good.
  3. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    If you've got access to an iOS device, you could use iRealB to quiz yourself.

    -It's an iPad version of a fake book and you can download changes to a bunch of tunes.

    -Then… if you buy the in-app "Chord Scales" add on (a couple bucks) then you can select any single chord and it will show you what scale or mode is most commonly associated w the chord.

    However… HolmeBass is right. This approach can be misleading.

    iRealB will give you one mode/scale for each chord in a II - V - I, when you can / should really be thinking about one blanket scale over all three.

    (But yes… you can use iRealB to quiz yourself).
  4. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    Also, Ed Friedland's books are great. But are not "quizzing" materials.

    -Building Walking Basslines
    GREAT primer on how to create your own walking lines.

    -Bass Improvization
    GREAT examination of what modes sound like over what chords… great examples on the CD.
  5. WeeTee


    Apr 24, 2005
    Yeah, I know. With that example I was thinking more of a situation where the key center changes, i.e. a modulating chord progression, or other "harder" cases.

    Yeah. My aim is to further my understanding - and fluency - of the theory. I guess one thing I could do is to pick some great-sounding solos, transcribe and analyze them and try to figure out why they played what they did.

    Thanks for the suggestion, but no iOS here - I'm an Android man :)

    Oh yeah - thanks for reminding me. I think I've actually got some of those as PDFs. I'll check them out.

    (About the PDFs: I usually first download books like that as PDFs from Bittorrent and if I end up actually using them I order real, printed copies. I've actually ended up buying more books that way than going to the store and browsing.)
  6. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    Looks like they have an Android version as well:


    But I still don't know if it meets your needs.
  7. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    I'll leave this here.

    "Let the melody be your guide."
    "Melodic improvising is chord tone improvising: rhythmically inactive. Embellishment is non-chord tone improvising and rhythmically active."
  8. I like this advice, this makes sense to me as what to strive for. But I do not have a gift for accurately copping melodies- I have to trudge through them pretty laboriously to really learn them.:meh:
  9. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

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

    Run as fast as you can away from that Chord / Scale (Mode) bit.

    It's a jazz-college teaching tool. You'll end up sounding like an etude book exercise.

    If you are interested in ACTUALLY playing in a given MODE, there are scads of compositions out there that are actually in a Mode.

    Blowing a Mixolydian Mode over a G7 (V7 in C Major) will pigeon-hole you and you'll lose sight of the many other possible pitch-collections. Besides, it not a Mixolydian Mode over a G7 (V7 in C Major) - after all, we are in C Major.
  10. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    ^ Truth. Screw the IV, this is lydian mode:

    Woodshedding is part of being a musician. There is another video or article or something in which Hal Galper talks about how he and his dorm buddies would get the new Miles Davis record, pass it around for a few weeks, learn to sing the solos, get together and sing the solos as a group, then finally perform the solos on their instruments. Ear training and internalization are so important to improvisation. If you can hear a tone and say "that's the third of that chord", and be able to sing the seventh of that same chord given the context of the third you just heard, then you're off to a good start. If you don't know solfege, learn it.
  11. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

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

    This is something that can be applied to ANY style of music.

    Learn the Bass Line to Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 with this method. Should improve you ear.


    Might be a little daunting, though.

    Some P.C. solos would be good!
  12. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011

    I really like what Adam Nitti had to say about that subject, close to the way I learned them at school.

    Also a nice software like Band In A Box where you can put some chord, melody if you want and choose some instrument, let you improvise... or you could save the file and then put it in a recording sofware and solo, improvise do whatever then play it back.
  13. BassChuck


    Nov 15, 2005
    I would suggest www.jazzbooks.com and get the "Miles Of Modes" book and CD. Perhaps not exactly what you are asking, but a great look at what a master did with modes and jazz.
  14. WeeTee


    Apr 24, 2005
    Heh, that's actually the exact video which led me to thinking about this stuff a couple of days ago and prompted me to try to learn more :)

    Thanks, guys! Lots of interesting advice here. I'm sure these ideas will help me.
  15. fu22ba55

    fu22ba55 Supporting Member

    Apr 16, 2009
    This vid is a great illustration of the difference between linear improv (chord / scale / diatonic modes) and vertical (harmonic) improv.

    Ed Friedland's Bass Improv book covers both approaches as well, but Adam's vid is super helpful in illustrating the difference.

    I think both approaches have their place: When walking basslines over changes, I sometimes like a more "scalar" sound to smooth things out, and knowing the modes helps there for sure, but for improv, open arpeggios are invaluable and a better jumping off place.

    Chord / scale theory is like adolescence: we all have to go through it, but should get away from it as soon as possible.
  16. WeeTee


    Apr 24, 2005
    All right. Now that I've had a bit of time to think, I realized that what I asked for wasn't actually what I was looking for. The thing is - I think I KNOW all the stuff discussed above, but I'm not FLUENT in it. I mean, if I have a chord progression, I can sit down and write an interesting solo melody over it, or 50 different interesting melodies. But I can't do that stuff in real time. If I make myself a backing track and start playing over it, it just ends up sounding like noodling. Also, when I sit down at the piano and try to play the chords in a song (just the chords, nothing else), or if I want to play them as arpeggios on the bass, it takes me way too long to work out which tones are in a Dm7b5 chord to play it in real time. I'd like to progress to a point where I just KNOW instantly what's in that chord - after that it's just a technical excercise to put my fingers in the right place.

    But I guess this is one of those things where it's just a matter of learning by doing. I've always been good at soaking up information but bad at actually putting in the hours to really let it sink in. Maybe it's just best to take a fake book and practice, practice, practice :D
  17. Up the dose

    Up the dose

    Mar 10, 2013
    I know its not jazz, but my first bass teacher would give me Beatles chord charts and would have me play the songs in different positions on the fretboard. He was also a guitar player and we would play them as duets. This exercise greatly helped me to understand chords and keys and note selection. For soloing he also advised me to listen to listen to vocal melodies.
  18. WeeTee


    Apr 24, 2005
    Oh, and what led me to thinking about this stuff from a modal perspective (and in an improvisation/soloing context) was that a week ago I was playing with a friend and we just spent ages soloing over alternating Em and C chords. Am I right in thinking that that's a scenario when "modal thinking" is appropriate - when you have only one chord or key for a long time?

    I'm guessing the "Miles of Modes" book suggested by BassChuck above would help in this :)
  19. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    How do you compose in an extemporaneous context? How are you thinking of your choices? Improvisation is just composing in real time, so you need to have your compositional process locked down.
  20. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    Yes that is how we are supposed to use a mode. Over a modal vamp of one or two chords. Why? Modes need to sustain so the modal sound has time to develop. Over a chord progression the tonal center of the progression (the V-I) cadence resolves and does not let the modal sound develop. All your modal efforts are wasted over a chord progression. The tonal center gets in the way.

    Which two chords? The tonic chord then the other chord is a chord that has the mode signature note. The signature note calls attention to the modal sound. What signature note?

    • Forget about Ionian it's the major scale, use it as such.
    • Lydian's signature sound is a chord with a #4 in its make up.
    • Mixolydian's signature sound is a chord with a b7 in its make up.
    • Again forget about Aeolian, it's the natural minor scale use it as such.
    • Phrygian's signature sound is the b2. A modal vamp chord with a b2 in it's makeup should be used.
    • Dorian - the 6 is it's signature sound.
    • Locrian - the b5 will give you what you want. I have found that with Locrian a one chord vamp of the m7b5 chord works great.
    Modal harmony is different. Do a Google. Problem lies with you taking off on a modal lead break, are the other guys going to lay down a modal vamp for you or will they just keep playing the chord progression? No really - something to think about. This site goes into detail. Several screens be sure and read them all. http://www.riddleworks.com/modalharm.html

    Here is a backing track to play your modes over. For the above to make since you have to hear what a modal vamp sounds like. Enjoy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m37y2mltNNIy.