Modes?? what the heck??

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Murf, Apr 2, 2001.

  1. Murf


    Mar 28, 2001
    Hi folks, not sure if this is the right forum for this so I apologise in advance.

    Anyway could someone enlighten me about Modes, ie Lydian, Ionian, dorian etc., I can read music and I understand theory however I recently purchased a book by Rick Laird(sp) called Jazz riffs for bass..and I cant get past the first five pages.. which is pretty damn unusual seeing as I learnt theory and sight reading when I was 8 years old (a long time ago) and I spent most of my early 20s as a professional musician.

    So bassically (excuse the pun) Why does one need to use Modes and in what context...for soloing?

  2. Gard

    Gard Commercial User

    Mar 31, 2000
    Greensboro, NC, USA
    General Manager, Roscoe Guitars
    Hey Murf, you posted in the right place, and welcome to TB (if no one else has said that yet).

    Modes are useful in several different ways actually. There was actually a "movement" in jazz a while back (well, the 50's and 60's) called modal jazz. They would take a mode, build a chord progression (or just pick one chord), and use the mode for melodic information (melody/head, solos).

    Another good use for them is to organize your diatonic scale information. All a mode is is a major scale starting from a note other than the root or one (well, Ionian IS the major scale, starts on the one of the key). If you take the time to come up with a different fingering for each of the 7 modes, you'll have 7 different ways to play any given major scale, and you'll also be able to eventually play in any key anywhere on the fingerboard.

    You can also think of modes as "altered" major or minor scales. If Ionian is a major scale because of the triad that is based on the first note, then so are Lydian and Mixolydian. To explain, I'll take the key of C and elaborate.

    C major (Ionian Mode): C D E F G A B C;
    the triad based on the first note is C E G, C Major

    F Lydian: F G A B C D E F; the triad built on the first note is F A C, which is an F major chord, but the scale has and altered note when compared to an F major scale, which has a Bb. So I'd think of a Lydian mode also as a major #4 scale.

    G Mixolydian: G A B C D E F G; the triad built on the first note is G B D, which is a G major chord, but again, there's an altered note when compared to a G major scale, which contains an F#. So I'd think of a Mixolydian mode also as a major b7 scale.

    The natural minor scale is identical to the Aeolian mode, sticking with the key of C major, we'd use A Aeolian. Then you can work the Dorian and Phrygian modes as we did with Lydian and Mixolydian.

    A Aeolian: A B C D E F G A; the triad built on the first note is A C E, which is an A minor chord.

    D Dorian: D E F G A B C D; the triad built on the first note is D F A, which is a D minor chord, but there's an altered note when compared to a D minor scale which contains a Bb. So I'd think of a Dorian mode as a minor #6 scale.

    E Phrygian: E F G A B C D E; the triad built on the first note is E G B, which is an E minor chord, but when compared to an E minor scale which has an F#, there's an altered note. I'd think of Phrygian as a minor b2 scale.

    Locrian is it's own case, in the key of C major, the Locrian mode would start on B, and give you the notes B C D E F G A B. If you build a triad on the first note, you get a B diminished, so I think of Locrian as a diatonic diminished scale.

    The thing to remember here is that B Locrian is the exact same notes as C Ionian and G Mixolydian and D Dorian and...and you can use the pattern created for any mode for any other mode, just have to resolve to the "right" note.

    To me the best way to think of and use modes is as harmonic information. Take a mode, say G Mixolydian (G A B C D E F) and use it to build a chord by stacking it in 3rds:

    G 13 (dominant): G B D F A C E

    Then you can use that information to develop melodic ideas (solos, melodies, melodic basslines) that fit the chord well, or to fit a chord to a melody (sort of like the reflexive property in algebra, it works both ways ;) ).

    Hope this helps a bit! :D
  3. Murf


    Mar 28, 2001
    Hey Gard, george I think I've got it, cheers mate that really cleared up a lot of things for me, it was really the Altered scale thing which was confusing me for a bit (as I'd never come across that term before) this is the problem I find with a lot of instruction books they assume knowledge which the reader might not necessarily have.

    Anyway thank you for a succinct well written explanation (couldnt come at a better time either as I have to record a fretless solo with orchestra in a week and I was at my wits end as to what to play over B9, D/Gbass, Em9 and 5/4 !!!!!).

  4. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Well, I can see Gard was definitely busy over here, no wonder he missed the ii7-V7-I7 thread. Excellent explanation.

    There are some threads in MIKE DIMIN'S forum about modes. This one has some helpful info, although Gard said it a little more clearly:

    Also, Mark Levine's "Jazz Theory" book has some great explanations of modes.
  5. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    ...for fun-
    Take a simple melody in Cmaj("Twinkle, Twinlke Little Star")& play it "modally".
    So, instead of(in 1/8th notes...1&2&3&4&)-
    /CCGGAAG_/FFEEDDC_/GGFFEED_/...etc(you know it)...
    /EEBBCCB_/AAGGFFE_/ etc.

    Now, that is the melody played in Cmaj with the iii mode(Note: No #'s/b's). Try playing that over a Cmaj chord; then play it over an Emin7 the two.
    I guess the goal(eventually)would be able to improvise a "difficult" melody/figure over the changes.
    Personally, I like using modes for grooves(since I don't solo, per se).