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OK explain modes to me!

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Fassa Albrecht, Oct 3, 2008.

  1. What exactly do these do? What's the best way to learn them?
  2. Oraflora


    Apr 18, 2005
    Minneapolis, MN
    The major scale has 7 notes.
    There are 7 modes.
    I - Ionian Pattern = I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII
    II - Dorian Pattern = II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, I
    III - Phrygian Pattern = III, IV, V, etc....

    If the major scale is played in C,
    Ionian = C, D, E, F, G, A, B
    Dorian = D, E, F, G, A, B, C
    Phrygian = E, F, G, A, B, C, D

    Hope that makes sense.
    Another example is:

    Ionian = Doe-Re-Me-Fa-So-La-Ti
    Dorian = Re-Me-Fa-So-La-Ti-Doe
    Phrygian = Me-Fa-So-La-Ti-Doe-Re

    The notes of the scale are the same, you just start the pattern from a different note in the scale.
    What do they do? Help you learn the scale inside and out, improve fingering on the neck, etc.


    Link to a nice explanation of modes.
  3. Thank you!
  4. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    That's a fine technical explanation, but with modes I would say that a harmonic explanation is even more important.
  5. DocBop


    Feb 22, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    Such as....

    Major chord modes Ionian, Lydian
    Minor chord modes Aeolean, Dorian, Phyrigian
    Dominant chord mode Mixolydian

    Locrian mode is kind of a special case. It fits over a half-diminished chord (ii chord in minor.) Many use Locrian over altered dominants.

    That is basic Major scale modes. In Jazz and Pop a couple modes of Melodic Minor are used. Since you just getting into modes I won't talk about those and distract you.

    There are a lots of threads here on TB about modes with more details. Do a search and check them out. The key to modes is to learn the sound of them against chords. Just knowing the fingering pattern for a mode is just a technique exercise nothing more.
  6. Oraflora


    Apr 18, 2005
    Minneapolis, MN
    Right on. Thanks to above poster for that explanation.
    I haven't studied them for some time, and don't think in that way when it comes to playing.

    I, for one, have never been able to "use" modes while I play.

    Can you recommend ways to incorporate them into playing? Do you think in "modes" while you are playing a song, or is it over specific chords in a song?
  7. sackvegas


    Dec 1, 2006
    know matter how much I read about modes, nobody ever really describes how to apply them.

    I'm convinced that nobody really KNOWS how to use them but lots of people seem to know how to talk about them
  8. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    Yep. They are just a brain and finger exercise.
  9. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification

    I seriously hope you're kidding...
  10. DocBop


    Feb 22, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    Same as you use any scale. They relate to chords, they relate to composition like the Modal Jazz era of the 50's and Fusion of the 70's.

    Key is to learn there sound by what note(s) give them their identity. Then sit and practice like you would a scale. Play it up and down against the related chord. Play emphasizing each note to hear its color. Play in intervals and patterns. Find the notes you like and make bass lines or solo ideas. Try with a common chord fragment like II-V-I so you can work on getting in and out of the mode. This is all the same stuff you should be doing with every scale you learn. Scales, modes, arpeggios, etc aren't just finger patterns they are sounds to work with. They are tools you have to learn to hear to be able to use. As I have quoted many time my old teacher who would say.... You have t to See it, Feel it, Make it your own.
  11. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    Actually I'm not kidding.

    Modes are not the key to improvisation. They are merely a means to an end. Scales are taught because they are a self contained learning tool. There are many things you can practice within the context of the scale such as articulation, phrasing, dynamics, etc. but it is still just a scale, the nuts of music. Learning and practicing arpeggios are the bolts of it. It's like Shakespeare writing pages and pages of words over and over to practice his spelling instead of writing sonnets. Do it once, know what it means or sounds like and then get on with it.

    Just listen to someone like Charlie Parker blow over some changes and then contrast that with Al DiMeola. It doesn't matter that one guy is form the bebop era and the other from the fusion era. Both are from the same side of the swinging pendulum of music. Charlie Parker sounds quite musical and plays new melodies over the changes while DiMeola just sounds like he's running modes up and down the neck.

    Way too much importance is placed on modes and not nearly enough on understanding harmony or form and actually playing music.

    Come on Pacman, you know that memorizing modes doesn't make you a better musician. Do you really believe that playing Dorian-Mixolydian-Ionian over a ii-V-I without regard for the melody is musical?
  12. flame war! everyone hide:bag:
  13. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    That's the archer, not the bow. Modes are the extensions and tensions of the chords - just like Shakespeare couldn't just write page after page of random words, musicians can't just play bar after bar of the 4 basic chord tones. That's what I'm saying.

    Amen to this! My first reaction to posts like "help me learn the modes" is to post "Don't! (yet)". But usually, I just don't post at all....

    But I'm also the guy who's constantly saying the D dorian is NOT the same thing as a C major scale played D to D...

    Absolutely not - now, if someone had only showed me this much earlier than when I did learn it. But that doesn't mean I think that modes are a 'brain and finger' excercise, either.

    It's all about context.
  14. Well, don't you think that's kind of a false dichotomy? I mean, your choices aren't between (a) consider melody and (b) use modes. You can play melodically in a modal context.

    Also, I would argue "playing Dorian-Mixolydian-Ionian over a ii-V-I" is, for the most part, not really what people should be "using modes" for anyway. It overcomplicates what's (relatively) simple: if you're working within functional harmony in C, just think of yourself as using different degrees of C. That's what you're really doing anyway, most likely; as Pacman says, the fact that you start a C scale on a D doesn't mean you're playing in D dorian. No need to act as if you're going to a different modality with every chord (except in those cases where you actually are). I do think that some of the explanations of modes you usually see are kind of counterproductive in this regard.

    One area in which modes come in handy is working in musical spaces where conventional keys aren't defined, where the mode, instead of being a gimmick or a useless duplication of info, is actually the most accurate descriptor of the harmony. A classic, because simple and obvious, example is "So What." Your musical spaces in this tune are modal, so knowing your modes will help you play it. D dorian/Eb dorian/D dorian is the best way to think about what's going on, not Dm/Ebm/Dm (and certainly not C/Db/C). A lot of rock or pop is like this too, at least in stretches, even if it's not commonly described that way. If, like me, you've ever spent hours in your youth endlessly jamming over something like Em7 and A7 (with no resolution to any putative tonic other than Em7), you've effectively been playing in E dorian. Understanding E dorian as a sound and modality of its own would have been useful to me back then, I can tell you (I would have played fewer bum notes).

    And there are plenty of modern jazz tunes where the chords don't necessarily follow the harmonic functions we learn in school. Modes can be useful here too.
  15. HaVIC5


    Aug 22, 2003
    Brooklyn, NYC
    You keep saying that, but I still fail to see how. A mode is a melodic entity, where agogic or metric stress is placed on a specific tone, and the intervallic coloration of all the other tones relates back to the tonic tone. If you begin a scalar passage on D in a strong beat, and end it on D, how is that not stressing D? Otherwise, modes wouldn't exist - just their parent scales.

    That's a gross oversimplification of modes based upon a misunderstanding of chord-scale theory. For that matter, if you were presented with a Cm7 vamp, would you do nothing but play the notes C Eb G and Bb?
  16. I would say, because a mode is not just a melodic entity, it's also a harmonic one, in the sense that it defines the center of the harmonic space you're in (albeit not strictly in straight major/minor terms). IOW, it implies not only a set of notes, but also a tonal center. The important point is that it defines the tonal center not just for the chord you're on, but for the piece or musical segment as a whole. Just as C does for a diatonic chord sequence C Am Dm G7. It's IMO a needless complication to think that you're in C ionian, A aeolian, D dorian, and G mixolydian. It's actually misleading insofar as it implies that there are four different tonal centers, which is not the case. Surely, if you're playing in C, over a C/E, you wouldn't think that just because you're starting on the note E, you have to be in E phrygian?

    Modes don't need parent scales to exist, and I actually think the whole idea of parent scales is kinda sketchy in parts, at least as often applied. It tends to add no new information or explanatory power. In principle modes can define tonalities/modalities all by themselves, without any logical need to refer to any putative parent scale. There is plenty of music in the world that is best understood modally, without any parent scale.

    Maybe this is a bass player thing we get into? because we generally play the lowest notes? I'm sure no well-trained violinist or flutist, for example, would think that just because a given scalar passage that used no sharps or flats started on an E, it had to be in E phrygian rather than C major.
  17. HaVIC5


    Aug 22, 2003
    Brooklyn, NYC
    I stand corrected, I agree with you here. However, once harmony is added, wouldn't you agree that the pitch center changes? An E to E scale is phyrgian out of harmonic context, but once added to a C major key tonality, its clear a C major scale starting on E. But only after harmonic context is added.
  18. More or less. It's absolutely true that you can play the same line, and it will sound like a different thing depending on the underlying harmony. I would say, however, that harmonic context can also be something in your head, a reference that you hold in your mind. Imagine you're taking an unaccompanied bass solo over changes. You're hearing the chords in your head, and maybe some of the listeners are too, but nobody's actually playing them. Suppose you come up to the tonic, C major 7, but the phrase you want to play starts on the E on the 9th fret of the G string. (You're giving it some sexxay vibrato.) It then goes up from there. I guess you could say that in the absence of actual harmonic action, that could be construed as an E phrygian, but I think it really isn't--you're still working in a framework of C, even if it's not explicitly expressed. That's why, to me, it has meaning when Pacman says to play a C scale starting on E, because it makes sense to me that one can do that while holding in one's mind "C-ness."

    Beyond that, there's the idea that if you're within a key, you don't necessarily move out of that key even when you do actually move to a different chord. For example, if you move from your C to an Em, that doesn't mean that playing diatonically over that is being in E phrygian, it means that you are playing off the iii of C major. To me, it's mainly when you are actually inhabiting the "world" of E phrygian, as opposed so some part of C major or whatever--that is, actually being in a harmonic space best described as E phrygian--that it's worthwhile thinking much about the mode. Of course, there are actually a lot of tunes where mode-per-chord may be the best way to go, but I was just trying to avoid the ideas that (1) your starting note necessarily defines your mode and (2) you necessarily use a different mode for every chord.
  19. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    Of course it's a oversimplification, but then again I have to consider my audience here. Once a week a thread comes up about modes from someone that can't find all of the Eb's on their fingerboard without a diagram and are wondering when you use the "rest stroke", whatever that is.

    I don't think learning modes for anything other than a fingering exercise and to work out your brain on note permutations is anywhere close to useful if you don't understand functional harmony first.

    I think it's a chicken-egg question whether harmony leads to modes or modes lead to harmony, but it makes more sense to understand the difference between a perfect authentic cadence vs. a deceptive one or why a subdominant chord leads to another subdominant or a dominant and doesn't (usually) resolve to a mediant.
  20. HaVIC5


    Aug 22, 2003
    Brooklyn, NYC
    Um...that's a valid question. The concept of rest strokes and free strokes is important to classical guitar technique, and can be when developing right hand technique on bass.

    Historically, it's very much NOT a chicken-egg question. Functional harmony and the major-minor system didn't come about until the 18th century - use of the church modes started around 600 AD. Pedagogically, that's debatable of course.

    EDIT: Perhaps there should be a general instruction subforum for the theory buffs so newbs don't get confused.

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