question about modes

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by bassmonkey144, Nov 1, 2005.

  1. so I read through a lot of the posts looking for my answer, but I couldn't find it. I learned about modes last night from my instructor. The way he taught them to me was to build them up, via the circle of 5ths. Ionian, then dorian, etc. I asked him when I would use these modes. He gave me an example of if the key of the song is C, and the chord at the moment is F, you could play a C Dorian and it would sound right on, since it would spell out the chord and the key at the same time. Actually, I don't remember what key and chord he said, I just kinda guessed there. But my question was, where else can modes be applied?
  2. Greg Clinkingbeard

    Greg Clinkingbeard

    Apr 4, 2005
    Kansas City area
    Setup and repair/KRUTZ Strings
    I am not an expert in modes, but this is how I think of them. Play through all your modes in the key of C. Play a C major scale beginning on C and then Starting on D, E, F and so forth. There will be no sharps or flats.

    A II chord (Dmin7) would call for a dorian mode. This is just a C maj scale starting on D.

    Practicing modes just helps me to remember my sharps and flats.

    Kind of Blue by Miles Davis is a good introduction to modes because the music has a scale-like quality rather than a feeling of chord changes. Hope that makes sense. If it doesn't now, keep the $.02.
  3. tim99

    tim99 Supporting Member

    Jan 28, 2003
    You where not taught modes, you where introduced to modes.

    And you were not taught how modes are used, you were introduced to one method of constructing them.

    Please note that just like constructing a bass and playing a bass are two different things, constructing modes and using them are two different things.

    I see lots of people who have only been introduced to a method of construction of modes who think that they know or understand them. There was even an argument on this forum between a very young student who had been introduced to modes as "D dorian is the notes of the C major scale from D instead of C" and a very very experienced player.

    1. Are you able to look at a series of chords and determine what key they are in?

    2. Are you able to look at a series of chords where the first few are in one key and the next few are in another key and determine exactly where the key change is?

    3. Are you able to play through a series of chords and know what notes to play to outline the chord changes?

    4. Are you able to play through a series of chords where there is a key change and know what notes to play to anounce the key change?

    5. Can you tell someone what the seven chords of a major scale are and which are major, which are minor and which is diminished?

    Those five things are way more important than modes.


    Key of C.

    Chord is Dm.

    You can play D Dorian mode.

    But if improvising I would play the notes from the C Major scale stressing maybe the 3 of the chord (F), because I believe that this is the most important note in that chord, and if it was a Dm7 I might play the 7 (C) because I believe that this is the next most important note.

    If I was playing a bass line, I would start the measure with the D, because that is the 1 of the chord, and I am the most boring and typical bass line player out there, and I would move to the next chord by either using Dm chord tones or C Major notes.

    Now. Slow down and take a breath.

    Some bass players like to play the root note of each chord with their index finger, and shift hand positions for each chord. That way they always have their pat memorized phrases under their fingers, and they know the locations of each of the chord tones, in relationship to the index finger/root note position. Just like a guitar player shifting hand positions with each chord. So if you are playing in the key of C, and playng the Dm7 chord, you can move your index finger to the D (third string fifth fret), and play the notes out of the Dm7 arpeggio. So...If you know the fingering of the D Dorian mode, FROM THE INDEX FINGER, you can play the notes of the key of C, or the C Major scale, (or the C Ionian mode), just by playing your memorized D Dorian fingering. In this manner, you can mix and match Dm7 chord tones and C Major notes. But, it does not mean that you are really playing the D Dorian mode, even though you are, what you are actually doing is playing notes from the key, but you are using the D Dorian mode fingering, along with the Dm7 arpeggio fingering, to create a melody or bassline. Many bass players are happy forever playing this way. They think that they are playing modes, and they think that they are outlining the chord changes, and they are, but they are doing it in a way that is only a little more advanced than moving rock guitar power chords around.

    Ok. Another breath.

    Many advanced players like to play through a series of chord changes keeping their hand in one position, without shifting it, so they learn the arpeggios in each position for each chord, and play through chord changes using chord tones and key notes without jumping around. They are not thinking modes or using mode fingerings, they are playing chord tones for important notes and landing notes, and connecting those important notes with other chord tones or key notes.

    When you see a bass or guitar or piano player playing through chord changes but staying in one place on the fingerboard or fretboard or keyboard, this is what they are doing. As the chords change, they are playing different inversions of those chords based on the position they are in.

    Take a chart of music that is 4/4 with one chord per measure, and pick a "five fret zone" on the fretboard/fingerboard, look at the first chord and play the lowest note of that chord in that zone, and play four chord tones up for that measure, then play the next higher closest note in the next chord. I mean, look at where you are on the fretboard, determine the notes in the next chord, and since you are playing up, play the next cord tone up from where you are. Keep doing this until you run out of room in your five fret zone, and start down. The same way. Chord tones in order, then the next closest chord tone from the next chord, then when you get to the lowest note, and turn up again, for the next chord, start on the next chord tone, but play up four key scale notes from that chord note, then look at the next chord, and jump up to the next closest chord tone to start the next measure, but continue moving up four key notes. Switch back and forth playing chord tones (arpeggios) and key notes.

    Do this for different five fret zones, and different charts, and mix up the chord tones and key notes, and then go through the entire chart starting every measure on the 1 of the chord, then the 3 of the chord, then the 5 of the chord, then the 7 of the chord.

    Eventually you will discover that you can play more fluid lines, controlling what chord tones you are starting with and landing on, all over the neck, instead of a few pat locations.

    Are you playing modes? are playing notes from the key...and chord tones...yes, you are playing "modes", but you can do it by thinking of the chords and the one key scale.

    Too many people get caught up in D Dorian being the notes of the C Major scale starting on D, well let me be the first to tell you, that D, E, F, G, A, B, C is C Major scale starting on D, the D Dorian mode starting on D, and the G Mixolydian mode starting on D, etc. How many songs do you know where the melody starts every measure on the 1 of the chord and plays up the mode scale until the next measure? It is way more important to outline the chord tones, "playing through the changes", by playing chord tones and key notes, than to think about playing a different mode scale each measure.

    Most people stop one third of the way. They learn how to determine the key notes for a sequence of chords, and they remain confused on the modes, and they never learn the locations or sounds of the chord tones. So they blow through the chord sequence playing random notes from a major scale fingering pattern and end up sounding like a scale exercise. Some others learn walking basslines by playing only arpeggios, and never mix in a series of key notes here and there.

    I recommend that you learn how to outline the chord changes first, with chord tones and key scale notes, while continuing to learn about and think about modes, and you may end up understanding modes, but not ever actually using them.

  4. tim99

    tim99 Supporting Member

    Jan 28, 2003
    I am sorry, but most people who do this end up thinking that D to D is the D Dorian mode of the key of C, and some even think that D to D is the C Dorian mode. This type of thinking may cause problems later.

    The D Dorian mode is a scale in itself. You may actually want to play that mode scale in keys other than C or against chords other than Dm7. To remain thinking that it is the D Dorian mode of the Key of C, or oh my goodness, to remain thinking that D to D is somehow the C Dorian mode, just keeps you confused.

    To get you away from thinking that "D Dorian is the C Major scale from D to D instead of C to C", these scale formulas that define each mode as a separate scale.

    Mode.......Interval Pattern..Formulas.........
    Ionian.....w w h w w w h.....1 2 3 4 5 6 7
    Dorian.....w h w w w h w.....1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7
    Phrygian...h w w w h w w.....1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
    Lydian.....w w w h w w h.....1 2 3 #4 5 6 7
    Mixolydian.w w h w w h w.....1 2 3 4 5 6 b7
    Aeolian....w h w w h w w.....1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
    Locrian....h w w h w w w.....1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7

    It is way better to play through all the modes starting with the exact same note. For example: C Ionian, C Dorian, C Phrygian, etc. In that way you learn that each mode has its own sound based on the starting note, and each mode is a different sequence of notes, each with different sounds and coresponding chord relationships.

    Using the above formulas starting on C yeilds:

    C IONIAN......C D E F G A B C C
    C DORIAN......C D Eb F G A Bb C Bb
    C PHRYGIAN....C Db Eb F G Ab Bb C Ab
    C LYDIAN......C D E F# G A B C G
    C AEOLIAN.....C D Eb F G Ab Bb C Eb
    C LOCRIAN.....C Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db

  5. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    bassmonkey - be patient. Modes and scales and their uses are pretty complex. Let your teacher be your yoda. Just associating D Dorian with the Dm7 chord is just the tip of the iceberg and may not always be correct. tim99's 5 points are very good ones. I think it is more important to recognize what is going on in the tune and how you line/solo can help the tune move. Remember we are making aesthetic descisions. Scales are great but they are just tools. An understanding of a given tune is huge.
  6. tim99

    tim99 Supporting Member

    Jan 28, 2003
    Remember that all your life you have been playing and singing Major Key songs and you did NOT start every measure or every phrase on the root of the key or the 1 of the chord. So you have been playing and singing melodies from say C Major where you did not start on the C, but you where playing or singing C Major key notes. So not only is D Dorian the C Major scale from D to D instead of C to C, the D Dorian mode is also the notes of the C Major scale from E to E, F to F, G to G, etc. Fire up band in a box or get a friend to play CMaj7, then Dm7, then Gdom7 while you play the C Major scale from D up to D and down again. You will notice that the sound of those same D to D scale notes changes based on the context of the sound of the chord that it is playing against. Now while they play Dm7, play the C Major scale from C to C, D to D, E to E, etc. and notice that the sound or feeling of the notes remain similar because the chord that they are playing in context to remains the same.

    So you could be hearing a musician playing the notes of the C Major scale from C to C, and then D to D, and then E to E, and then F to F, and then G to G and then A to A, and then B to B, and you would not know if they where:

    1) going through the modes in order
    2) going through the C Major scale starting on different notes
    3) going through the D Dorian mode starting on different notes
    4) going through the E Phrygian mode starting on different notes
    5) going through the F Lydian mode starting on different notes
    6) going through the G Mixolydian mode starting on different notes
    7) going through the A Aeolian mode starting on different notes
    8) going through the B Locrian mode starting on different notes

    On Pacman's thread there was discussion on this topic:

    So I am adding that you can also play D Dorian starting on E, or F, or G, etc., or I am saying more importantly that, when you use a specific mode scale in a musical context, you will not be starting on the root of that scale, so getting the sound of that scale mode, in context, starting with different notes, is more important than practicing mode fingering patterns constantly starting on the mode scale root.

    Whew. Breathe again.

  7. yowza. that was a lot. That scale formula you gave was basically what he gave me. So, wow. I think I will read all this again. I got most of it the first time. Thanks for all the input.
  8. dex68

    dex68 Guest

    May 5, 2005
    What Tim says here is great. Remember to learn about key and how to get around on II V7 Is. This is more crucial than modes are at your state of development, especially when playing bass. Afterall, we mostly work from chord tones, using scale tones to get from one tone to the next. It's not all that often in the working world of jazz that you'll find yourself playing one mode for an extended time. Of course, sometimes you do, and must be ready for it, but learning to play changes well is a better place to put your time and energy for now.
    When you do work on modes, as was said before, always remember that each scale has it's own musical 'meaning'. If you're always hearing major modes (that is, modes derived from the major scale) from the point of view of the major scale itself, it will be confusing trying to distinguish one from the next. Take each one, one at a time, and sit with it for a long time, till you know its unique mood and feeling. Also check out some Debussy, and see if you can hear the modes he was working from.
  9. lucas vigor

    lucas vigor Banned

    Sep 2, 2004
    Orange County, Ca,
    Tim99, I think I need some theory lessons from you! Awesome info dude!!!

    (from a guy with 25 years experience!!)
  10. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    Modes aren't too tough to fathom. Here's how I think of them:

    [note: M=maj m=min; P=perfect A=aug d=dim (4ths & 5ths aren't major or minor. They are either perfect, or dim if lowered a half step, or augmented if raised a half step)]

    Lydian = major scale w/ a sharp 4th (R M2 M3 A4 P5 M6 M7)
    Ionian = major scale (R M2 M3 P4 P5 M6 M7)
    Mixolydian = major scale w/ a flat 7th (R M2 M3 P4 P5 M6 m7) aka dominant
    Dorian = minor scale w/ raised 6th (R M2 m3 P4 P5 M6 m7)
    Aeolian = natural minor scale (R M2 m3 P4 P5 m6 m7)
    Phrygian = minor scale w/ flat 2nd (R m2 m3 P4 P5 m6 m7)
    Locrian = half diminished scale (R m2 m3 P4 d5 m6 m7)

    Do you notice a pattern from top to bottom and vice versa?

    Anyway, 3 based on major scales, 3 based on minors, and one half diminished.
  11. Scot

    Scot Supporting Member

    Mar 20, 2004
    Pacifica, CA, USA
    I've noticed that a lot of guys practice their modes only in relation to their parent Ionian scale - e.g. they play C Ionian, D Dorian, E Phrygian, etc., then move to another key and do the same. I think this is important to be able to hear how the modes relate to the key center and the other modes but I also like to practice each mode on it's own and play all the differnet ones - e.g. D Dorian, G Dorian, etc., so that I hear the root note as the key center. To me they're just sounds and have their own story to tell.
  12. westland


    Oct 8, 2004
    Hong Kong
    good thread ... I've aken a bit different tack on modes because I started on the piano, where thinking whole / half steps is more confusing ... for histoircal reasons ... than on the bass.

    Anyway, another way of thinking of modes is polychordally ... e.g., C major chord has in it C, E, G, and B; add the 9th, 11th and 13th and you add D, F and A and you've got your ionian mode. This is essentially a superimposed D minor triad ... which can be thought of as a color chord or as the related minor 2nd chord.

    Where this makes a difference in improvisation is that you would tend to play your Ds Fs and As in the next octave up, and play them as color tones. This gives a stronger sense of key center and chord flavor.

    Obviously it's all subject to interpretation and whatever works for you, but this is another way to think of modes.