1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  

Question regarding Modes and the types of chords they can be played over.

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by DuckSoup, Nov 15, 2018.

  1. DuckSoup


    Dec 20, 2017
    So I'm spending some time studying Modes. I've neglected it because it always seemed confusing to me.

    I know how modes are constructed, and I'm trying to figure out how to create bass lines by using them and breaking away from the same pentatonic stuff I've been using.

    I've been doing some reading here and watching some Youtube videos. So far my understanding is this. (Correct me if I'm wrong)

    For Major Chords, use any Major Mode.
    For Minor Chords, use any Minor Mode.

    I was jamming along to a backing track in the key of B. And the progression was B7, E7, F#7. Very simple stuff and the description of the track said all 3 were using the Mixolydian mode. Okay, a Major mode, no problem. I played around with that for a bit and started to come up with some interesting stuff.

    Here's where I got a bit confused though. I thought I could mix it up and use a different Major mode. I tried the Lydian, and that sharp 4th did not fit at all with the track.

    So I tried another track. This one was in the Key of E minor. The progression was Em, D, Am, C, D. The description said E aeollan scale over the whole track.

    So I started with the aeollan on the Em, but when I hit the D, it sounded a bit off moving around that mode using the flat 3rd. I tried playing the Ionian mode in place on the D chord, and it sounded fine when I hit that 3rd. But this was a Major mode over the key of E minor. So now I don't know what to think...

    So maybe it's not true that any Major Chord can be played with any Major Mode, and vice versa for Minor? Or is it possible that it doesn't matter what key the song is it, but more what chord is being played?

    I'm just all kinds of confused now. Sorry if this post seems all over the place.

    Here's the two tracks I was using.

    FenderB likes this.
  2. I view the modes (and any scale really) as a feeling. To me, each scale has a character. So in choosing a scale i dont ask "does this fit?" But i ask "what feeling do i want?" And a lot of it comes down to style association.
    Dorian: not-so-sad minor- funk and blues
    Aeolian: classic minor- rock tunes
    Phrygian: very dark minor- spanish/latin or metal

    ....On and on. But those are my personal associations. You have to get to know the scales and figure out what they mean to you.

    Saying "X mode fits over Y chord" is a bit reductionist. It takes context of style, chord progression and how you plan to resolve the notes to tell you what scale/mode to use.

    Now, in the examples you provided, #1 sounds like mixolydian and #2 Sounds like aeolian; those are appropriate choices.
    (EDIT: #1 fits with respective mixolydian scales, shifting to B, E and F#. #2 fits to just stay on E aeolian. )
    Playing bass lines over those, it makes sense to be conservative and stick close to that . Soloing however, gives you more licence to superimpose "weird" scales.

    I was lost on this part....
    Sticking on E aeolian for the whole progression makes sense. Shifting to D ionian for just the D chord makes sense..... shifting to D aeolian does not . Did i catch that right ?
    (Technically, it makes even more sense to use a D mixolydian over that D chord so you hit the C natural)

    Any way, hope my night ramblings make sense and help a little. Happy to elaborate. :smug:
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2018
    farshore and FenderB like this.
  3. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    You are wrong, but that's okay--that's why you asked! :)

    You were playing "the blues"! Lots of good lessons out there, about how to play the blues, and I'd be a fool to try and teach you an entire musical style in a single paragraph. One easy and popular approach is to play B Mixolydian for the B7 chord, E Mixolydian for the E7 chord, and F# Mixolydian for the F#7 chord.

    If I said to you, "This is a I-IV-V progression in B," do you know what that means?

    All the chords in this progression fit the key signature of E Minor (1 sharp): E-F#-G-A-B-C-D-E.

    Yes!!! Choosing notes that fit the chord of the moment, is often the simplest and best-sounding approach to constructing your bass lines. Musicians call following the chord progression "making the changes" and it is an essential Music 101 skill. :)

    Your Blues in B is an example of a song where you need to follow the chords instead of playing the same mode over and over again. It is in the key of B Major (5 sharps), but not all of the chords "fit" with the key of B Major. The B7 chord has A natural instead of A sharp, and the E7 chord has D natural instead of D sharp. Notes inside the key signature are called "diatonic" and notes outside the key signature are called "non-diatonic." Knowing when to play diatonic and when to play non-diatonic notes is really important to understanding new-to-you songs. The song's chord progression is your road map.

    My question to you, before you get too deep into "modes": Do you know all of the major scales and minor scales by heart? Are you comfortable with the basics of functional tonal harmony? (i.e. if I asked you to play "I-V-vi-IV in D" would you hesitate?)
    Last edited: Nov 15, 2018
    SoCal80s, FenderB, dan1952 and 6 others like this.
  4. "Let it be!" No wait, "with or without you!" No wait, "glycerine!" No wait.....
  5. Luigir


    Mar 15, 2018
    imharuo (in my humble and relatively uneducated opinion) talking about modes in this example is counter productive. We are just looking at a plain old classical progressions.

    If I've unerstood correctly Berkley teaches modes as a shortcut to improvisation but in some cases this just becomes funny. For example I've bought their walking jazz bass method which on the first pages, on a two chord per bar progression in B suggested to think about modes....

    Anyhow here is the way I look at it. Lets say we are playing on C major. Then a basic song in this key will use the following chords:
    C Dm Em F G7 Am Bo

    Take a look at the key of C and all the possible chords you can make out of it:

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
    C D E F G A B C -> C E G -> C
    D E F G A B C D -> D F A -> Dm
    E F G A B C D E -> E G B -> Em
    F G A B C D E F -> ...
    G A B C D E F G
    A B C D E F G A
    B C D E F G A B

    Ok, when you improvise on a piece in the key of C major you'll probably meet all of these chords.

    If the song changes every two beats you'll have the bare amount of time of playing the root and the fifth but what to do when the songs stays for four bars on the same chord? If you just play root and fifth this could become repetitive. So: play the third and the seventh of the chord!

    Ok, but.... My song stays on the same chord for minutes and I don't know what to do. I feel your pain my dear friend and I have a solution: feel free to use all the tones on the scale behind the chord!

    In your case they're saying to play a mixolidian scale just because it's the scale behind the chord on the fifth of the key.

    Hope this helps.
  6. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    I'm going to have to disagree with you on this one.

    The OP's example is in the key of B Major, that part is true.

    But if he tries to play the 7 notes of the B Major scale (B C# D# E F# G# A# B) throughout the whole song, as you suggest, it will probably sound pretty bad. Why? Because he wouldn't be "making the changes"!
    • A# will sound good while the F#7 chord is sounding, but will clash with A natural in the B7 chord.
    • D# will sound good while the B7 chord is sounding, but will clash with D natural in the E7 chord.
    Even hypothetically, imagining for the sake of argument, that the B Major scale does fit the chords, it wouldn't have that "blues" sound. You have to play non-diatonic "blue notes" outside the key signature, in order for it to sound authentically like the blues style.

    I do give you partial credit for spelling out the diatonic chords of the C Major scale (CMaj, Dmin, Emin, etc.). That is a really useful skill to have, and a great lesson for the OP. You can repeat this exercise with all of the major scales and all of the minor scales. :)
    FenderB likes this.
  7. DuckSoup


    Dec 20, 2017
    I think what I was meaning with that was this. When I got to the D chord, I was trying to play along the Aeolian scale to get a feel for what that scale sounded like, and how I could create some type of bass line or groove. Because the Aeolian has a flat 3rd, when I hit that flat 3rd on the D chord, it sounded really bad.

    Dangit...I figured something had to be off. :rollno:

    Yes, I believe so. So if the song is in the key of B, that would be a BMaj - EMaj - F#Maj.

    Okay, this actually makes a bunch of sense now and explains why a lot of songs I play against sometimes don't sound right. Normally I would have ignored the mode or scale used, or just assumed it used the Ionian mode, and would have just played a BMaj7 with that A#, but it wouldn't sound right because the chord is played in Mixolydian which has that natural A like you said.

    I guess the question from that is, if you are given a chord chart to play a song, how do you know what mode is used for each chord? Do you just assume the Ionian mode?

    I know the pattern for the Ionian and Aeolian modes, but I'm still figuring out the others. As for the progression using your example I'd move DMaj, AMaj, BMin, GMaj. I think I have that right....

    Right, but if I didn't know the mode and just played it using the normal Major scale, it would sound off wouldn't it?

    I'm going to need to spend some time on this. Typically this stuff is easier to understand if I have my bass in front of me, but I don't. So I'll need to look at what you're saying in your post when I get home this evening.

    Thank you guys for your feedback on this stuff.
  8. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    The song is in the key of E Minor (1 sharp), so the "diatonic" notes that "fit" the key signature are: E F# G A B C D E

    D Aeolian is D E F G A Bb C D (1 flat). The F natural and Bb are "non diatonic" to the E Minor key signature. This is why those notes sound "out of key." F natural clashes with F sharp, and B flat clashes with B natural.

    You are overcomplicating this song by thinking about "modes." It's just straight up key of E Minor (1 sharp).

    Exactly! You got it. :)

    And then because this is the Blues, we add the flat 7th to those chords, to make them dominant 7th in quality: B7, E7, F#7 or I7, IV7, V7.

    Yup, perfect. :)

    99% of the time, you wouldn't even need to think "modes," because most famous songs that we know and love are in either major keys or minor keys. For example our I-V-vi-IV example, DMaj AMaj Bmin GMaj, that's just straight up key of D Major (2 sharps), nothing to do with "modes" at all.

    For the 1% of songs that are truly "modal" (such as "So What" by Miles Davis for example) it is good to know this stuff, so you are prepared. :)
    SteveCS likes this.
  9. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    You maybe got a bit lost here. E Aeolian is a mode of G Ionian which has F#, which aligns with the 3rd of your D Major chord, so why are you going for F natural? Of course you identified this and went for F#, but you went for Ionian mode, presumably D Ionian. I imagine you soon discovered that the C# felt a bit off. The point is that E Aeolian 'fits' ALL of those chords. The idea is that you mess around using the mode whilst the harmony moves around underneath. If you follow the Berklee approach of 'one mode per chord' - I don't as I think it's BS - then D Mixolydian would be your man for the D. But modality is about melody not harmony, which is a Tonal concept... As @Mushroo noted, just think 'key of E Minor' - if you look just below the surface the modes will reveal themselves, but don't let them lead you astray...
  10. DuckSoup


    Dec 20, 2017
    Ahh, this helps clear things up. You don't play D Aeolian because the song is in Aeolian. It's just a normal D Maj chord.

    Okay, I think I'm on the right track again.
  11. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    No "Aeolian" thinking is necessary. It's just plain old key of E Minor. One sharp in the key signature. E F# G A B C D E are the notes to play, if you want to sound "diatonic" or "inside the key."
    SteveCS likes this.
  12. DuckSoup


    Dec 20, 2017
    Gotcha. I dunno why this stuff is so confusing to me. I need to noodle around some more when I get home this evening. It's easier to understand when I have my bass in my hand I guess.
    Rock Salad and Mushroo like this.
  13. eJake


    May 22, 2011
    New Orleans
    one way that helped me understand modes when I was newer to them is understanding their practical application to a ii-V-I.

    In the key of G your ii chord is Am7 the V is D7 and the I is Gmaj7. We can use the modes of Gmaj to improvise all the way across this progression.

    Am7 - Dorian scale (2nd mode of Gmaj)
    D7 - mixolydian scale (5th mode of Gmaj)
    Gmaj7 - Ionian (1st mode Gmaj)

    This highlights how we can use the same scale, starting from different notes (or focusing on different chord tones), to solo over changes.
    Your first example with the blues progression B7 E7 F#7 does not fit into one major scale so the modes become less effective here. You can play B mixolydian (Emaj) then E mixolydian (Amaj) then F# mixolydian (Bmaj) but that's not as centered around one key.
    I'd probably just use the B mixolydian mode (B C# D# E F# G# A)
    If we spell out our chords from here
    B7 (B D# F# A)
    E7 (E G# B D)
    F#7 (F# A# C# E)
    we see that the only chord tones that the Bmix scale doesn't cover are the D natural of the E7 chord and the A# of the F#7. A good improviser knows that when the chord changes from the B7 to the E7 the magic lies in the D# (3rd) of the B7 moving a half step down to become the D natural (7th) of the E7. Then that same D can move to the C# (5th) of the F# chord. When moving from the B7 to the F#7 you have the A (7th) of the B7 moving up to the A# (3rd) of the F#.
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2018
  14. Mushroo

    Mushroo Supporting Member

    Apr 2, 2007
    Massachusetts, USA
    All of this is technically correct, but it seems needlessly complicated, like taking three left turns instead of a right.

    Why not just call it "key of G Major (1 sharp)"?
  15. DavC

    DavC Supporting Member

    May 17, 2005
    Tallmadge , Ohio
    use your ears . ! if it sounds good to you = cool ..... in art , there are No rules .!
  16. Any thread on modes gets *long*. So TL, DR. But here’s something that may help.

    Your original assertion that any major mode works with any major chord; any minor more works with any minor chord is incorrect. Many times you need to consider more info than just the current chord.

    But here’s my idea: when you go from a pentatonic scale to a mode, your are only looking to add 2 new notes. Minor pentatonic to a minor mode, if you focus on the two most used minor modes (Dorian and Aeolian) you are adding a 2 and a 6, and the only real question is which 6: natural or flatted.

    You can determine this by analysis, or just trust your ear.

    For Major pentatonic you’re usually adding the 4 and the 7; unless you really want to get fancy with Lydian, and I encourage that but honestly 90% of the time it is a choice between Ionian and and Mixolydian, so the 4 is natural and it’s just determining the right 7: maj7 or dom7 (flatted 7).

    So thinking of modes as extensions to the pentatonic scales you already know let’s you better leverage your knowledge and usually boils down to determining one extra note, which you can do by ear. Simple!
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2018
    dennis james, Lowendtech and Mushroo like this.
  17. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    This advice, While 100% true , teaches nothing about the theory the OP is studying. Neither will my response, lol.

    TL/DR version: don't try to play modes or scales, try to play chord progressions.

    The Myth I believed as beginner :
    If a song was in a key, scale or mode, I could play along by noodling in that scale or mode.

    The Truth I learned over time:
    Strong bass lines support chord progressions, *not* scales/keys/modes (generally speaking)

    One mode or scale may support one chord. But two or four beats later, the chord changes
    Are you going to mentally switch modes very two or four beats?

    I'm not suggesting you avoid modes -they are fun and useful creative tools, but:
    Become strong in the 1 3 5 7 structure of chords and the I ii iii Iv V vi vii structure of common chord progressions first.
    Understanding Harmony is much more useful for our usual tasks - especially compared to the effort involved in learning.
    Groove Doctor, eJake, LeeNunn and 2 others like this.
  18. DuckSoup


    Dec 20, 2017
    While I agree, my problem is that I hear an awesome lick in my head, and then I end up noodling around on my bass trying to find those notes. I figured some kind of theory has to help guide me, but I'm just not there yet.
  19. dan1952

    dan1952 Commercial User

    Jun 27, 2012
    Anderson IN
    Artist Endorsement with Supro Huntington Basses / Owner, Dan's Music, Inc..
    Try this instead: Start anywhere on the fretboard, and play Happy Birthday. Then start at another place on the fretboard, and play Happy Birthday. Do this until nothing on the fretboard surprises you.
    I promise you this: James Jamerson, Duck Dunn, Leland Sklar, Paul McCartney, John Entwistle, Willie Dixon, or most any other bassist you can name, ever thought about any of these modes of which you speak...
    eJake, Robscott and Mushroo like this.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.