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Scale/mode/chord theory question

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by rjny36, Jan 31, 2006.


  1. rjny36

    rjny36

    Jan 29, 2006
    Syracuse, NY
    Hi, everybody. I'm actually new to TalkBass (my second post!), but not new to the bass. I played for seven years, but not very much for the past two. Recently, I have picked it up, again, so I find myself re-learning a lot of material, and I have a question in regards to scale/mode/chord theory. It's a simple question, really, but I'm confusing myself trying to figure it out. Is there any way to know, by looking at a song's chart, what mode the composition is based on?

    Naturally, you can plot out the chords in relation to the key, but I'm thinking about how to handle a situation where you're handed the chart to a song you've never heard of, and are expected to play it without taking a couple minutes to look it over and figure it out.

    I know a lot of jazz compositions are based on the Dorian mode, and a lot of blues compositions are based on the Mixolydian, but how can you quickly know if it is or it isn't?

    Do charts come with key signatures? Am I worried about nothing?

    I'm moderately confused. :confused:
     
  2. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Very few tunes are based on a particular mode - but even so, it's up to you how you intepret the chord changes, based on what you're hearing.

    Notable exceptions are Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" and "Modal Jazz". :)
     
  3. rjny36

    rjny36

    Jan 29, 2006
    Syracuse, NY
    Hmm... so the missing piece to my puzzle is less a missing piece than I thought? I'm somewhat worried about nothing, then. I come from two very different places in music: I had years and years of formal education on the viola, trumpet, and voice, but I typically hated it because it was very "dry" to me... from these instructors, however, I gained many skills for which I'm profoundly grateful (though I did not realize it until much later, and never gave them any credit for, until recently)... an internalized sense of rhythm, a developed "ear," the ability to read music, etc... but when it came to things like this, I learned early on to "play this scale because Mr. K told me to play this scale." I knew how to play it, but I didn't know why I was playing it, or how any of these things came together.

    A few years into playing the trumpet, I took up the bass guitar, which was so much more fun. This was an instrument that I was actually fond of playing! I took lessons on it from an accomplished local multi-instrumentalist/composer, and he taught me what the scales were on the bass, and what the chords were and all of that, and these seemed more like "options" to me, and less like "demands"... "I'll play this because I like how it sounds, and Mr. C showed me some other stuff I could play in addition or as opposed to this, so I might use some of those things, too."

    So here I am, several years away from the instrument (darn high-paying, but travel-heavy jobs!), and I'm re-learning my "options," but I realized that I don't have a very solid understanding of why some of these things are the way they are. I know how to play an Fm7 chord, but I'm trying to figure out why I'm playing that, other than "Because the piece of paper told me to."

    I suppose I'm trying in some sense to bridge the gap between my two styles of musical education, and build on it.
     
  4. ToR-Tu-Ra

    ToR-Tu-Ra

    Oct 15, 2005
    Mexico City
    a Fm7 chord could be the 2nd in the key of Eb. The third in the key of D or the sixth in the key of Ab. Or just the root in Fm7:smug:

    Is this kinda what you're asking?

    I wouldn't worry too much about this, you'll get it rather soon. Basically there's only three major chords, three minor and one half diminished [ m7(b5) ] for each given key. It just takes a little time and you'll learn to know which key you're in.

    Or maybe you were asking about something else all together and I'm way off . . .
     
  5. rjny36

    rjny36

    Jan 29, 2006
    Syracuse, NY
    That's basically what I was asking... if there's a really quick way to figure out the key with just the chord changes. I suppose it becomes second nature after a while.

    Thanks for your help!
     
  6. BassyBill

    BassyBill The smooth moderator... Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    When I was first starting out I found the pentatonic scales really helpful in this sort of situation. A pentatonic F minor scale will work over (pretty much) any F minor chord, and the same goes for F major pentatonic scale and any F major chord.

    What I'm saying is if you're following a chord chart on the fly, just look at the particular chord you've got to (say, Eb min9) and do something - anything! - based on the corresponding pentatonic scale (Eb minor pentatonic in this case - Eb, Gb, Ab, Bb, Db). This'll pretty much get you out of trouble during a number and avoid the dreaded train wreck. There are a few chords (or dischords) where this won't work for you (eg, Eb min with a maj 7) but you'll be okay for 99% of the time.

    It won't make you great, but it will, as I said, get you through an emergency!!

    Hope this helps :D
     
  7. rjny36

    rjny36

    Jan 29, 2006
    Syracuse, NY
    Yeah, the good ol' pentatonics were close friends of mine when I used to play at the jams at the local blues bar... they are remembered fondly.

    As I sit and read through a lot of music theory stuff, I sometimes get the notion that literally everything can be explained with it, and that perhaps music's greatest unmapped frontier is a magical place, where dissonance may or may not ever resolve into consonance, and that a very highly trained two-year-old will become its greatest practitioner, simply by jumping up and down on a guitar...

    (I would never let such a thing happen to a bass, and besides, a number of guitar players I know do very often remind me of two-year-olds.)
     
  8. ToR-Tu-Ra

    ToR-Tu-Ra

    Oct 15, 2005
    Mexico City
    I read you had training on other instruments, so I'm guessing you can read and write music. Why don't you try this:

    Write down C Major scale, bass clef, treble clef, doesn't matter.

    Then, build up seventh chords by stacking thirds over each scale degree. Now, analise these chords, weather they're maj, min or semi dim. This will be consistent for any Major key.

    After that, you could also take each chord avobe, think of it as the root of a scale and write down that scale. those would be each chord's modes and will have the same flat or sharps your original scale does.

    Once you got all of them modes, analise how they're built. If they have a major third or a minor third. Major or minor sixth. Augmented or Perfect fourth. etc etc

    This way you know which notes you can choose for each chord.

    After a while it will come out natural, don't worry.

    Hope this helps :smug:
     
  9. rjny36

    rjny36

    Jan 29, 2006
    Syracuse, NY
    Yep, I can read music, and thanks for the idea. I'll do that when I get home. :oops:)

    I do believe I have a tendency to over-think and worry, sometimes.

    I went out and bought a Real Book, yesterday, and I sat down to listen to the songs and read from the book, and it made a tremendous difference in my ability to understand what was going on. I'm fortunate in that I actually listen to jazz, and have a lot of the songs in the book on c.d.

    Today my plan is to play the song on the stereo, read the book, and play along. Probably just play a couple of songs, in a couple of different ways, so I can get a better audible idea in my head of what sounds good, and what doesn't.
     
  10. rjny36

    rjny36

    Jan 29, 2006
    Syracuse, NY
    Sorry, that was supposed to be a :) up there.