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Scales and modes, how do you think about them?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Sean Baumann, Dec 29, 2004.

  1. Howdy. I'm finally picking things back up after a little time off. Funny how you forget stuff faster that it takes to learn it. Ok, so my question has to do with scales and modes, and how you think about these as you practice and play.

    I read one of the sticky posts about practicing scales, and it seems to make sense (thanks pacman!). I think that I have been very limited by learning the shapes of the scales, but not really worrying about the notes of the scales. I can play the scales in their little 1 to 8 patterns easily, but when I am playing in a band situation, it's like "yipe!" Which scale for which chord in which key, argh... You see, I usually play at church where nobody knows how to read music and nobody plans the songs out before the service. We just wing it, and many of the times I am not familiar with the tune. I just have lyrics and chords to work from.

    This wouldn't be a problem if I could get it all straight in my head. I guess I should be focusing on learning the notes of the scale and fingerboard familiarity. So, when you are playing in the key of C, and you are playing over an Em, are you think of playing over the E Phrygian or playing C major scale starting with E?

    I know that sounds like a simple question, but I want to make sure I am not hurting myself by taking "short cuts." This is alot of stuff to remember!
  2. WillPlay4Food

    WillPlay4Food Now With More Metal! Staff Member Supporting Member

    Apr 9, 2002
    Orbiting HQ
    If I were you, I'd think of the Em chord in a C Major scale as E Phrygian, but that's just me. For me, thinking "C Major starting on E, C Major starting on E" isn't intuitive, and can be limiting as well.

    Don't forget, Em could also mean E Dorian, E Aeolian or E Locrian, as well as E Phrygian. Since you say the song is in the key of C, your first thought would be to use E Phrygian, but you could use any of the other minor modes to add color from outside the C Major scale, and still fit the chord.

  3. That would depend on the style, and what other instruments I was playing with. I could see me hitting a sour note by playing another mode over the Em in the key of C.

    I guess it just comes down to memorizing everything. Sure, I can hear when I play something wrong, but that doesn't necessarily keep me from playing a wrong note to begin with.

    Suggestions for learning this stuff inside and out?
  4. WillPlay4Food

    WillPlay4Food Now With More Metal! Staff Member Supporting Member

    Apr 9, 2002
    Orbiting HQ
    True. You don't want to play a Db when everyone else is playing a D.

    Besides, as far as playing the chord goes, all the minor modes construct the Em chord (and Em7) using the same notes.
    Practice, practice, and yet more practice. :)

    What I've been working on is constructing all the 7th chords for each scale note in all modes on all the parts of the neck. You could incorporate this into Pacman's sure-fire practice method so you get all the different ways to finger the different chords in each position up and down the neck. It's slow going for me, I find it mentally and physically exhausting but I find myself knowing the neck better as a result.
  5. Well, but what happens when you play scale tones, like a run or something.

    So, you are practicing all the arpagiors for all chords in each scale, including the modes? Is that necessary to learn all of the 7th chords in E Phrygian?
  6. WillPlay4Food

    WillPlay4Food Now With More Metal! Staff Member Supporting Member

    Apr 9, 2002
    Orbiting HQ
    Well, like you said, everyone else is playing in the key of C. So the scale tones would be from this key. As you mentioned earlier, the E Phrygian scale mode has the same notes as the C Major (Ionian) scale mode. So you would use these scale notes when playing non-chord notes.

    I'm trying to teach myself how to play all the 7th chords for the Major scale modes (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian) so that I know them and don't have to think, "What notes make up Em7?", I'll just know through practice.

    If you just want to learn the 7th chords for E Phrygian, then note them out. Now you'll know what to practice.

    [b]chord    notes      chord#[/b]
    Em7   = E G B D   =   i
    FMaj7 = F A C E   =  ii
    G7    = G B D F   = III
    Am7   = A C E G   =  iv
    Bm7b5 = B D F A   =   v
    CMaj7 = C E G B   =  VI
    Dm7   = D F A C   = vii
  7. Yeah, but what song do you play in Phrygian? All the songs I play are in a Major or Minor scale (ionian or aeolian). I guess I'm just limited :)
  8. JetJazz


    Sep 9, 2004
    Please make your scale program available for PC! It's just what I need for practice. Nice job!

  9. WillPlay4Food

    WillPlay4Food Now With More Metal! Staff Member Supporting Member

    Apr 9, 2002
    Orbiting HQ
    Thanks for the compliment! I don't have a x86 machine at home so I can't build this for Windows. I don't feel like wrestling with Java because GUI building in Java is painful.

    However, you might be able to work with the following website --> http://www.unpronounceable.com/interchart/ although I find this program very busy (and it looks like crapola in OS X). It should help you out though.

    Also, awhile back I did the following spreadsheet in Excel --> http://dtibs.home.comcast.net/Modal_Stuff.xls . I also put together this html file as well --> http://dtibs.home.comcast.net/Modes2.htm .

    There could be errors in the Excel file, so be warned. I put it together over a year ago, IIRC. If you do find any errors please let me know and I'll update the spreadsheet.
  10. WillPlay4Food

    WillPlay4Food Now With More Metal! Staff Member Supporting Member

    Apr 9, 2002
    Orbiting HQ
    The Phrygian scale is just an Aeolian scale with a flatted 2nd (b2). I find the b2 adds lots of stress and needs to resolve to the 1. This along with the b3 & b6 allows for much tension when you use it. I like it myself. :)

    I thought in your original post you were asking about the Em chord in the key of C Major. This Em chord in the key of C context is a chord based on the Phrygian mode. I thought you were specifically asking about Phrygian mode? :confused:

  11. WillPlay4Food, can you post more screen shots at your page about the scale practice program? I might want to have a shot at making a windows version.
  12. JetJazz


    Sep 9, 2004
    If you can make a Windows version that would be a great service to the Forum.

  13. WillPlay4Food

    WillPlay4Food Now With More Metal! Staff Member Supporting Member

    Apr 9, 2002
    Orbiting HQ
    I sent you a PM.
  14. geshel


    Oct 2, 2001
    Heh - Db = diminished 7th of E , that would be a funky mode to use indeed.

    I know you meant C#. ;)
  15. Okay I'm gonna take a stab in the dark here

    Since you know your major scale ( assuming you do ) take the 1-3-5-7 of the scale and play it in the twelve keys in the cycle of fourths say within a five fret radius ( first fret to the fifth ) and then play different seqences ( 1-2-4.....7-3-5-2 ...etc ) this will make you get out of the box pattern playing and get you playing inversions and will help you with your ear to finger relationship which IMO is better than playing the scale /chord up n down
    What you want to do is play the scale inside n out than to play it as if your going through the motions ( ie: 1-8 )
  16. jvbjr


    Jan 8, 2005
    The first step is to be able to play diatonically, thus changing no notes of the key signature.

    After you are firm on how to play over changes diatonically, you can begin to think modally.

    The primary reason to play modally is to make smoother lines, not to pull a #11 out of you ass because you can.

    Playing modally requires think a few steps ahead of where you are playing at this moment, like in chess.

    Instead of playing E phrygian, perhaps you decdie to play another minor mode, whether it be based on ionian, melodic or harmonic minor is not important, the issue is WHY? Because you desire an "accidental" that will make the transition to another chord sound better. Say you want to make the V7 chord an altered dominant, like V7#9, which means you are going to play an A# eventually, so it does not sound weird, maybe you find a way to add that A# on a chord a bit earlier so the listener hears it and the alt dom sounds INSIDE now. Over the Em chord, the A# would be a #11 tone, so Dorian #11 over that chord previous to the V7#9 would introduce the listener to the A# and make the note sound correct.

    The thing about modes is, they are all a variation on inonian, HOWEVER you do not have to play ALL of the variations, you are free to take a single note from a mode as I did above. Phrygian suggests b2 b3 b6 b7, dorian #11 is b3 #4 b7 so AVOIDING the F is a good idea IMO.