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Scales, Modes, huh?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by PinkFloydDan, Feb 22, 2006.

  1. PinkFloydDan


    Jul 4, 2005
    This is a test to see who can answer this in a way that this doofball can understand. The winner gets a prize.

    Over the last few days in my bandless state, I have opened up my loved Bass Grimoire book. Now keep in mind I understand absolutely nothing in this book other than the last pages that have the fretboard and every damn scale I can think of. Ok, I know whole and half step too.

    So, I am learning some scales again. Right now, learning the Major scale in all modes. Never gave it the time of day and, honestly, the major scale seems like one I always find myself in naturally after seeing the patterns--it is either this or minor pentatonic.

    Anyway, I do not understand the importance of the modes.

    For example, I've got I-V down. In the key of A. I have not memorized the notes nor the entire fretboard.

    Now, putting this to use: A song in the Key of A.

    How do these modes come into play? Can one mode work in the key of D? How and why?

    Best answer gets prize!!! A real prize. :)
  2. Correlli


    Apr 2, 2004
    New Zealand
    You can use scales and modes to create melodies.
  3. ToR-Tu-Ra


    Oct 15, 2005
    Mexico City

    A Major Scale has 7 different notes: A, B, C#, D, E, F# and G#. The relationship between theese notes is two steps, one half step, three steps and one half step. I suppose you already undestand this.

    Now, If you take those exact same notes and build a scale starting on a note different than A, say B, you get another scale that uses the same notes, but in a different place. A B scale in the key of A Major would be called a B Dorian scale and would have the following structure: 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7

    Keep doing the same for each note on the A Major scale and you end up with seven scales that share the exact same notes.

    OK... Now, what does this all mean? It means that when you're playing a song in the key of A Major and you see a E7 chord, you can think of it as a Mixolidian scale which structure is: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7. This way you won't play the Major seventh of E (D#), but its minor seventh (D).

    Hope this makes it clear...er
  4. Alvaro Martín Gómez A.

    Alvaro Martín Gómez A. TalkBass' resident Bongo + cowbell player

    To me, this is what the modes are useful for:

    1. Improvising - composing: What makes the modes interesting is that each one creates a different ambience and it's very common that they're associated with certain "environments". For instance, it's been said that the phrygian mode has an "Spanish" flavor. Besides, there's a "brightness" or "darkness" quality associated to them. From brightest to darkest, the order is: Lydian, Ionian, Mixolydian, Dorian, Aeolian, Phrygian and Locrian.

    I put improvising and composing at the same level because an improvisation is really an "instant composition". I mean, a GOOD improvisation isn't about chops, effects, noises and how fast you can play. It's about taking a basic idea and developing it, same as a composition.

    A good example of how the modes can affect the flavor of a melody can be found in the choral arrangement of a gospel tune called "If I Got My Ticket Can I Ride?". It's in the key of A flat and the melody goes like this:


    Notice that, according to the key signature, the melody should have a D flat, but it uses a D natural instead. This is the fourth degree of the scale raised in one half step and that's the main feature of the lydian mode => it's a lydian melody. If the composer or arranger left the D flat, it would be an Ionian melody, and both modes have a really distinctive flavor. Try singing it with the D flat and the D natural and you'll notice the drastic difference in character. So that's what the modes are useful for: To give an specific ambience to your compositions-improvisations. Of course, it isn't enough to know this just in theory. You must perfectly know how these modes sound to make your decisions.

    2. Knowledge of your instrument - dexterity: Practicing modal scales and getting to play them at a relatively fast tempo is a real good practice since it's very common that the difference between, say, two of those scales is only one note. If you can play them fast and make that one-note difference instantly (this is just an example, of course - even more differences may be involved), it's a good sign that you have great command over your fingerings.

    Having said all this, I can tell you: If your final purpose as a bass player isn't to be an improvisator or composer but a "pocket" player who works as the foundation of the band, modes are practically useless (and please don't flame me for saying this). #2 is more likely what you'll need them for. Someone can say: "Modes can help you to create good basslines". IMO, it's not necessary to think modally to achieve that.

    Again, all of the above IMO and IME.
  5. BassChuck


    Nov 15, 2005
    Seems to me like you have things a tad backwards here. All this knowledge is great...IF YOU HAVE A WAY TO USE IT.

    Learn the fretboard. All of it. Take the songs and melodies that you know and can play and put them in different places on the fretboard. Use the Grimoire book to know the name of the notes. This is take some time but its worth it.

    Scales and modes. These are series of notes usually with a whole (2 frets) or half step (1 fret) between them. Learn a major scale and then move it to any place on the neck to play it. (this will help in learning the fretboard too!). Then do minor scales. Then modes if you want. Or better, make up your own modes and scales.

    You really don't need to know these things as much as a lead guitar or sax player needs to know them. If you are dealing with a kind of music that uses bass solos, you are probably more at a level of composer than improviser.

    You are in charge of time and feel. That will always trump a mode or scale.
  6. What Basschuck said.

    You said you don't know too much yet you wanna tackle modes. Your skipping like 200 pages in the proverbial musicians textbook.

    Without fretboard awareness, serious fretboard awareness, you'll go nowhere quickly. Be patient and spend some significant time with your neck. Time yourself finding all the G's, D's, etc. across the entire fretboard.

    You are not a bassist unless you know where the notes are first. The process of becoming a bassist is a long arduous one. You shouldn't even be curious about modes if you don't even know what the 8th fret on the 2nd string is.
  7. ii-v


    Mar 27, 2005
    SLC, UT
    I think to a large degree you are right on. But, I would add that an extensive knowledge base can make the support role more interesting without being labeled as a "melodic player". I also am not sure knowing modes causes me to think modally, even when I am "pocket playing", yet I invariably do things in a groove setting that are a result of knowing modes. IMVHO some of these choices while "pocket playing" less experienced bassists would not make. I guess I agree with your whole statement, but cautiously.

    "Having said all this, I can tell you: If your final purpose as a bass player isn't to be an improvisator or composer but a "pocket" player who works as the foundation of the band, modes are practically useless (and please don't flame me for saying this). #2 is more likely what you'll need them for. Someone can say: "Modes can help you to create good basslines". IMO, it's not necessary to think modally to achieve that."

    Aren't modes one of many ways to learn the fretboard?
  8. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    That's kind of like saying "I don't have anybody to have a conversation with, so I'm going to open up a dictionary. hey, why doesn't this sound like a conversation?"

    playing is not about gaining vocabulary, it is about using the vocabulary you have in a meaningful way. Jim Stinnett has a nice analogy "It's like somebody who wants to learn how to shoot asking for more ammunition instead of trying to learn to how to aim."

    It works like this:

    you have a sound in your head/imagination.

    the harmonies and melodies that actually make up that sound are THESE notes.

    when you look at THESE notes, their relationship can be explained in THIS way.

    Music isn't really about playing, it's about hearing with clarity.
  9. That could be a way but it would take valuable time to learn the modes first to be able to use them to raise fretboard awareness. We're talking about somebody who is just starting out on the bass, modal concepts shouldn't be entering the picture yet. Familiarizing oneself with the actual instrument is the first step before you can begin to manipulate it. Sure, its okay to noodle around with the modes to see how they sound (as their own entities, not as cousins to whichever major scale...this is very important). But each of us only has so many breaths, so many days on this planet and time and energy cannot be wasted in attempting to master an instrument incorrectly.
    Again, if someone called out 5th fret 2nd string would you automatically know what note? Besides before conquering modes there must be familiarization with scale degrees, major and minor triads and memorization of inversions that should be dealt with first. Anyway, if all you wanna do is play Green Day garbage you're wasting time just bringing modes up in conversation.
  10. ii-v


    Mar 27, 2005
    SLC, UT
    I do understand where you are coming from, however modes are some of the very first things I cover with students. The sooner the theoretical language of music becomes a part of your vocabulary the quicker you can play what you actually hear and slowly what you hear becomes more eloquent (IMVHO). Obviously this does not happen with modes alone, they are not magic, but they are part of that learning curve. I think they also help set the table for playing with good right and left hand technique.

  11. jim primate

    jim primate bass guitarist.

    you can't use knowledge unless you have it. to recommend ignorance is ignorance itself.

    learn it, to be good if you need to be good it's useful. if it's no matter, know it anyway. you never know when it might come in handy.
  12. Kurisu


    Nov 19, 2003
    Saskatoon SK
    Hey PinkFloydDan,

    I hate to keep referencing other threads, but there are so many existing threads filled with great advice that you shouldn't just ignore them. Have a look at the sticky at the top of the forum, the one by Chris:

    Read anything with the word "scale" or "chord" in the title. That should get you started. Chris' own thread on "blanket scales" is a goldmine, so try reading that after you've got a firm grasp on what modes are and why they're useful to bassists.

    Hope that helps!