Scales/Modes-What's the difference?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by td1368, Aug 29, 2001.

  1. td1368


    Jan 9, 2001
    I just started learning modes with my instructor this week. Needless to say there is a ton of information to absorb and learn

    I did a search on modes but most posts deal with deriving modes and naming modes.
    However my question is what is the difference between a scale and a mode? Is a mode just a different form or naming convention?
  2. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook Sheet Music Manager
    A mode is derived from a scale and it's a scale itself containing all the same notes as the original scale but begins and ends on a different note with a different pattern of whole steps and half steps.

    Take the C major scale - Ionian mode:

    C D E F G A B C

    W W h W W W h - The whole step, half step pattern

    The Mixolydian mode would start with G and proceed to G an octave higher:

    G A B C D E F G

    W W h W W h W - The whole step, half step pattern

    I leave the rest for you to explore.
  3. Or to put it simply, they're the same thing but starting on a different note while remaining in the same key. Play a C major scale, not play the exact same notes, but starting on D and playing up to D.
  4. Well, they're really the same thing. The major scale, for instance, is exactly the same thing as the Ionian mode.

    This has come up before, but IMO it's not entirely accurate to say that the modes are "derived from" the major scale. That's an easy way to figure out what the notes are, true--and pretty handy, too--but it doesn't *entirely* describe what the modes act like. Fundamentally, the modes are tonalities of their own, just as a major scale is.

    For instance, you can get the notes of D dorian by starting from the second degree of the C major scale, but it wouldn't be correct to say that D dorian is *necessarily* in the key of C major, because it can be its own tonality as well. That is, some tunes can legitimately be said to be in D dorian, period (not C major). And just to confuse things, you can and do use D dorian in tunes that are legitimately in C major, too.
  5. BassLand


    Mar 20, 2000
    Lost Angeles
    Hi All,

    My experience has been to study the sound of the different modes/scales to understand the relationship of each degree of the scale. IOW learn HOW they sound and then... (in my Suprano/Jersey ethnic voice) Fagetaboutit.

    Today I could not tell you an aolian scale from a fish scale. It is just a name what is more important is how they relate to you in your playing and let your brain categorize it in it's own way. When you hear a melody what is the logical extension of that melody as it relates to your soloing over the changes. It is all about sound, not being able to spout off all these strange names.

  6. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    Well it's important to know the proper terms IMO.
    It makes communication a lot easier - that's what they're for.
    It'd be really akward e.g. in a teaching or working situation. You'd have use use several sentences when you could say it with a single word.
    I think of doctors or mechanics. If they didn't know their terms, all hell would break loose.

    - you get my drift... ;)
  7. td1368


    Jan 9, 2001
    So the modes are a tonality loosely derived from the Ionian mode? And the Ionian mode is somewhat parallel to the major scale?
  8. No, ionian IS the major scale. They are the same thing, two different names. Modes are not loosely derived from anything. Each mode contains the exact same notes as it's original parent scale, for a lack of plainer English.

    What are the notes in an ascending C major scale?


    A different mode of C major would be the exact same notes, but starting and ending at different points: E,F,G,A,B,C,D,E for example

    F major (ionian): F,G,A,Bb,C,E,F

    A different mode? Start on G, end on G; or any other note, start on E, end on E. Same notes, different starting and ending points.

    So do you see how it's wrong to say the modes are, "loosely derived from," or that," ionian is parallel to..." ?
  9. Except that to be correct and perhaps pedantic, modes don't truly have "parent scales"--they weren't derived by taking sections of the major scale, they were derived as sets of intervals from a starting point, just as the major scale was. Thus, fundamentally, they have no parents, they are their own parents, and they constitute their own tonality.

    I once had a lesson with John Scofield in which he argued that the best way of understanding modes was to figure them all *from the same starting point*. The idea was to get away from the view that, say, D dorian derived from C major rather than being a kind of D tonality.

    Thus (for td's benefit: I know some or most of the rest of you know this stuff):

    C Ionian: C D E F G A B
    C Dorian: C D Eb F G A Bb
    C Phrygian: C Db Eb F G Ab Bb
    C Lydian: C D E F# G A B
    C Mixolydian: C D E F G A Bb
    C Aeolian: C D Eb F G Ab Bb
    C Locrian: C Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb

    td, if you play around with these individually for a while, you can hear these are all C-based tonalities, but they all sound and feel different. I hope I'm not muddying the water rather than clarifying it!
  10. td1368


    Jan 9, 2001
    Sure do. I'm not trying to be dense I'm just trying to get a clear definition. Thanks David and Richard and Phil I have a lot to explore.

    I was struggling with the concepts last night with my instructor and obviously still struggling. It seems like the concept of modes is quite large and I'm just trying to get a grasp.
  11. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Richard, I'm so glad you brought this up. I think many young players get caught up in the "need" to learn modes, and then get confused by the "C major scale starting on E" mess.

    It is absolutely the best way to learn and understand the modes as their own entities without referring to the major scale in any way.

    And while we're on the subject, learn your scales as they relate to chords, not keys. Another great misconception is that if the song is in C major, you can (and I've seen this here) "wander around in the C major scale to solo". :rolleyes:

    Excellent thread.
  12. Bass Guitar

    Bass Guitar Supporting Member

    Aug 13, 2001
    I agree. Excellent thread this. Learn the correct modes for the relevant chords, rather than using the same scale for the whole song - this will bring more "colour" and tension to the solo.
  13. I agree, generally, but one does have to remember about how there isn't just one mode for one chord. For example, given an Em7, you could play diatonically in E Phrygian, E Dorian, or E Aeolian. Which you choose would depend on the "flavor" you're trying to convey at that point, which might well be *affected by*, though by no means always necessarily determined by, the key of the song.
  14. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Exactly, which is why I didn't say "learn the scale to go with each chord" or some other such not quite functional piece of information.

    I am totally if favor of learning music totally, rather than learning licks or tricks, or just getting by with 1 or 2 scales. I'm no John Coletrane, or John Patitucci, but I'm on the path, searching for and wrestling with the big picture of music. (when I grow up, I want to be like WRISTS LIKE CAROL).
  15. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

    Not to ruffle any feathers (we've been down this road before, both up here recently and a while back down in DB), but I have to mention that I think it is VERY important to be aware of the concept of parent scales to modes in many cases. One of my big pet peeves about jazz education is the following misconception, which I see being taught not only all around the country, but all around the WORLD: "when you see a -7 chord symbol, it means play a Dorian minor scale of the same root." This is a total load of BULLSH*T, a fact that both SNACKLAND and RICHER LEMONSEED alluded to in passing.

    If you take a standard turnaround in the key of F,


    and play a Dorian mode for each minor chord present, you are introducing notes into the tonal center which have NOTHING to do with the key of resolution WHATSOEVER. (i.e. - "A" Dorian introduces the notes B and F#, while "D" Dorian introduces B). If you are doing this because you truly like that sound and you think it sounds good, fine...but if you are doing it because some half baked book or teacher told you that minor=Dorian in jazz, then you are missing the point of the turnaround progression in jazz, which is to lead you back home from whence you came. To play ORGANICALLY over this progression (Which is what standard melodies do 99% of the time), you would want to play a Phrygian for the iii chord, an Aeolian for the vi, a Dorian for the ii, and a Mixolydian for the V. OR, you can just think of the parent key of F and play MELODICALLY from that (notice I didn't say "wander") and it can get you to the same note choices in the big picture sense.

    Every year at the Aebersold camps, I get people in my combos squatting on "outside" notes on turnarounds because of this kind of thinking, and it makes me want to pull my hair out (although it's kinda too late for that...). I would far rather see a beginner "fingerpaint" out of a parent scale than "theorize" themselves into 1) playing a bunch of outside notes that don't make sense because somebody told them that each chord symbol MUST have its own corresponding scale, or 2) Thinking so much about all of those chord scales flying by that they become afraid to play a simple melody.

    And speaking of melody, most standard melodies stay within "parent scales" a goodly percentage of the time... and tunes like "Have You Met Miss Jones" consist of nothing BUT parent scale tones when you take into account the changing key centers in the bridge. Like I said, I don't want to start a flame war, but I do think that the "Parent Scale" concept is extremely important to understand, especially for beginners.


  16. Murf


    Mar 28, 2001
    Yeah I have to say I'm struggling with the concept of modes myself and it seems to me if you play say the c major scale on a piano you get

    C Ionian=C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C...(all white keys)
    D Dorian=D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D...(all white keys)
    E Phrygian=E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E.(all white keys)

    etc etc

    Is this right? or am I missing the point completely
    (thats happened before)
  17. No flames needed, Chris. Everything you're saying is well taken and to the point. I guess my thing is, I wanna have it both ways in a sense (OK, maybe that's cheating). I think players should understand modes in relation to chords, as Pac said, but I also think (and I don't think Pac would disagree) that you have to understand individual chords (and therefore the modes you play over them) in relation to the harmony of the whole piece, both globally (key signature) and locally (implied local changes of key).

    You're absolutely right to point out that no chord exists in a vacuum--you always are coming from someplace and trying to get someplace, and you have to keep that in mind when you're trying to address a given chord or chord sequence.

    I think part of the apparent difference may be one of terminology. I think less of the parent scale than of the parent *tonality*, I guess. And there's also the issue of other keys being suggested, if not fully established, within a given tune. For example, a couple of Cole Porter tunes use a minor ii-V to resolve to a major tonic. In "I Love You," it starts out as if you're playing in Fm, so you approach the initial ii-V that way, but then a major I comes up, so you move to a different mode. In that same tune, right before the bridge, you seem to move briefly to A. There's a case of "local key change"--you might well choose to play B dorian to E mixolydian for the B-E there (of course other choices are possible), even though both contain notes not in the "parent" scale/tonality of F, because in the short term, you want to convey A.

    And your point about playing *melodically through the progression* is of course right on the money.

    In practice, I'd bet many of us end up applying similar approaches.

    I know it's possible to disappear up one's own behind talking about this theory stuff, but I honestly find such discussions kind of refreshing as a break from so much gear talk ....
  18. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Wish I had more time to reply, but I have to run off to class in a minute....and if this subject is getting too "esoteric" in relation to the original question, perhaps the local Mods can suggest that we start a new thread?

    Your exampe of "I Love You" is a perfect case in point. When I mention "Parent Scales" (I also call them "Blanket Scales" in my own teaching), I'm referring to not only the key of the song itself, but to all of the TEMPORARY key centers that the song contains. For "I Love You", that would include:



    In the above example, the Parent Scales appear below the chord progression. What I was trying to say was that I think this is a much more musical and MELODIC approach to soloing for beginning/intermediate students than thinking of each chord as having a completely different scale attached to it. In fact, with the exception of the melodic G# in bar 3 (Which is clearly a chromatic neighbor tone, and possibly also a "blue note"), the whole melody of this part of the tune comes from the Parent Scales (tonalities) listed above.

    Oops, gotta go...hope we can continue this kind of discussion without flaming carnage...I also find this a refreshing break from gear talk.

  19. td1368


    Jan 9, 2001
    I actually think I'm starting to get some of the concepts discussed. As usual the converstions about modes gets very deep very fast so I was just looking for a starting point to develop a vocabulary, both verbally and musically, when discussing modes.

    I still have a question though. Is there going to be a test?
  20. I'm well aware of that, but in my experience, sometimes ya have to find ways of saying things that will help the person you're teaching begin to understand and forget about pedantry.

    As for not looking at D dorian as being related to C major, but rather as it's own tonality; I can appreciate the thought, but I think it also ignores why D dorian has the tonality that it does. It has it's tonality because of it's relationship to the major scale, the tonic, and the dominant. To explain D dorian simply as a tonality is to only hear half the picture so to speak.

    And IMO having a student find the modes as they relate to the major scale makes it much easier for them to work them out and discover their tonalities, rather than telling them w-h-w-w-w-h-w, for instance.