The Scales & Modes struggle . . . .

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by Jack Clark, Jul 30, 2009.

  1. I thought I had learned something from that recent thread. So, last night, I decided to make some two-octave-plus-9th scales, ascending and descending, for practice. I got out the staff paper and started with Bass Clef, C Major, so the first note, C2, went in the second space and I trailed dots off to the north-east from there. But when I got to D4, I thought, "Wouldn't it be good to go all the way up to the top range of my instrument?" So I did--up to F4, for my instrument. Then I ran dots back down toward the south-east to C2. Then I thought I'd keep on going to the bottom of my instrument's range, too, so I did--down to E1. Then I went back to the front and added scale notes from E1 on up to the first C1 that I originally had started with.

    So now I had a chart of the C Major Ionian mode for the full range of my instrument. It didn't start on C, but so what? If I wanted to practice it by starting on C, I could.

    Okay, so then I decided to do the same with the second C Major mode: D Dorian Minor. This time I just started on E1 and ran the dots all the way up to F4 and back down to E1 again. Well, I don't think I have to tell you what I ended up with: My C Major Ionian and D Dorian Minor charts were identical. All because I included the full range of my instrument on both of them. (Talk about feeling like a fool. I knew all along that D Dorian was, by definition, the C Major scale starting on D, but . . . . somehow it didn't register until put it in print.)

    So, now I'm thinking: Suppose I play regular C Trombone instead of bass. (I want to eliminate the play-the-root obligation thing.) And let's say I'm going to solo for eight bars that have nothing on them but the chord symbol Dmi7. Okay, I know that an experienced jazz musician, like many of you guys, could do a lot of different things here, if he wanted. But one of the things our not-so-experienced trombonist could choose is simply to improvise in D Dorian Minor for 8 bars, correct? Well, what if he chose simply to improvise in C Major Ionian for 8 bars instead? Would there be any difference?

    There can't be a rule that says if you're going to solo in D Dorian Minor, you must begin on a D--that's so inherently anti-jazz it can't be right. But if you can jump right in on any note in D Dorian or in C Ionian, how are they going to sound any different? If everyone else in the ensemble is thinking and playing D Dorian Minor, and our trombonist is thinking and playing C Major, is there going to be any clash from that? If so, why?

    That brings me around full circle to the why of the modes, again. The geometry of mode theory is throwing me. I know I am missing some fundamental concept. What is it?
  2. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    It sounds to me like you understand just fine. This is part of the reason I rarely start the whole mode conversation with beginners. Rather I teach them to spell scales based on the chords diatonically harmonized. Guess what you get... The modes.
  3. I teach the modes as theoretical information, not improvisational material and teach it fairly early. When they are ready to blow over chord changes, they are ready to learn what each of the 12 tones does against each chord.
    If you are dealing with a four note chord you only have 3 notes of the parent scale left over, after that you have 5 chromatic tones. It doesn't take long to figure out how those notes affect the chord.

    I find it a little more thorough than taking shots in the dark with various scales over a chord.
  4. nickbass


    Apr 29, 2005
    Northants, UK
    One very important difference between the D dorian and C Ionian scenarios is that, even though we might be using the same set of notes, as you say, we would tend to hear quite a lot of F against D (minor third) for the D Dorian, and E against C (major third) for the C Ionian, because these intervals establish the different harmonic quality of the root chord of each of these modes. The D Dorian has a minor sound and the C Ionian has a major sound. Sure you could play E against C over the D minor and it would sound great, but if everyone was doing it, the underlying key centre would have changed.
    What I'm saying is that we don't just improvise melodically up and down scales, but also often play harmonically, establishing a key centre with our melodies. Is this the concept you have been missing?
  5. Zombbg4


    Jul 15, 2008
    Again they're all the same notes, as you found out the hard way :), so yes you can be thinking in Cmaj over D-7, and once again its the chord tones that matter. You won't clash with the trombonist if he is thinking in Cmaj and you're thinking in D-7, it will just sound like he's starting around the flat 7th. Try vamping a D-7 chord, then solo on only chord tones of Cmaj, then only on chord tones of D-7. Hear the difference? Now something you could do is start out a run in Cmaj and land on a chord tone of D-7. I know this stuff is difficult at first and its almost better to not over-think these things. I use modes as a way to open up myself to using the entire fretboard.
  6. You guys are helping a lot. I knew that, e.g., the fourth is supposed to be "de-emphasized" in the Major key, but I didn't really have a feel for that. But I can see how a soloist thinking in C Major might be emphasizing a tone that is not emphasized by the other guys thinking in D Dorian--and vice versa. If that doesn't outright clash, it surely wouldn't groove, would it.

    Thanks, again, people. If you have any more on this, keep 'em coming, I'll keep watching for more.
  7. Menacewarf


    Mar 9, 2007
    Prolly if you can try and avoid thinking in terms of what is "Supposed to be" de-emphasised.
    Instead you might try and treat all the notes equal and then listin to what they tell you.
  8. EggyToast


    Jan 21, 2006
    Think of it also like putTING the emPHAsis on the wrong letTER when you're speakING.

    You could also take a step back and say "this notation is a guide; it's up to me to determine what notes I play."

    You could write everything on the staff in C and use accidentals to move everything around. If the key signature says C but the F is always sharp, is it G? Especially if it ends on a G?

    To be even more academic, you could take a piece of music, shift all the notes up or down one half step, and add sharps & flats to "undo" all the shifting you just did. How is a Cb different from a B? How is a D## not an E?

    The thing is, when I'm listening to you play, I'm not thinking what mode you're playing in. And when I play, I use the chord symbol to tell me what's up. While I'm starting to wade into some modes myself, for myself it's much more of a "huh, neat" than a "wait, this changes everything" approach. So what if Greensleeves is in Dorian -- if you think about how it could be in different modes or different keys, you're still playing Greensleeves.
  9. Last night a friend offered this analogy:

    Suppose you're at a dance and the band strikes up a nondescript latin tune. You decide to samba to it; but your partner decides to cha-cha-chá. She might be able to make her dance fit the beat as well as you can make yours, but you're not going to fit with each other very well. Even if you manage not to outright clash, you won't groove.

    If that analogy works with you music pros, then I've finally got it. If it doesn't . . . . ?
  10. mtto

    mtto Supporting Member

    May 25, 2008
    Los Angeles, CA
    D dorian can be spelled out as a Dm13 chord: D F A C E G B

    ...all the same notes as when spelled DEFGABC, but the hierarchy becomes more clear. This isn't a hierarchy of what you must play when improvising, it is a hierarchy of what your melodic note choice means harmonically. If you play C E G, you are playing 7 9 11, not 1 3 5.
  11. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    Richmond, CA
    IMO, ignoring the relationships between modal scales is a lot more useful while soloing. In the middle of a solo, if my key center is C, I don't really care what D Dorian or F lydian is. In a pragmatic sense, if I'm playing in C tonal center, then everything is related to C. If I play something that sounds like a mixolydian scale, it's cuz I'm trying to imply the V chord on top of the I chord. Same goes with D Dorian in the while trying to imply a ii-V-I since I can get away with it on a C Modal tune. So IMO, the chords come before the scales - practially speaking.

    I'm only interested in Lydian scales because they have a sharp 4, not because it's the major scale that starts from the 4th note of some major scale. It's far more useful and far quicker to think of accidentals in a solo rather than what modal notes to use.

    It's akin to language... if I want to say something in French, I don't think in English first and do a translation. I try to think directly in French. Similarly, if I want to play something over a G7, I don't think in C major starting from the 5th note (G)... I just play a G scale with a flatted 7th.

    EDIT: I just realized that I could consider that minor scales, melodic minor scales, etc. etc. are all conjugations of a Major scale. Interesting thought...
  12. Hookus


    Oct 2, 2005
    Austin, TX
    In reference to the OP question. What is the difference between C Ionian and D Dorian? Even though the notes are the same, the interval relationship in the scale is not.

    The Ionian would have a major scale pattern of intervals, while the D Dorian scale has a minor third and seventh. So you would, for example play the D Dorian over a Dmin7 chord, and the C Ionian over a Cmaj.

    What they are saying about inferring the mode from the chord, refers to seeing that the Dmin7 has a minor third and a b7, and by that you know you are in the Dorian mode of D.

    Point being, it has really been FAR more helpful for me to not even worry about learning modes, and I now focus pretty much solely on harmonizing whatever scale with a chord extension, I could care less about the name of the mode I am in.

    I may be wrong, but just got home from work, so not all there ATM.
  13. Hookus


    Oct 2, 2005
    Austin, TX
    Not different conjugations of a Major scale, they are different MODES of a Major scale.;)

    Well, except for melodic...
  14. Ok, well, what makes a mode is the tonal center. A Dm7 G7 vamp is a D Dorian vamp because D is the root. This makes it "impossible" to play anything but D Dorian over such a vamp. As long as that harmony is outlined, any use of the notes D E F G A B C in any order is D Dorian, simply because the underlying harmony makes it so. It's perfectly fine to THINK "K, C Major, E Phrygian, maybe an F Lydian run" so long as you make the distinction between what's going on in your head and what's going on with your fingers. The modes aren't just scales, they're full-on tonalities.
  15. jmsbass


    Aug 7, 2009
    Charlote, NC
    Endorsing Artist:Lehtela Guitar Craft
    I don't know it this complicates things or not, but the whole idea of "modes" as a separate entity from scales or chords appears to be a string player-based concept.

    In other words, if I'm, playing in C major, I can decide to play a "phrygian" pattern that starts on E - but in reality it's still C major. I've just used a fingering pattern that re-organized the notes around the E.

    If I have my fingering patterns memorized up the neck, I can do this starting on any diatonic note. The different orderings of notes will give me different ways to play lines. think of it as an extension of the major scale.

    Whenever I've mentioned this approach to horn or piano players, they give me blank stares. AFAIK, "modal" playing to them has to do with the chord and the key it belongs to more than the specific Greek name of the mode they are playing i.e. D Dorian=Cmajor. Unlike us, they also have most any note available to them at any given time.

    I guess what I'm saying is that you/we need to distinguish between playing modes as extensions of the "parent" scale, and playing "modally" on a chord or unrelated chords like Miles, Chick, etc. This will help you figure out where you want to go with it.
  16. I know what you mean. When I brought this up to a horn-playing friend, he looked at me like a dog who has just been shown a magic trick.
  17. Marc Piane

    Marc Piane

    Jun 14, 2004
    It may have been said already but I have been trying something lately that Patitucci talks about in his clinic he gave at Gage. That is play a chord then hear the root and the pitch collection that is available.

    Physically sit at a piano and play a chord in your right hand and the pitch collection you hear in your left.

    Invariably you are going to find that when you play a G7 chord you end up with mixolydian or G7#11 lydian dominant or whatever.

    The thing that is valuable to me about this approach is it takes the plug and play nature out of the process and makes you really hear what is going on.
  18. Bill Saitta, a pro basist hereabouts, suggested this ear-training approach to me last weekend:

    Play a C major triad with you left hand. Then without looking, press the eraser end of a pencil down on another key--and really listen. Guess the note, look to see what it really was, and try again. Try other major triads, too. He says that if you do this five minutes a day for a month you'll begin to hear and call the correct intervals.

    (Of course, the pencil is just to keep your right index finger from getting clues via touch as to which key you're depressing.)