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Modes: don't you just love 'em?

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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby SecretSam » Fri Sep 09, 2016 9:03 am

Modes are useful when deciding what scales to play over a chord progression.

For example, a knowledge of C minor modes will tell you that if a piece is in C harmonic minor, then a chord notated as D minor probably requires a D min scale with a flat 5 and a natural sixth. This can come in handy. You could work it out for yourself, or learn it from a book. Eventually you will come to see it as common sense, and at that point you will have won.

As previously suggested, you can also use modes as a portfolio of interesting scales, and mode ninjas can drop in modes from other types of parent scale (a jazz trick that as a bass player I have never had to learn properly: drop in the occasional harmonic minor mode to a piece written in a major key. You need a grip of the underlying functional harmony to know where this will sound good. )

There is a big difference between 'modes' as a concept for relating scales to a key centre, and 'modal composition,' which is a whole other thing.

Modal composition involves using a mode as the tonal centre of a piece, rather than the parent major or minor key.

Well-known modal compositions include 'So What' by Miles Davis, popularised by Ronnie Jordan; and the verse of 'Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll' by Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Both are in Dorian mode. In an improvisational context, or when comping, modal structures require that you avoid playing or implying a common cadence in the parent key. Otherwise people will expect the piece to resolve bank to the parent key, and the modal tonality will be destroyed. So if you are noodling over Dmin with a natural 6th, and want the piece to stay sounding D dorian, then don't play anything that sounds like G7.

Fair enough ?

It takes you a while to get your head around this. It is not Theory 101 stuff.

As always, I heartily recommend the short but insightful The Jazz Language by Dan Haerle. Buying it isn't enough, though. You have to read it a few times as well :-)
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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby SecretSam » Fri Sep 09, 2016 9:10 am

... an afterthought: if you have great ears, then if it sounds right, it is right.

However, for most mortals, this involves thinking about notes one at a time. A good knowledge of scales (including their modes) and chord-scale relationships enables you to call up an entire sound palette without having to think too hard about it on the fly. A compositional pre-set, if you like.

This is of moderate interest in rock music, where the harmony is pretty straight. When the jazz boys start playing with altered chords, then you need this knowledge. Pretty much every serious jazz muso since the forties has a tertiary music education. The great exception is Charlie Parker, but he spent years in the woodshed practicing for hours a day, and was also surrounded by players for whom the language of chords and scales was as natural as breathing.
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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby CS70 » Wed Oct 05, 2016 9:13 pm

feline1 wrote:I'd have to cast my vote too as one of these people who just doesn't see what all the fuss is about modes.
If you're stuck on an instrument with 12 equal-tempered semitones per octave, then you can play whatever scales/modes you want...which basically reduces to saying you can play any notes you want.
I mean, so what?

I'm sure you know already, but the whole mode thing is not about which notes you play, but which notes you play *over the same existing backdrop*.

I relate to modes on the guitar. Just playing the various mode scales by themselves will make little, if any, difference. Exactly "so what". It's the same notes, so our brain will quickly go back to hear what it's used to, no matter where we start. We may hear a minor scale because we've learned - and can keep in mind - how its relative major would sound. But the other modes are something we don't hear too often, and so for most guitarists who are starting with modes it's impossible to keep imagining a "C" when you're playing the C modes. What you'll end up hearing is maybe the minor or major scale of C, and a bunch of same-old-notes sequences in between.

But things become exceedingly easy if you actually *play* against a C, and you don't have to imagine anything. The easiest way is to record and loop a rhythmical pattern over a single low string (say a C on the V string), basically a drone; and then starting to play over it the modes of C while listening to it.

It's a incredible eye opener (or ears?). It was for me at least.

It's then that you realize how the dissonance between say C and D or C and E (taking the root and the first note of the II and III mode) and so on gives each mode it's own specific flavor. Without that C to play against, it's just the same notes. :)

In time, you learn to recognize and seek these flavors just like you do with major and minor. No theory is really needed (probably the wrong forum..), just a looper (or a very patient friend with another guitar :D ) and time to train your ears and remember.

What makes this more than "so what" is that - once you physically master one single scale - you have 7 other flavors at your disposal without any additional effort! It's a bargain!
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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby Ajrdileva » Wed Oct 26, 2016 1:00 pm

Do you know Tessitura Pro?
It is a great resource tool to study, understand and practice any structure (scale or chord) in any mode and see how they related to each other.

Includes hundred of scales and modes, patterns building , upper structures and approach notes.

Image

There are plenty of tutorials and demo videos here:
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLt-Oh3MSFwB_hPRvhikbezMQol9u6ukn_
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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby damoore » Thu Oct 27, 2016 1:46 pm

My understanding is that the modes as we know them are not the modes as known to the Greeks. The concept of them all being embedded in a scale appears to be relatively modern (circa 8th century). (Caution: I am not an expert on this, nor do I play one one TV)

If you want to boggle your brain, check out the modes on the minor scales too. There is a nice table at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mode_(music)

If you want a different view of the world, check out Maqams. Also note that equal temperament is mostly a western thing. In the arabic world, I have read that the exact pitches used for a given Maqam vary with region. Also, the pitches are different when ascending versus descending. However I have not had the opportunity to study this first hand.
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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby petev3.1 » Mon Jan 22, 2018 11:29 am

Can anyone recommend a good book on modes for gtr players? I've been looking for a while and seen nothing and nor have I found a good recommendation on my classical guitar forum.
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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby GilesAnt » Wed Jan 24, 2018 6:41 pm

Modes aren't really about the guitar or any other instrument. Modes, like scales or chords, are universal in music - so it doesn't matter what instrument you are playing.
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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby Sam Spoons » Wed Jan 24, 2018 8:35 pm

I'm a guitar player with 50+ years experience and have always struggled with modes. I can, more or less, play them and I know the theory but have yet to understand the point of them. I simply can't think quickly enough when improvising to associate a specific mode with a specific chord or sequence. Then I came across the best bit of advice about them I have ever heard which is that the music comes first, all the greats from the formative days of Jazz learned by listening, many of them didn't know the theory. The Gypsy Jazz players often didn't even know the names of the notes or chords but had learned them by listening and watching.
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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby zenguitar » Wed Jan 24, 2018 8:46 pm

A friend describes modes as being like spices. Used in moderation to spice up a solo, fine. But while a dash of chilli can bring a meal to life, you wouldn't want to eat nothing but chilli.

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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby Sam Spoons » Wed Jan 24, 2018 10:27 pm

Had chilli con carne tonight, I'd eat it every day personally but I still don't get modes....

I really would love to understand modes better though so I may download Tessitura Pro (still not convinced I'll ever be clever enough to apply them while improvising but I do understand the usefulness in explaining what is going on sometimes).
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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby petev3.1 » Thu Jan 25, 2018 2:20 pm

GilesAnt wrote:Modes aren't really about the guitar or any other instrument. Modes, like scales or chords, are universal in music - so it doesn't matter what instrument you are playing.

Very true, but it so happens I play guitar.

I share Sam's confusion. I'm up to speed with Bachian counterpoint and my theory isn't bad but I struggle to get a grip on the modes. I seem to have some sort of mental deficiency on this topic.
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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby GilesAnt » Thu Jan 25, 2018 2:45 pm

To ask what is the point of modes is a bit like asking what is the point of a chord or scale. They are just devices for understanding music really. If you are truly up to speed with Bachian counterpoint then modes are a breeze by comparison. I haven't quite mastered triple counterpoint myself!

If you are familiar with a major scale then you are familiar with the Ionian mode already. The minor scale is (almost) the Aeolian mode. So you are part way there already.

Each scale or mode is just a specific sequence of tones and semitones. The major and minor scales are simply the most common ones. So modes aren't really 'spices' either.

As with all music theory you can ignore it all and just use your ears, but the more you understand it the more shortcuts and tools you will have at your disposal.
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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby petev3.1 » Thu Jan 25, 2018 3:03 pm

What I'd like to see is a set of pieces.studies for (solo) guitar that make use of the modes and allow players to accustom themselves to the ideas and the sounds. I cannot find anything like this. Any suggestions? .
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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby Sam Spoons » Thu Jan 25, 2018 3:27 pm

GilesAnt wrote:To ask what is the point of modes is a bit like asking what is the point of a chord or scale. They are just devices for understanding music really. If you are truly up to speed with Bachian counterpoint then modes are a breeze by comparison. I haven't quite mastered triple counterpoint myself!

If you are familiar with a major scale then you are familiar with the Ionian mode already. The minor scale is (almost) the Aeolian mode. So you are part way there already.

Each scale or mode is just a specific sequence of tones and semitones. The major and minor scales are simply the most common ones. So modes aren't really 'spices' either.

As with all music theory you can ignore it all and just use your ears, but the more you understand it the more shortcuts and tools you will have at your disposal.

O get all that, I totally understand modes and how to play them, I do struggle to remember the names TBF. I know, understand and can play major and minor scales, whole tone and diminished scales, and, with thought, arpeggiate any chord I know (which is a fair number as I can also understand and play most chords commonly used in western music). I see the point of scales (not to say I practice them much) but the concept of using modes to help with improvising eludes me............

And since I've learned the concept that any note not in the appropriate scale is simply a leading note one semitone away from a 'correct' note my soloing has improved :bouncy:
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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby GilesAnt » Thu Jan 25, 2018 6:18 pm

Being a semitone away from a 'right' note is a handy trick in its own right. I reckon that should help me to improve too.

if you want an exercise in modes (to pete), try taking the old song What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor. Simple to play, so noodle around with the melody and chords, and you will notice by a miracle that you are playing in the Dorian mode. If you already know the major scale (Ionian) and minor scale (sort of Aeolian) then that is 3 modes under your belt already - and you didn't feel a thing!
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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby ReedySteadyGo » Fri Jan 26, 2018 7:00 am

GilesAnt wrote:
If you are familiar with a major scale then you are familiar with the Ionian mode already. The minor scale is (almost) the Aeolian mode. So you are part way there already.


I thought Aeolian was the same as the natural minor scale. What do you mean by 'almost'?
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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby GilesAnt » Fri Jan 26, 2018 9:55 am

In the Aeolian mode the chord on the dominant is a minor triad - this means the standard dominant seventh chord isn't available unless you sharpen the seventh note. The V7-I progression is a cornerstone of functional harmony.

Look at a piece of music in A minor (almost Aeolian) and you will notice a lot of G sharps for this reason.

You are right in that the natural minor is the same as the Aeolian. But the melodic and harmonic minors are more normally used, and these contain the subtle differences to enable the V7-I progression to work.
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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby petev3.1 » Fri Feb 16, 2018 2:38 pm

GilesAnt wrote:Being a semitone away from a 'right' note is a handy trick in its own right. I reckon that should help me to improve too.

if you want an exercise in modes (to pete), try taking the old song What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor. Simple to play, so noodle around with the melody and chords, and you will notice by a miracle that you are playing in the Dorian mode. If you already know the major scale (Ionian) and minor scale (sort of Aeolian) then that is 3 modes under your belt already - and you didn't feel a thing!

Thanks. I do get this. But I have a conceptual point. I know (for instance) that I can play in Mixolydian mode over the dominant seventh. But I could play these notes by just choosing this set of notes from the main scale. I noticed (but didn't watch) one youtube video claiming that a knowledge of modes can be replaced with a knowledge of chord extensions and this makes sense to me.

From a practical perspective it seems to me that if one can play scales starting from anywhere then one only needs to know where to start. Learning the modes seems a great way of learning to play scales starting from anywhere, but I just can't seem to get a handle on why the two tasks are different. I was playing mixolydian patterns over dominant sevenths long before I knew anything about modes since it's just a set of notes from the scale.

BUT - I know I missing something.
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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby Sam Spoons » Fri Feb 16, 2018 2:57 pm

When did modes start to be called mode (with the associated Greek names)?

Given that they have existed since the western scale was first sung or played I suspect they are just a way of giving a name to something pre-existing.

I think Pete makes a good point when he says that all the notes from a D Dorian or a G mixolidyan or a B Locrian exist in a C major scale.

I also find it hard to believe that even the best players can think "Ah, the next chord is an Em7 so I'll play some notes from an E Phrigyan scale over it" every time the chord changes. It would be much simpler to say "I'm playing in C so I can play any note from a C Maj scale will fit over any of the chords". But, clearly I'm missing something too :)
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Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

Postby Sam Inglis » Fri Feb 16, 2018 3:10 pm

petev3.1 wrote:Thanks. I do get this. But I have a conceptual point. I know (for instance) that I can play in Mixolydian mode over the dominant seventh. ... I was playing mixolydian patterns over dominant sevenths long before I knew anything about modes since it's just a set of notes from the scale.
.

I guess the key point is that the chord is only the dominant seventh if it stands in a particular relationship to the tonic and thus to the tonal centre of the piece. As GilesAnt points out, a piece that is in one of the natural minor modes, or the Mixolydian mode, doesn't have a conventional dominant seventh chord. If the piece is in, say, G Mixolydian, when you play something over the G you are not soloing over a dominant seventh chord, you're soloing over a tonic chord that has a flat instead of a raised seventh.
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