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Clarification on using modes correctly

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Clarification on using modes correctly

Postby zekeyheathy » Sat Feb 01, 2020 4:20 pm

Hi everyone, just a quick one....

I've had enough music theory training to understand what a mode is and that they each have their own unique 'flavours', but I'm yet to grasp how to effectively use them in composition - or maybe I do but don't have the confidence yet.

Would I be right in saying that to make a composition in a certain mode you need to (a) keep the harmony around the root chord as much as possible so as not to succumb to the pull of the parent scale (i.e. first degree of the major scale) and (b) also use modal interchange (borrowed chords) to spice things up and veer the listeners attention away from said parent scale?

The reason I'm hesitant is that the idea of hanging around the root chord of a mode gets a little monotonous doesn't it? or is that where the use of modal interchange comes in?

Cheers in advance for helping clarify this for me :thumbup:
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Re: Clarification on using modes correctly

Postby merlyn » Sat Feb 01, 2020 10:03 pm

Modal pieces that come to mind are Chameleon by Herbie Hancock and So What by Miles Davis.

They're both dorian. The harmony in Chameleon goes ii V ii V ... In So What there is a section of D dorian then a section of Eb dorian.

You can use all the chords from a mode. What makes it modal is that the V chord isn't a dominant. In D dorian if Dm is the tonic Am is the Vm. There isn't the same opportunity for a cadence. So modes are more 'floaty' sounding.
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Re: Clarification on using modes correctly

Postby DC-Choppah » Sun Feb 02, 2020 2:48 am

Play a C7 chord.

Play a Gm appergio over that.

Extend the Gm appergio to include the other notes of the Gm dorian mode, Play a melody that is Gm using these notes. Anything in Gm could work. But it should be a Gm melody.

But remember we are still on C7.

You now hear the sound of G dorian over C7.

In theory, the G dorian is just the second mode of F and C Mixolidian is the fifth mode of F.
So in theory we are just in F the whole time.

But because your melody is a Gm (dorian) it has a modal sound to it that is unique.

Can you 'think' in F and play a melody? Then think in G dorian and play a different melody? Then do both over a C7 chord. Not the same thing right?

In fact the combination of every mode on top of every chord is unique, so the new sounds are endless.

Most people think they can just play in F. But you have to learn the sound of each mode of F played against each chord in the scale of F.

Try the third mode (A phrygian) over the sixth chord (Dm7).

It's a melodic thing in combination with a harmonic thing.

This takes more than a lifetime to master. Choose your battles wisely.
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Re: Clarification on using modes correctly

Postby GilesAnt » Sun Feb 02, 2020 11:59 am

I don't know why people get so obsessed about modes - people seem to view it as some sort of Philosopher's Stone, a means of unlocking the deeper mysteries of music, or of sprinkling some magic dust on their music There is a lot of good discussion in the sticky thread above.

The simple answers to the original questions are 'no' and 'no' again.

Modality is more about melody than harmony. As merlyn points out, there is no functional tonic-dominant relationship available in any of the modes except the Ionian - i.e. the modern major scale. The modern minor scales are altered from the underlying Dorian/Aeolian mode precisely to allow for a tonic-dominant relationship.

Your questions mention a 'parent scale' as if that is different to your mode. Each mode is unique and has no parent. You certainly don't need to keep the harmony around the root either, you can use any triad based on the notes of the mode - though don't expect harmony to work in the same way as normal since you don't have the tonic/dominant functionality.

Take an old folk song like 'What shall we do with the drunken sailor'. This is clearly in the Dorian mode and can be harmonised quite simply using triads built on the first and seventh notes of that mode.

If you want to use borrowed chords to spice up your music that is fine, but then you aren't really in the original mode any more, just as with any modulation between keys.

Regarding the points made by DC_Choppah - placing a Gm on top of a C7 is basically forming a C9 chord, or even a C11 and C13 if you add further notes from a Gm scale - nothing essentially modal about that to be honest, though it is all about context. As you point out this can just as easily be seen as playing in the key of F.

If you want to make your music modal your best bet would be to stop trying to think in terms of functional harmony, and of course to listen to examples such as merlyn has provided (I'll take his word for it that these pieces are modal as he has described).
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Re: Clarification on using modes correctly

Postby DC-Choppah » Sun Feb 02, 2020 1:36 pm

Here is a great example: https://www.facebook.com/gypsyjazzsecre ... 417965461/

Please use your ears and hear how G dorian over C7 yields a certain characteristic sound.

This is theoretically the same as just F major? But if you play a melody in F major over the same thing then the sound is different because of where the melodies gravitate. The entire mood is different.

Modes are the same grouping of notes as other modes, but the melodic gravity is different. At least it should be if want to be able to use modes to call up these moods.
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Re: Clarification on using modes correctly

Postby GilesAnt » Sun Feb 02, 2020 1:51 pm

As I said, it is all about the context. Simply placing a Gm on top of C7 doesn't make it modal, but if the melody gravitates to a mode that makes all the difference. Modes are more about melody than harmony really, and it is confusing to mix functional harmony with modes.
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Re: Clarification on using modes correctly

Postby zekeyheathy » Mon Feb 03, 2020 3:47 pm

Thanks everyone for your replies thus far, some things to think about here!
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Re: Clarification on using modes correctly

Postby merlyn » Mon Feb 03, 2020 3:51 pm

GilesAnt wrote:Take an old folk song like 'What shall we do with the drunken sailor'. This is clearly in the Dorian mode and can be harmonised quite simply using triads built on the first and seventh notes of that mode.

That's a good example that most people will be familiar with. Another one is the theme tune from Silent Witness. It's dorian and has some chord changes.

A well known tune that is dorian (D dorian) is Scarborough Fair. I had a go at harmonising this and I used a C chord a few times. The OP thought that this would lead to the piece going to C major. It doesn't.

@zekeyheathy : have a go at harmonising Scarborough Fair .

@DC-Choppah : What you've described sounds like a good way of coming up with lines. I would think on using F major and all the modes of F over C7 as C mixolydian. The lines will sound different depending on which note you start on but they're all from C mixolydian. The reason not to think 'F major' over C7 is that the note F doesn't sound good over C7. You could think 'C mixolydian' but starting on the root is boring :) so G dorian is a good choice. Also the other modes starting on chord tones -- E locrian and Bb lydian.
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Re: Clarification on using modes correctly

Postby DC-Choppah » Mon Feb 03, 2020 6:37 pm

merlyn wrote:
@DC-Choppah : What you've described sounds like a good way of coming up with lines. I would think on using F major and all the modes of F over C7 as C mixolydian. The lines will sound different depending on which note you start on but they're all from C mixolydian. The reason not to think 'F major' over C7 is that the note F doesn't sound good over C7. You could think 'C mixolydian' but starting on the root is boring :) so G dorian is a good choice. Also the other modes starting on chord tones -- E locrian and Bb lydian.

You got it man!
After a while you start just composing based on a feeling of 'a Lydian sound here'. So you use a Bflat Lydian mode over a C7 to give you that open 'Lydian' feeling.

Then you keep these things moving. Change to other modes as you want to move the mood.

It takes a while to get used to playing or composing in a 'mode'. It may be the same notes as other modes, but you build phrases in the mode that gravitate back to the root of the mode rather than the root of the tonic.

The simple modal tunes just play the mode of the single chord, say D dorian over a long Dm chord, etc. But that gets boring, so we move on to playing all modes over all chords and play with the combinations to generate new music.
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Re: Clarification on using modes correctly

Postby GilesAnt » Thu Feb 06, 2020 3:24 pm

zekeyheathy wrote:@DC-Choppah : What you've described sounds like a good way of coming up with lines. I would think on using F major and all the modes of F over C7 as C mixolydian. The lines will sound different depending on which note you start on but they're all from C mixolydian. The reason not to think 'F major' over C7 is that the note F doesn't sound good over C7. You could think 'C mixolydian' but starting on the root is boring so G dorian is a good choice. Also the other modes starting on chord tones -- E locrian and Bb lydian.

The problem here is when does an F major scale become C mixolydian, or for that matter Bflat Lydian etc. The notes of any given major scale are also those for 6 other modes as I can see you are aware. I think this is why some people like to claim they are being modal when actually they are still within major/minor tonality.

As soon as you mention playing over a C7 chord you are hinting at functional harmony that will resolve to F major, so this calls into question any sense of modality. However the harmony may not be functional at all, in which case a modal melodic line can work well. I can see you understand that each mode has melodic qualities that need to be emphasised or highlighted in order to truly capture the unique sound of that mode, the sharpened 6th in Dorian for example, or the augmented 4th for Lydian.
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Re: Clarification on using modes correctly

Postby merlyn » Thu Feb 06, 2020 5:15 pm

Yes, we've got two uses of the term 'mode' on this thread.

One is applicable to composition and one is applicable to improvisation.

In composition and analysis of modal tunes the tunes stay within one mode throughout. This is the most precise use of the term 'modal'.

In improvisation modes are material to come up with lines. This is often referred to as the chord/scale system. If we take the progression :

|Gm7 / / /| C7 / / /|F / / /|F / / /|

Jazzers would say that goes G dorian, C mixolydian, F major even though it's in F throughout. It's more of a way of thinking about it than a precise use of the term 'modal'. Jazzers also want to 'play what they hear' so the ultimate goal is to move beyond thinking about the names of modes.

If we now consider the minor version of that progression :

|Gm7b5 / / /|C7b9 / / /|Fm7 / / /|Fm7 / / /|

Navigating that takes more than one mode. So the habit of thinking in chord/scales pays off. On Gm7b5 use G locrian or Ab, on C7b9 use C phrygian dominant or F harmonic minor and on Fm7 use F dorian or Eb major.

The progression definitely isn't modal but modes provide material for improvisation.

It could be that the two different uses of the concept of modes is what causes confusion. :D
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