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Does Anyone (Not) Think about Modes This Way?

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by ddewerd, Aug 31, 2009.

  1. jjkrause84

    jjkrause84 Poster Extraordinaire

    Feb 28, 2009
    London, England

    I cannot argue with're doing things the right way


    Does it or does it not seem like a bit much to play D mixolydian over a D7 (to use your example) for just one bar, for example? " have one bar...GO!" Seems a little over the top. If you can do that...great! I am working on it and hope to do the same at some point but the idea (the jazz idea, I guess) of assigning an entire scale/mode to each individual chords seems like it can lead to more thinking than playing.

    I hope to prove myself wrong at some point but I'm jsut not "there" yet

  2. warmingtone

    warmingtone Tele-Holic

    Aug 4, 2008
    I think "modal playing" has got confused a lot in these discussions.

    The essence of modal sounds is that the mode creates a different key centre sensibility and sound. Listen to Miles' "Kind of Blue"! A lot of it is to do with Modal Key Centers lacking the drive that leading tones and dominant-to-tonic chord movements.


    Applying them as described to diatonic material (strong V-I movements) is ok I guess, but not really modal playing as such. The example of using a bebop chord by chord approach using separate modes for each chord in a ii-V-I is over the top...ii-V-I in G are all diatonic to and enough to fully identify the key centre as G major...further, A dorian, D mixolydian and G major are all the same notes and intervals of G major (or Ionian) the progression is all Ionian, but not really modal as such but "Major" as it is using the conventions of that language to define it's key centre (7-3 resolution, leading tones, etc)...

    An example of a tune that is in a modal key centre, say mixolydian, is where the "I" tonic chord is a dominant 7, so in G the tonic chord is G7. (an example that comes to mind is beck's "the pump" perhpas).

    Different kinds of cadances exist to give a modal mixo the V is minor, but a movement of the bVII-V7 or F-G7 in G effectively defines the key centre.

    Vestiges of modal cadences can be found in say church music with the "amen" cadance of VI-I. Davis's "so What" in dorian effectively expresses the Dorian tonality with it's (ii-i) Em7-Dm7 cadances.


    Similar things seem to be misunderstood about the need to think chord by chord for everything...coming up with different modes and scales for every chord.

    It may be necessary with some music to adjust things to navigate through some things...a iib5-V7b5-I for example in C (Dm7b5-G7b5-Cmaj7).

    More commonly players would approach such a progression with extended arpeggios perhaps. You could identify the strong chromatic movement within of the D-Db-C combined with the Ab-F-G perhaps. Either way, the pentatonic adjustment or modal approaches are not going to cut it. But it really is only where these kinds of things occur that "thinking" in this way is required. After a while, if this is the kind of material you routinely play, you will hear that kind of thing and it comes more naturally...the "thinking" and "analysis" and "vocabulary" and "theory" just falls away.

    It is possible to play through such a progression that is clearly in the key of Cmajor by altering pentatonics I guess...take the C major pentatonic, ditch the A note for the Ab note and add in the F and Db notes...but it is a little harder than other approaches and may miss the kind of "point" of such fairly common is the chromatic altered movement within the harmony, particularly the smooth D-Db-C line that is all important to the sound of such sequences.


    Still...these things are diatonic and not "modal".

    Check out a tune like "flamenco sketches" for 'kind of blue' and hear how changing modes changes the feeling as it progresses through different modes...

    Notice you really don't get that strong V-I tonal stuff you find in diatonic progressions, it really is a quite different approach and sound.

    * C Ionian (natural major scale)
    * A♭ Mixolydian (Major with a minor 7th)
    * B♭ Ionian
    * D Phrygian dominant (Phrygian with F♯ instead of F) (alternates over bass notes D and E♭)
    * G Dorian

    You could go back to very early music to see other examples of stuff written in the modal sense of course, since KoB there have been plenty of others who have used "modal sensibilities" as well.


    Of course there is nothing wrong with adding notes to a major or minor pentatonic to effectively get some of the modes out of it...but it does seem that a lot of the "point" of modal playing is lost by many.

    I frequently do "think" in this way...Say I have a tune with Am,Dm,Em,G,C,F...most like would think in terms of Am pentatonic with the addition of the notes B and F. If the tune has a Major VI perhaps a family of chords in a progression of Am,Bm,D,Em,C,G...going to be thinking Am pentatonic adding the B and F# notes...whether is comes across as "modal" or simply "minor" is another matter.

    To me the hallmark of "modal Playing" and modal tunes is that the melody creates the drive not functional harmony. We are so used to hearing the implied harmony behind melodies, or melodies that fit progressions, it is hard to imagine or hear it the other way around, where the melodic invention is the driving force and the harmonic background is subservient to it and in many ways coincidental.

    Listening to "Flamenco Sketches" again while typing this reminds me of how good this modal playing can sound even after all these years...each change of mode gives a different perspective and power to pure melody without all that "functional harmony" to dictate things.

  3. eddie knuckles

    eddie knuckles Tele-Afflicted

    Mar 11, 2008
    Worcester, MA
    This is beautiful - check Emily Remler's "Mocha Spice", not quite as heady as this, but nice modal play through the melody and chord structures

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  4. klasaine

    klasaine Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 28, 2006
    NELA, Ca
    Modal playing is generally totally misunderstood and misrepresented ...

    But this is a great example of how modal players, me being one a lot of the time, do play 'modally' over changes without hurting their brains.

    First off we (I) tend to simplify things. This ii V I ... Dm7b5-G7b5-Cmaj7 ...
    can easily be turned into just | D-11b5 | % | Cmaj.9 | % |
    *in the 2nd measure you can play the same shape but put a G in the bass - this gives you a Gsusb9 (a phrygian chord). Here's a voicing ...

    D-11b5 (or Gsusb9)

    Think G phrygian (G Ab Bb C D Eb F) for the D-7b5 and the G7alt. (yes I know it's the same as Eb Ionian but don't think of it that way - we want to emphasize the G's and Ab's that are so prevalently the phrygian sound) ... resolve to C maj (or min) or, if you want to get a little hipper resolve to G Ionian which would emphasize the F# over a C major chord (lydian - pertaining nicely to the other thread).

    The modes are best and most effectively used in jazz, fusion and rock music to change harmonic color or emphasize a different harmonic color.

  5. jjkrause84

    jjkrause84 Poster Extraordinaire

    Feb 28, 2009
    London, England
    I thank the good Lord I chose to play country and blues :D

  6. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

    Nov 5, 2006
    Iowa City, IA
    You laid this out very nicely. Thanks.

  7. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

    Nov 5, 2006
    Iowa City, IA
    The way blues players treat notes doesn't support the scale or mode concept. In a scale or mode, the most common way of presenting the notes is in stepwise motion. In C dorian, the sequence of notes C D Eb F G (C up to D up to Eb up to F up to G) is extremely common. In blues, however, this sequence of notes is much less common, you could even say rare. What I hear happening in the music of such guitarists as Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Albert King, BB King, and others is the note D being used instead of Eb in a sequence like this: C D F G Eb C (C up to D up to F up to G down to Eb down to C). The notes D and Eb are separated in the sequence by other notes. (This and the other examples are in the C blues.)

    The example above is for the 2nd scale or mode degree above the tonic. The 6th scale or mode degree behaves in a similar manner. The sequence of notes C Bb A G Eb F (C down to Bb down to A down to G down to Eb up to F) is less common than a sequence like C A G F Eb Bb G F G (C down to A down to G down to F down to Eb up to Bb down to G down to F up to G). The notes A and Bb are separated in the sequence by other notes.

    I would like to emphasize that this method of substitution is common in the electric blues solos and fills of the masters and those influenced by them. I wish these musicians would have talked more about their musical ideas in interviews. I think the interviewers bought into the idea that blues musicians were all feeling and no thought. Even if they were playing in shapes and didn't know the note names, ideas like these could be conveyed with a guitar in hand. I am not sure, though, how amenable many of the players would have been to discussing their music like this.

  8. jjkrause84

    jjkrause84 Poster Extraordinaire

    Feb 28, 2009
    London, England
    In playing you don't have time to think "notes"....scales and modes, fine...but notes? No way man. I agree that blues is not "all feeling" but my guess would be that the more technical your approach the less evocative your playing would be. I think this is much less true in jazz and rock.

    Here's one....why is it that when I play licks in differnet modes it sounds "classical" most of the time? Is it supposed to sound like this or (more likely) am I just "not doing it right"?

  9. brokenjoe

    brokenjoe Friend of Leo's

    Mar 1, 2009
    Get comfortable with those modes. Learn how to bend notes in 'em, and which notes in which modes sound great with a lot of vibrato.

    Other than that, part of the reason it sometimes sounds classical, is because modal methods of creating and playing music pre-dated classical, and was the method for describing intervals -until a fellow by the name of J.S. Bach came along.......

  10. jjkrause84

    jjkrause84 Poster Extraordinaire

    Feb 28, 2009
    London, England

  11. warmingtone

    warmingtone Tele-Holic

    Aug 4, 2008
    I'm not sure that anything should really hurt...but again, I think that there is a difference between applying modes to functional harmony, and playing "modaly".


    My example of a common chromatically altered progression...Dm7b5-G7b5-Cmaj7...isn't really harmonically expressed by the idea of using a phrygian mode over two is a different kind of play. If it is getting the sounds you want without a headache, that's cool of course.

    However, much of the movement in this progression, the reason for adding those b5's in there, is to create a specific kind of sound. That sound is most clear in the b5 of the D chord falling to the 1 of the G7 chord, ie, Ab-G...and in the strong movement of the root of the Dm chord to the b5 of the G7 and then that b5 to the root of the tonic D-Db-C as I suggested.

    This is functional harmony with chromatic elements, the result is that this kind of sound wont be expressed with conventional modes that lack such chromatic movement...potentially you could change material for every chord, as a bebop player might...a more "melodic" player may identify this kind of movement as being key to the sound and simply target those b5 resolutions and chromatic lines.

    Even with the idea of playing a single "phrygian mode" as suggested...
    What this lacks is the possibility of expressing the Db-C resolution of the V7b5-I...such movements are not possible with the modal approach or pentatonics with added notes approach, which was my point really.

    That kind of progression could be tackled by a chord by chord appeggio way, or perhaps separates scales or modes for each chord...or it could be tackled in a more intuitive melodic way that recognize the essential sounds in such a chord sequence and expressing that. This latter approach does not require a huge vocabulary of scales, modes, arppeggios or patterns to get the idea across, all that is required is to see what is intended in such harmony.


    Still, all little off topic I guess as none of this is really "modal" in it's essence. Modal music tends to forsake the forces of functional harmony...for instance this article...
    It is good that the article further explored the "dangers" of such molodic freedom...


    But Miles innovations were just one expression of modal possibilities, it is quite strong in much of Santana's music particularly his fondness of the Aeolian mode with vamps such as Am7-D7...but it is quite common in much traditional Celtic music as further examples.

    I am surprised if one were to get "classical" or "baroque" like sounds from a lot of the modes, it is likely it isn't being used "right". Most of the modes lack the leading tone and normal cadences that drive such music. Perhaps the modes are being used in more functional harmony contexts rather than modal ones...perhaps it is the attitude that is brought to it...obviously the first mode "Ionian" as the major scale holds all the usual functional harmony trappings of leading tones and resolutions.

    Again, listen to the "flamenco sketches" track (above) or others from the KoB album...even though there is a phrygian section for instance, it avoids even the "spanish" cliches this mode often inspires in lesser players. The "jazziness" or "blues" qualities come from the phrasing and melodic invention of these inspired players, not the chord changes or the movement of the harmony (such that it is).

    It may well be that "modal music" is not what is being sought by many anyway...blues and country may well be perfectly well expressed without the need for them...jazz certainly has any number of approaches without the need to "go modal". The Major scale and two common minor scales can be derived from "adding" to the pentatonics, but the full extent of the modal sensibility or possibilities cant be found in this way alone...nor is it enough for many chromatically altered sounds should you wish to go in that direction.

    Again though, pentatonics themselves offer a powerful set of possibilities unto don't be put off by the your topic suggests, this approach is commonly used to derive scales to fit various progressions, however the approach may well be more simply a minor/major appraoch rather than a "modal" one in essence.

  12. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Telefied Ad Free Member

    As Bill Evans put it in "So What":



    It seems Jazz (=Bebop for this discussion) and Blue are mirror images. Blues uses pentatonic scales with modal stuff thrown in for spice, while Jazz tosses in a pentatonic lick for spice. I wouldn't stress modal scales too much in Bebop, it's more about skating around tonalities. For example, they have 12 bar blues in Bebop, too, but Charlie Parker's chord changes were:

    | Fmaj7 | Emi7b5 A7b9 | Dmi7 Db7 | Cmi7 F7|
    | Bb7 | Bb-7 Eb7 | Ami7 D7 | Ab-7 Db7 |
    | Gmi7 | C7 | F D7 | Gmi7 C7 ||
    Last edited: Sep 3, 2009

  13. warmingtone

    warmingtone Tele-Holic

    Aug 4, 2008
    Well...I don't think jazz and blues are mirror images...

    It seems that the Jazz thing went through phases in 10's of years that "classical" music took 100's to do.

    The blues became spread to more complex and sophisticated forms and heavily lent on the movement of functional harmony. Just as plain song became more codified through bach,mozart,beethoven...till it got ever more chromatic with the likes of Wagner...eventually those avenues get somewhat exhausted and you get the likes of debussy and satie and such...which is where things were headed around '58 with the "modal" stuff...soon after it went into more free jazz explorations and the like. As things have passed, it seems that audiences, like classical audiences have romantisized the golden ages of the bebop era...much as the music of composers such as Mozart and Bach and Beethoven still make up the bulk of performances in that genre.


    Anyway...modes, the only problem with using the pentatonic as a basis for things is that you need to be able to not only add to those five notes but alter them...allow for a flat five or whatever is required instead of the natural 5th in a pentatonic scale.

    So, that iib5-V7b5-Imaj7 (Dmb5-G7b5-Cmaj7)...I see a collection of these notes as "permissible" melodic material. It could be constructed from the C pentatonic if you altered the A note to Ab...but there are so many notes here that it might even be easier to look at what notes need to be treated with "care" this case the notes A and F# from the whole chromatic scale.


    Some might find this kind of thing a way of freeing their "thinking". With the pentatonic things, I guess we learn these 5 notes are "safe" our melodic senses progesses we fill the gaps as the OP described.

    There are 12 notes in the chromatic scale, once you get to a seven note scale such as a major or minor or mode, you have more safe notes than not...once you start adding chromatic movements and such (modulations, etc) into things there are even more "safe" notes as in the above example. So, something that seems complex and will be rejected as too hard is simply a matter of identifying what few notes are not "safe" rather than trying to remember patterns and scales and such that are...then it is simply a matter of avoiding or treating with care (as enclosures or passing notes) those few notes that are no longer "safe".

    So, the principle of adding to the pentatonic thing is ok, but a more powerful tool that is easier on the brain in many instances is to turn that around and "subtract" from all the possible notes.


    Again, straying from the "modal" aspects of the topic. On the other hand, it should also be realized that any set of notes, scale or whatever, has modes that can be built from it's degrees, not just the interval sets found in the major scale. Similarly, all chords have inversions limited only by the number of notes within them.

    I have a book here with a whole heap of alternatives and are just a few alternative pentatonic scales for instance that can function in a "modal sense" (ie, the pattern of intervals defines the melodic environment, not the harmony)...

    Indian 1,3,4,5,b7
    Kumoi 1,2,b3,5,6
    Hirajoshi 1,2,b3,5,b6
    Iwato (5th mode of above) 1,b2,4,b5,b7
    Pelog 1,b2,4b3,5,b6
    Scrian 1,b2,3,5,6
    Egyptian (3rd mode of minor pentatonic) 1,2,4,5,b7
    Banshiki-cho (4th mod minor pentatonic) 1,b3,4,b6,b7
    Ritusen (5th mode minor pentatonic) 1,2,4,5,6
    Rwanda Pygme 1,2,b3,5,b7

    Obviously these are named ethnic scales...but the names are not important. Modal music and pentatonics and their modes predominate much of the worlds music...many forms of music find their drive not through harmony but through rhythm and melody alone.

    Trying to create effective melodies with such material is an interesting exercise, some will look familiar, the first may look "mixolydian" but the lack of the 6th degree and the leap it creates is crucial to the sound of this "mode"...alternatively, many of these "modes" lack the third that we tend to find crucial to substantiate a key centre, yet other cultures can hear it and communicate effectively.

    Obviously many of these can't be derived easily from a minor/major pentatonic standpoint...even though many can be seen to be pentatonic modes themselves.


    For a lot of things it seems to me that knowing where the notes are and have the facility to reach them, knowing how they fit within various harmonies, identifying what the harmonies are doing (or conversely what harmonies would support a melody), what the intention of the composer or improviser is (the who i suppose), knowing when to play what combination of possible sounds in time...and hopefully have a sense of why one is playing whatever it is they choose.

    Lately, I have had a similar kind of approach, or try to...which is not to use the pentatonic scale as the basis for an improvisation or whatever, but to try and use the melody or other important melodic lines that harmonies may provide as the "superstructure" on which to hang things on. It's amazing how many "off" notes sound fine (even interesting and right) as long as the important point is being put across.

    How ever you approach things, whether pentatonics to chord running (maybe especially modal stuff where the harmony is not pointing the way)'s easy feel at some points you are simply going through the motions. By targeting tones from a melody, either of the tune itself or another that I made up, or some other lines that are implied by complex harmonies...I have been trying to climb out of such ruts, or at least focus on having something to play of some direction rather simply playing something that "works" with a given harmony.

  14. jjkrause84

    jjkrause84 Poster Extraordinaire

    Feb 28, 2009
    London, England
    What kind of music do you do Warming Tone? If you don't mind me asking...

  15. r2zou

    r2zou TDPRI Member

    Aug 18, 2009
    i think alot of ppl do it your way when they dont start out with alot of theory and start soloing with the pentatonics.

    cause your style develops around the bare bones pentatonic and its easier to add onto that than to try to solo with something completely different.

  16. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

    Nov 5, 2006
    Iowa City, IA
    I see the notes on the fingerboard, somewhat as if the names were printed there. It is more like seeing my brother and 3 sisters and knowing who they are without have to conjure up their names.

    Classical music of the Baroque and Classical period use step-by-step patterns played in equal durations. If you are doing a lot of that, that could contribute to the classical sound you are getting. Also, if you are playing lines by yourself, the modes can very easily start to sound like a major scale.

  17. jjkrause84

    jjkrause84 Poster Extraordinaire

    Feb 28, 2009
    London, England
    Right on dude. Thanks. You are of course much more trained than most people here. I do find myself intentionally heading back to the root note to keep modes sounding like themselves instead of just a major scale. Part of the challenge I guess.

  18. BigDaddyLH

    BigDaddyLH Telefied Ad Free Member

    I saw a lesson on modes on yourtube that had some tips. For instance:

    If you play a C major scale, it's going to sound like C major, but then your brain locks onto that. If you immediately follow it by an E phrygian scale (E F G A B C D E) it will still sound like C major.

    Instead, try this: play the C major scale then follow it immediately by a C phrygian scale (C Db Eb F G Ab Bb C). Now that sounds different!

  19. warmingtone

    warmingtone Tele-Holic

    Aug 4, 2008

    well, been a while since I've played on stage! I started out and still am rooted in the blues, initially influenced by the British wave of the 60's and worked back from there...I played in a few rock bands in the 80's at the same time doing a music degree in which I had to learn classical and played in a jazz band for a, that's where the "theory geek" side of me comes from.

    In university study I studied music theory and composition from medieval, to traditional, chromatic and serial as well as other 20th century forms, ethnomusicology and history a bit, towards the end of that course I was doing a fair bit of shenkarian analysis as I recall, jazz studies and composition as majors. I also have done a few courses and things over the years in various things to keep my hand in.

    As with many of course, real life practicalities, mortgages marriage and children take it has been a while and all this stuff is being revisited...

    At the moment I jam with a bass player on a broad range of stuff and write a bit for my own amusement...still an avid music fan and enjoy the puzzle that music offers in it's many forms. I am hoping to get into a bit of home recording and explore a lot more of these they have been on my mind lately. the moment I am playing anything and trying to reach for a 'sound' I guess. With this kind of "adventurous" approaches I have been fascinated for years with a lot of this stuff...some of it a bit philosophical I suppose...and different ways to express oneself either by stretching the language of harmony or going the other way and asserting more emphasis on melody or rhythm. The latter has be less utilized in western music so there is plenty to explore.

    I should say, I know a lot more than I can play...but that is often the way!

    Oh...and I come from Australia so there is probably a fair bit of cultural and sociological mixing here than in the states...we have had a broad mix of music exposure, far less country for instance...


    A little off topic...but thanks for asking!

    "Western Modes" are just a few of the possibilities and the concept is a huge part of non-western musics way of working and developed to a very high degree without adopting harmonic conventions.
    Modal stuff has always fascinated me, but I learned it in a different way than most here seem to have. We were taught to see the modes as an "alternative environment" I suppose. I included a few above as a taster, just from the pentatonics...


    The ideas we were opened to, were to hear the modal a metaphor off the top of my head...perhaps as the Ionian (major scale) being a city, the minor a village, the dorian an open meadow, the mixolydian by the sea, the phrygian mode an exotic and mysterious wood.

    I don't mean that literally of course, they are different sonic places that have a certain atmosphere about them...people can have their own associations as to how they sound. Being able to hear these "environments", feel the associations that these interval sets have for the individual is the key here.

    As my last post was alluding to was that these "western" modes are sequences of intervals. Any combination of intervals (distances between successive notes) can make a scale and the 'interval set' have corresponding modes if started from a different degree and hear against a given key centre.

    One thing that is often lost in's not the notes that give these things their sound, it's the gaps between them, their relationships that have the effect.

    A whole language has developed around the major scale and harmony over the years in the western a large extent harmony has dictated melody. In other cultures, interest, drive and motivation of music can be in the rhythm or in still others with different interval sets creating the "feel" of the music and the way melodies work without 'functional harmony' at all.

    So...the interesting thing about modes is the way people see them and limit them and struggle to apply them into conventional functional harmonies.

    There is a place for it, but the way it is taught and understood varies considerably.

    One way to get a feel for what these "western modes" or any other tone set (scale, some of those non western things in the post above, or any set of intervals you might come up with) is to hear them over a single non-defined drone (ie not major or minor). Just noodle around with various notes against an open a or e one mode, then change to another with jaust a little bit of an alteration (say major to mixo (b7) or lydian (#4)) and try and hear the mode as that key. You will find that like the major scale, there are kind of melodic drives to each...the lydian #4 tends to pull up, even though the same note as a b5 that usually wants to fall; The b7 in mixo no longer will sound restless and what to resolve, a kind of language will appear of melodic movements other than those associated with conventional harmony functions and new functions will emerge.

    Someone posted this Ted Greene seminar recently, and while he is talking he is shifting modes within a key and you can hear how these things "work". Well worth a view...thanks to whoever found it...

    The end game is to start to see how all notes and sets of notes are valid and can all have their own beauty within a "key" once the rules of functional harmony are set aside to dictate what is "right and wrong"...modes was an important step for me to open my eyes/ears to these kinds of concepts, and at first I will readily admit I did much as the original poster describes adding notes to pentatonics. The down side is that you are likely to hear the familiar "environment" of the pentatonic with added notes rather than the feel of the mode itself.


    But it is not as "high brow" or "intellectual" as I am probably making it with too much information...the blues is a good example of essentially modal music. We all know and accept the minor pentatonic interval set even when set against western harmony, we also acknowledge and accept the beauty of those blue notes and slightly flat and sharp notes that reach back to the original modes and melodic drive before it was codified by the western scale system and temperament.

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