Help my feeble mind understand modes a bit better

Flat6Driver

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Jan 14, 2013
Posts
5,398
Age
49
Location
DC Burbs
The concept of modes always eludes me. Start on this note and it's Ioninian, start on this note and it's Phyrgian, etc. This page has all the usual charts and what not and I cannot make sense of it.

I think it's the starting note concept. I'm guessing that's where the scale starts and not the solo or lick. Right? But I'm looking for a better way to understand this (cause that stuff doesn't work for me).

An easy song I've been fooling with has this pattern for the whole song G Am C G. (I ii IV I in G - right?) (You ain't going nowhere - The Byrds). If I improvise a solo over this (roughly using the melody), no matter where I start on the neck, a B note, followed by a D note sounds good.

B is the 3rd of a G chord. But what mode is this if you just chase the melody?

And modes seem to be a guitar thing (or do other instruments sweat this as bad as we do?) In many songs is the mode implied by the melody anyway?

I don't want to think so hard about it? I'm looking for a quicky was in a jam to guess this note (start on the root, the 3rd, the 5th) will always work with the song. I'm not sure such a thing works for everything.
 

ndcaster

Doctor of Teleocity
Joined
Nov 14, 2013
Posts
11,754
Location
Indiana
a mode is just a frame placed around a set of pitches

the word itself is a little confusing, but you can pretty much ignore it
 

24 track

Telefied
Ad Free Member
Joined
Nov 6, 2014
Posts
20,893
Location
kamloops bc
Basically its the distance between the notes that sets the mode
eg
C D E F G A B C key of C major scale ( visually easier on a piano)
is based on a Tone Tone Semitone Tone Tone Tone Semitone

now if you play the C major scale statring on D and ending on D
the note distance shifts to Tone Semitone Tone Tone Tone Semitone Tone this give a new flavour to the scale played above

same with starting on E and ending on E
note distance changes again semitone tone tone tone semitone tone tone now you have something different to play over top

adnausiom
of course the chords you use have to follow the notes of the Cmajor scale unless there is a key change then it all shift to the new key ( but not always ) C to G use all the same notes except the F# in the G scale as long as you dont play the F# you can use the C major modes in the Key of G

this is a very rudimentary description but the principles apply to all major Keys

does this help?

if you have a keyboard and play this you can hear the differences and recognize the intervals
 

ghostchord

Tele-Holic
Joined
Aug 5, 2020
Posts
941
Location
Vancouver, BC, Canada
I think it's just what you said. A mode is a scale starting on a different note. You get a completely different feel doing that. I don't think modes are a guitar thing, they're a music theory thing. I've honestly never thought about the relationship to chord progressions but a quick Googling found me:

Ofcourse there's the most trivial examples of A-minor vs. C-major (which is also just a mode) and your "home" chord influences the feel of the progression just like your "home" note influences the feel of the melody...

EDIT: The Wikipedia article also goes pretty deep here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mode_(music)
 

Cheap Trills

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
May 11, 2016
Posts
1,621
Location
internet
I think just start with your understanding of major and minor. You can hear something and it sounds major, or something else and it sounds minor. Those are just modes. Relate your understanding of "tonal center" to how you understand it in that context.

Anyway, the word "major" and "minor" are just classifications of modes by their thirds, flat or not. But folks have gotten used to learning THE major scale as Ionian, and THE minor scale as aeolian. but those are just two modes that most people are familiar with, out of many.
 

drmordo

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Jun 27, 2019
Posts
3,123
Age
48
Location
Tampa, FL
I truly hate the way people try to explain modes. They are just scales, plain and simple. A lot of times people say stuff like "use C Ionian over the C chord, the D dorian over the D minor chord" which is absolutely asinine because they are the same notes being used in a very conventional way. You could just as easily say "play a C major scale over the C and Dmin".

A mode is meant to be used over a vamp that evokes that mode. For example, play Em and then Fmaj back and forth, then use the E phrygian. Or better yet, play a Emaj then Dm and solo using a E Phrygian Dominant scale. That is how a mode is used, over a vamp that fits the scale but doesn't sound like a standard progression.

Try this:

Practice the E Dorian and harmonize the scale to find chords it works over, like Emin to F#min. Let the low E string ring while you practice.

Then practice the E Phrygian and harmonize the scale to find chords it works over. Try Emin to Fmaj.

Then practice the E Lydian and harmonize the scale to find chords it works over. Try Emaj then F#maj/E.

Etc with the other modes.

C Ionian, D Dorian, E Phrygian, etc all just sounds like a C scale. If you stick with the same root note, you can hear the difference.

I'll add that IMO modes can be fun, but what really matters are chord tones.

So over your G Am C G progression, you could play a G major scale (or the different modes of it, but again this means very little in this context, it's all a G scale).

OR, you could emphasize G-B-D-F# then A-C-E-G then C-E-G-B then back to G-B-D-F#. All those notes are in the G major scale, but they are the critical chord tones that underline the progression. Focus on the 7ths and 3rds, and play around. You'll be a lot more interesting than playing the G modes over a bog standard chord progression.
 
Last edited:

24 track

Telefied
Ad Free Member
Joined
Nov 6, 2014
Posts
20,893
Location
kamloops bc
I truly hate the way people try to explain modes. They are just scales, plain and simple. A lot of times people say stuff like "use C Ionian over the C chord, the D dorian over the D minor chord" which is absolutely asinine because they are the same notes being used in a very conventional way. You could just as easily say "play a C major scale over the C and Dmin".

A mode is meant to be used over a vamp that evokes that mode. For example, play Em and then Fmaj back and forth, then use the E phrygian. Or better yet, play a Emaj then Dm and solo using a E Phrygian Dominant scale. That is how a mode is used, over a vamp that fits the scale but doesn't sound like a standard progression.

Try this:

Practice the E Dorian and harmonize the scale to find chords it works over, like Emin to F#min. Let the low E string ring while you practice.

Then practice the E Phrygian and harmonize the scale to find chords it works over. Try Emin to Fmaj.

Then practice the E Mixolydian and harmonize the scale to find chords it works over. Try Emaj then F#maj/E.

Etc with the other modes.

C Ionian, D Dorian, E Phrygian, etc all just sounds like a C scale. If you stick with the same root note, you can hear the difference.

I'll add that IMO modes can be fun, but what really matters are chord tones.

So over your G Am C G progression, you could play a G major scale (or the different modes of it, but agin this means very little in this context, it's all a G scale).

OR, you could emphasize G-B-D-F# then A-C-E-G then C-E-G-B then back to G-B-D-F#. All those notes are in the G major scale, but they are the critical chord tones that underline the progression. Focus on the 7ths and 3rds, and play around. You'll be a lot more interesting than playing the G modes over a bog standard chord progression.
never mind
 

klasaine

Doctor of Teleocity
Silver Supporter
Joined
Nov 28, 2006
Posts
10,481
Location
Los Angeles, Ca
+1 to everything @drmordo said.

The only thing that I will say, since you mentioned the Byrds tune, is that you don't want to really play 'modally' over that song. It is in the key of G major (G Ionian) but if you just stick to the major scale you're gonna sound really boring. Chord tones, the blues scale, major pentatonic - it all works.
It's rock music. The traditional and academic 'rules' of harmony and theory, to a large degree, get thrown out the window.
 

AAT65

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
May 29, 2016
Posts
6,786
Location
West Lothian, Scotland
I’m in @drmordo’s team! For some people modes as scales over chords help them do their soloing but I do not find that useful.

A mode is something like a key signature, which is driven by the harmony of a piece - not by a single chord played in a key. So we can very meaningfully think about , for instance, songs in a Mixolydian mode: they are essentially major but with a flattened 7th. There are a lot of these. I believe a lot of folk songs use Mixolydian. If you subscribe to the “key of D” theory 😀 then Sweet Home Alabama is a D Mixolydian song, driven by a double plagal cadence (bVII = IV-of-IV, IV, I). So is Steve Harley’s Make Me Smile (in G that time).
But if I’m playing a song in G major and we hit the D chord that doesn’t mean we’re in D Mixolydian, and it doesn’t help me to think that the relevant scale to play is D Mixolydian: we’re in G major, I play (mostly) notes from the G major scale, and if I think it’s important to emphasise the chord at this point I will try to hang on D, F# or A a bit more than G, B or C.

I also think that if you get too hung up on the “7 modes” you are missing out on a lot of other interesting things. Not all scales use the WWHWWWH pattern of intervals (and the point of the “7 modes” is that they all do, just starting in different places). For a start only the Natural Minor (= “Aeolian mode”) uses this pattern: but a great deal of Minor-key music builds in the Harmonic minor (with the 7 de-flatted) and the Melodic minor (where 6 and 7 can be either flatted or not, classically de-flatted on the way up and flatted again on the way down). Those don’t fit into the pattern of modes.
Or what about this sorta exotic minor scale which I use sometimes: 1-2-b3-#4-5-7-8? (3 sets of semitone intervals.)
Or the octal scales, 1-2-b3-4-b5-b6-6-7-8 or 1-b2-3-b4-b5-5-6-b7-8? (Those two either alternate WH or HW steps.)

So just like @drmordo says - find a mode / scale pattern that works for the song / progression and play on that. Sometimes you’ll have to modify it depending what chords are passing by, but you don’t need to think of a mode name for every bar.
 

KeithDavies 100

Tele-Holic
Joined
May 19, 2021
Posts
840
Age
60
Location
Cambridge, UK
OP talks about a quick way, in a jam situation, to find the notes to launch off from. (I'm paraphrasing a bit!)

If you're jamming, modes are probably going to over-complicate it for you.

As others have said, you want to hear whether it's major or minor, and perhaps whether there's a major seven or a dominant seven, and go from there. Jamming, your pentatonic major and minor are going to cover most things, and perhaps some arpeggios.

If you want to get technical, if you've identified what I've said above - major or minor, and which 7th - then you've worked out whether it's Ionian, Dorian or Mixolydian, for what that's worth. (Some might replace Dorian with Aeolian in that list, but Aeolian has a flat 6th and in blues / rock type stuff for jamming Dorian is more likely.)

The other modes - sure learn them if you want, but their usage gets a bit more esoteric and you'll be less likely to find a place for them in a jam session. Jazz maybe. Or if you write stuff yourself you might use them.

But I think most people on here would probably say they're aware of modes but that they come into their actual playing only peripherally, and without particularly thinking about it.
 

kbold

Friend of Leo's
Joined
Jul 21, 2015
Posts
3,245
Location
Australia
I started a thread a while back discussing root based and key based modes, which is what I think you may be referring to in your initial post.
Do a search in TDPRI on Modes and Circle of Fifths.
It may (or may not) help.
 

24 track

Telefied
Ad Free Member
Joined
Nov 6, 2014
Posts
20,893
Location
kamloops bc
it all boils down to what ever makes sense to you and how you percieve it. in the over all its always simpler than the written word , music in western cultures is math with a base 8 root, we are all descibing the same thing here .
we should be thankful we are not talking about talas in indian music where the ascending scale may be 14 notes and the descending scale may have 8 and there are 1000 different talas to learn and each with their own rhythmic cycles

makes learning modes a simple process
 

Jay Jernigan

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Feb 11, 2013
Posts
1,795
Location
10-uh-C
My (very brief) study of modes was centered on the white keys of a piano. It's easy for me to visualize that way and it's primarily variations on major and minor scales. Half the time I'll blank on the name, doesn't matter, because it's the notes that are important.
For instance, Dorian and aolian modes differ by one note: the sixth degree of the scale. Major sixth for Dorian, minor sixth for Aolian. E-E (Phrygian?) is minor, also, but with a flatted 2nd and 6th. F-F (Lydian?) Has a major third and a raised fourth, P5, and major sixth and seventh. I'm doing this from memory, ha!
It's handy for choosing a harmonica.
Edit: a striking example of modal application is "Malaguena": the chordal basis is E major but the primary single note lines are a C major scale making it sound in Phrygian mode. Weird, huh?
A more modern application would be "Mary Jane's Last Dance." It's recorded in A minor and a G major harp is used, making it Dorian mode.
And your usual cross harp for blues is a 4th up so it's Mixolydian, more or less.
I'm still not awake. After two edits, I hope that I have it right!!
 
Last edited:

dougbgt6

Tele-Meister
Joined
Oct 17, 2021
Posts
222
Age
74
Location
Twyford, Berkshire
I've got several Modes self help books from Amazon, didn't quite get it until I bought this.
Now I know.
Do I use it?
Hardly ever!
:D

quintessence.png


Doug
 

effzee

Friend of Leo's
Ad Free Member
Joined
Jun 7, 2017
Posts
2,379
Age
59
Location
Germany
Watch this 👇🏼




He gets right to the meat and potatoes and you'll come out with some new insight. Have your guitar ready. His weather forecaster voice is a bonus 😅

He actually uses his voice for fun effect in this one, also excellent 👇🏼

 
Last edited:

WalATX

TDPRI Member
Joined
Nov 10, 2013
Posts
96
Location
Illinois
I’m primarily a jazz saxophonist who picked up guitar in college.

I play jazz gigs regularly and improvise over chords a lot.

Don’t overthink modes. I NEVER think about modes when soloing. They’re a handy tool to use when sussing out a chord progression. You can look at a ii-V7-I (like D- G7 C) and go, “those (can be) all ‘modes’ of C major…” But thinking that hard about theory in the middle of a solo distracts you from the art of the solo. It’s not meant to be scientific in the moment.

Back to D- G7 C:
D- can be dorian, G7 can be mixolydian, C can be ionian. So what’s the practical use of this? I can be “lazy” and just play C major on these chords (with some color notes here and there). But I’m not doing this on the fly.

In short, modes are a way to shortcut difficult progressions. You can use them to simplify multiple chords into “the general area of X major.”
 

itsGiusto

Tele-Afflicted
Joined
Dec 31, 2017
Posts
1,173
Location
US
Technically the mode you're in isn't determined by where the scale "starts". It's more about what the tonal center is. It's what feels like home.

People go on about how you can construct the modes from the same notes in a major scale, but starting on a different note. This is of course true, but I think it misses the point, and the most valuable aspect of modes. If you want to understand the modes, you should instead focus on how each sounds, how the different notes in the scale sound against the root note, and how each of the diatonic chords in the scale sound. You'll get more milage when you compare C Mixolydian to C Ionian, as opposed to comparing G Mixolydian to C Ionian.

Let's leave out Locrian for now, since it's a little weird. That leaves 6 modes of the major scale. 3 are major in tonality (they have a major 3rd) and 3 are minor in tonality (they have a minor or flatted 3rd). Ionian, Lydian and Mixolydian are major, and Aeolian, Dorian, and Phyrgian are minor.

You can understand what's different about each mode by comparing it against a reference "normal" scale mode, so compare C Mixolydian to C Ionian, and compare A Dorian to A Aeolian.

When we look at the difference between C Ionian and C Mixolydian, what's the difference? Well, we can see that instead of having a B note, we now have a Bb. It's a flatted 7th, vs a normal major 7th. This note makes the scale, if played from C to C, sound way different, and if we construct diatonic chords, it impacts 3 of the chords.
The C Ionian scale contains these diatonic chords:
C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major, A minor, B diminished
The C Mixolydian scale contains these diatonic chords. Bolded chords are different:
C major, D minor, E diminished, F major, G minor, A minor, Bb major

Let's do the same for A Aeolian vs A Dorian. The key note difference is that A Aeolian has F, and A Dorian has F#. It's a major 6th, instead of a minor 6th.
The A Aeolian scale contains these diatonic chords:
A minor, B diminished, C major, D minor, E minor, F major, G major
The A Dorian scale contains these diatonic chords. Bolded chords are different:
A minor, B minor, C major, D major, E minor, F# diminished, G major

I'd say play around with these sets of notes and chords to hear the differences, and go from there.
 
Last edited:

Flat6Driver

Poster Extraordinaire
Joined
Jan 14, 2013
Posts
5,398
Age
49
Location
DC Burbs
A mode is meant to be used over a vamp that evokes that mode. For example, play Em and then Fmaj back and forth, then use the E phrygian. Or better yet, play a Emaj then Dm and solo using a E Phrygian Dominant scale. That is how a mode is used, over a vamp that fits the scale but doesn't sound like a standard progression.

.....

So over your G Am C G progression, you could play a G major scale (or the different modes of it, but again this means very little in this context, it's all a G scale).

OR, you could emphasize G-B-D-F# then A-C-E-G then C-E-G-B then back to G-B-D-F#. All those notes are in the G major scale, but they are the critical chord tones that underline the progression. Focus on the 7ths and 3rds, and play around. You'll be a lot more interesting than playing the G modes over a bog standard chord progression.
This is helpful, thanks.

I AM overthinking it, but it came from a discussion I was having with some folks. No matter how hard I tried, I could not make anything other than the melody sound good with a pre-planned song. And I would always end my solo on a G note, cause it resolved well. I see how the modes could work in vamp with no melody as @drmordo illustrates. I need to play with it more off the clock.
 




New Posts

Top