Help my feeble mind understand modes a bit better

Flat6Driver

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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!!


Yeah I have all the harps, and that's my go-to, if it's in a minor key, go down a step. If it's a blues tune, cross harp at the 4th. If country, same key.

I tried to explain that to a guy that only plays harp ("see, ya play a 4th, it's the same position on the next string..." ) that didn't go well.
 

TomBrokaw

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What I'd do is record a few minutes of a power chord and then jam on each mode over that, to get a feel for how each one sounds. Here's how I think of them:
Ionian - happy and light
Dorian - 70s
Phrygian - middle eastern cliche
Lydian - mysterious
Mixolydian - happy but tougher than Ionian
Aeolian - very serious
Locrian - good for metal riffs
 

oldunc

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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.
Minor gets a little more complicated, with the harmonic and melodic minor variations being quite common.
Learn your major scales properly and all of the modes will be under your hand pretty easily.
 

bigbenbob

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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.
I like your explanation. You talk like a guitarist who knows basic music theory, then uses the parts he needs and lets the rest fall by the wayside. I'll add a bit about why knowledge of modes helps. I don't think studying modes helps unless one takes the plunge and dives all in. Otherwise, it's just a daunting bunch of rhetoric. When I was starting to get serious about modes on guitar, I made up a sequence of modes to play so that my EAR would not remember a key from one mode to the next. In other words, I didn't play all the modes in the key of C (C Ionian, D dorian, etc.). I played them up in half steps, dropping the mode down one each time: F Ionian, Gb Locrian, G Aeolian, Ab Myxolydian, etc. So each mode was in a completely unrelated key and my ear had to adjust right away. This way, I had to figure out the half-whole step relationships for each mode. I also figured out what key Ab Myxolydian was in. And I learned what it sounds like to play a D Phrygian scale and why it works on a iii minor chord and not on a ii minor chord.

So if you can absorb the modes, know what they sound like, and get your ears connected to your fingers, then you get real good an hearing a song and saying: " I can hear that this minor chord is functioning as a iii and not a ii or a vi. Or I can hear that this is a III7 secondary dominant (use myxolydian) and not a iii7 minor ( use phrygian). The point of taking the deep dive is to train your ear to hear all types of situations that the various chords exist in for Western music. So when I listen to Kenny Rogers' "She Believes in Me" I can hear when there is a vii half diminished chord and I know to play a locrian mode over it, or better yet, know what major key that chord is functioning in and use that set of major key notes (easier) for a solo or fills.

Here's another example. In Grover washington's Mister Magic, the jam section alternates Cm7 to F7 back and forth. If you know modes, you hear that as a repeated ii7 - V7 chord progression and play Dorian over the Cm7 and Myxolidian over the F7. Or if your smart, you just clock the fact that both of those chords are in Bb major and use Bb major as your set of notes. On the other hand if you're playing Europa in Cm, when you resolve to the Cm at the end of hte first chord progression, you're in a C Aeolian mode, not a Dorian. That's where you need to know the difference of what minorish mode to use. I knew a guy who always played Dorian there. If you know what you're doing, Dorian can make a nice jazzy tweek to the sound, but a more inside scale is Aeolian. If you don't know the difference, then you just sound kind of ignorant to players who can hear the difference.

So to me the point of learning modes is to train your ear on the guitar neck to really hear what is going on with the harmony of a song so that you can quickkly figure out exactly what is going on with the chord progression. If you really know your modes, you can't NOT know what key any chord is in and what scale to use.
 

Chino

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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.
Carlos Santana seems to favor Dorian over Aeolian, as do I. If you’re playing, say, a D Minor bluesy thing and you lean on a B flat, it doesn’t sound good. But B natural sounds great.
 

Chino

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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.”
“It’s not meant to be scientific in the moment.” Beautifully stated.
 

Chino

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You would probably recognize the Lydian mode if you heard it. It’s often used in movie soundtracks to evoke a feeling of magic and wonder. In the key of C major, the Lydian mode corresponds to F, the 4th degree of the C major scale. But what if you made F the tonic (home) chord, while keeping all the notes of the C major scale? Since F is now home, you’d play the C major scale but centered around F, which would give you that magical Lydian feeling. Just try playing a C Major scale starting on F and see if you can “hear the mood of the mode.”

EDIT: Better yet, listen to a Lydian tune. This is the only one I could think of at the moment. It has that magic and wonder mood (once you get past the whale calls). They got the name wrong: it’s “Ocean Dream.”

 
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bigbenbob

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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 👇🏼


He seems to miss the harmonic roles of modes. He likes to think of modes as different moods to apply to solos over, say, one chord...which is fine and potentially useful. Definitely a rock use of modes. But he doesn't at all address what chord scale each mode is based on and how changing from one mode to another facilitates soloing to changing keys.
 

klasaine

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Carlos Santana seems to favor Dorian over Aeolian, as do I. If you’re playing, say, a D Minor bluesy thing and you lean on a B flat, it doesn’t sound good. But B natural sounds great.
Carlos is definitely the poster child for Dorian but ...
Black Magic Woman favors the Aeolian (natural minor w/the b6) due to that pesky Gm (iv) chord.

*BMW is originally a Peter Green/Fleetwood Mac vehicle so maybe left to his own devices, Carlos would only ever play in Dorian ;)

**Due to the prevalence of the i to IV chord progression in Santana's music, Frank Zappa dubbed it "The Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression".
 

Chino

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Carlos is definitely the poster child for Dorian but ...
Black Magic Woman favors the Aeolian (natural minor w/the b6) due to that pesky Gm (iv) chord.

*BMW is originally a Peter Green/Fleetwood Mac vehicle so maybe left to his own devices, Carlos would only ever play in Dorian ;)

**Due to the prevalence of the i to IV chord progression in Santana's music, Frank Zappa dubbed it "The Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression".
Yup, you got me. ¡Ay, caramba!
 

Strarcries

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I think he's more confused now with all the guitar algebra than he was before.

C Major Chord Scale
Cmaj = Ionian Mode
Dmin = Dorian Mode
Emin = Phrigian Mode
Fmaj = Lydian Mode
Gmaj = Mixolydian Mode
Amin = Aeolian Mode
Bmin7b5 = Locrian Mode

The Phrigian Mode is one you can really hear what it sounds like of all the modes.

In E Phrigian it's a minor mode but you can use either the Emaj or the Emin chord.
Play the Chord progression Emaj to Fmaj starting with Emaj on the 9th fret to Fmaj on the 10th fret of 4 beats for each chord using the E Phrigian scale starting on the note E on the 3rd string 9th fret.
Play the scale E F G A B C D E F over the progression.
What is interesting is what notes you're playing over each chord and their chord signature.

This is a riff In the E Phrigian Mode in the key Of C major.
 
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Terrytown

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The study of modes and advanced musical theory is truly an amazing and wonderful skill set to master. It's a passion for music excellence at a different level not pursued by a majority of guitar players. There are too many guitars setting in storage or gathering dust in corners because of all the related musical scientific confusion. I would hope to see more players put those unused guitars back into service and play for the fun and enjoyment and not be blown away by all the detail. Music comes from within and that little man inside wants to get out and play and avoid all the confusion. Learn to play, advance your skills, create new tones and sounds, write songs and play riffs. Trying to enter the theoretical world from the beginning is too mind boggling and too many potential players quit all together. But when your ready it's a whole new world just waiting.
 

Jeremy_Green

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Maybe this will help: The thing that broke this concept for me was when I started thinking modes as entirely about chords, rather than scales. When you think about it as a 'chord thing' then it makes more sense. It's not just the note you start a scale on - it's the chord that the progression uses as the "home chord" or the ONE chord.

So if you are using the notes of the key of C:

- if CMaj is the home chord of your progression, when you play the parent scale (CMaj), and use the note C as your "home" tone, then that is Ionian.

- if Dmin is the home chord of your progression, when you play the parent scale (CMaj), and use the note D as your "home" tone, then that is Dorian.

- if Emin is the home chord of your progression, when you play the parent scale (CMaj), and use the note E as your "home" tone, then that is Phrygian.

- etc

In all of these situations - you are using only the notes of the key of C Major. But treating the different chords as the one chord.

It's like having a room, placing 7 chairs in it in a circle (AA style : ). Then you take a seat in each chair and look at the room - the room looks slightly different from each chair - but it's still the same room.

The room is the key.
The chairs are the chords.

This is what modes are in essence.

You need to understand this concept first before you think of it as a scale thing. A lot of advanced players throw around modal terms for scales, but they are assuming you have a root understanding of this above concept. Because understanding this, you can then momentarily invoke a modal tonality over a chord as it goes by. But ultimately the mode of a song is always about the note and chord that is the tonal centre of the piece.
 

Chino

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Maybe this will help: The thing that broke this concept for me was when I started thinking modes as entirely about chords, rather than scales. When you think about it as a 'chord thing' then it makes more sense. It's not just the note you start a scale on - it's the chord that the progression uses as the "home chord" or the ONE chord.

So if you are using the notes of the key of C:

- if CMaj is the home chord of your progression, when you play the parent scale (CMaj), and use the note C as your "home" tone, then that is Ionian.

- if Dmin is the home chord of your progression, when you play the parent scale (CMaj), and use the note D as your "home" tone, then that is Dorian.

- if Emin is the home chord of your progression, when you play the parent scale (CMaj), and use the note E as your "home" tone, then that is Phrygian.

- etc

In all of these situations - you are using only the notes of the key of C Major. But treating the different chords as the one chord.

It's like having a room, placing 7 chairs in it in a circle (AA style : ). Then you take a seat in each chair and look at the room - the room looks slightly different from each chair - but it's still the same room.

The room is the key.
The chairs are the chords.

This is what modes are in essence.

You need to understand this concept first before you think of it as a scale thing. A lot of advanced players throw around modal terms for scales, but they are assuming you have a root understanding of this above concept. Because understanding this, you can then momentarily invoke a modal tonality over a chord as it goes by. But ultimately the mode of a song is always about the note and chord that is the tonal centre of the piece.
Nailed it. 👍 By the way, do you happen to know a guitarist named Joey Goldstein up there in Toronto?
 

AAT65

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Maybe this will help: The thing that broke this concept for me was when I started thinking modes as entirely about chords, rather than scales. When you think about it as a 'chord thing' then it makes more sense. It's not just the note you start a scale on - it's the chord that the progression uses as the "home chord" or the ONE chord.

So if you are using the notes of the key of C:

- if CMaj is the home chord of your progression, when you play the parent scale (CMaj), and use the note C as your "home" tone, then that is Ionian.

- if Dmin is the home chord of your progression, when you play the parent scale (CMaj), and use the note D as your "home" tone, then that is Dorian.

- if Emin is the home chord of your progression, when you play the parent scale (CMaj), and use the note E as your "home" tone, then that is Phrygian.

- etc

In all of these situations - you are using only the notes of the key of C Major. But treating the different chords as the one chord.

It's like having a room, placing 7 chairs in it in a circle (AA style : ). Then you take a seat in each chair and look at the room - the room looks slightly different from each chair - but it's still the same room.

The room is the key.
The chairs are the chords.

This is what modes are in essence.

You need to understand this concept first before you think of it as a scale thing. A lot of advanced players throw around modal terms for scales, but they are assuming you have a root understanding of this above concept. Because understanding this, you can then momentarily invoke a modal tonality over a chord as it goes by. But ultimately the mode of a song is always about the note and chord that is the tonal centre of the piece.
Well, different folks see this different ways… I just do not see what that buys you over knowing the notes in the key (or indeed mode) that the music is in, playing within that key / mode, and — when it’s appropriate — focusing on chord notes. And I haven’t had to fill my head with 7 different names for modes which don’t even cover all possible scales… 🤷‍♂️🙄😀

Anyway you chords = modes guys keep doing what makes you happy: but for the OP or other people interested in it, remember its a possible approach but it’s not the One True Way (& neither is my scale / key / mode of the piece approach either, I know!).
 

JIMMY JAZZMAN

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Good stuff here. Starting out, I always used the whole, whole, half, whole etc. to keep it simple.
Then I would take different "modes" and slow it down, note for note to make it more or less muscle
memory. Problem is when you get older that muscle gets a little tested at times.
 




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