Dumb question about relationship between modes & keys

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by Eskimo_Joe, Dec 15, 2009.

  1. Eskimo_Joe

    Eskimo_Joe Rocker, roller, way out of controller Supporting Member

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    I apologize, I'm sure this question gets asked, but here's what I am trying to understand....

    When I am playing in a mode, what key is my home base so to speak? Is it the parent key (i.e. if I'm playing A Dorian...the parent key would be G) or is it the key of the tonic (in this case A)? Or both?

    Thanks!
     
  2. Bryan T

    Bryan T Guitar Owner Silver Supporting Member

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    Personally, I prefer to think of the modes as their own little worlds of sound. If I were notating an A Dorian piece, I would use G's key signature (they are enharmonically equivalent), but would write a comment that A is the tonic. I have a lot of traditional music that uses this convention and I think it is the clearest way to do it.

    However, if I were imposing a modal sound on top of a major key (say C Mixolydian against C major), then I would write the piece in the major key and add accidentals where needed.

    Does that make sense?


    In your example, I'd never think of it as the key of A. Either the key of G or A Dorian.
     
  3. JonR

    JonR Member

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    A is home base in A dorian. You should look at it as a totally different "key".
    You're familiar with G major and E minor as two different keys, right? They share the same notes (bar the odd B7 in E minor), but they clearly have two different identities and key centres.
    Same with any other mode of that set of notes. There is really no such thing as a "parent scale". The key of G major doesn't "produce" the other 6 modes. The notes A B C D E F# G have 7 modes, of which "G major" (G ionian) is simply the most common or popular.

    While I agree with Bryan T, there is a now outdated terminology for keys which refers to keynote first, then mode second.
    Eg, "key of A, dorian mode" means what we call A dorian. "Key of A, Ionian mode" means key of A major. That highlights the essential nature of the "keynote" - there can only be one at any time.

    Of course, our system (since classical times) is based on major and minor KEYS as distinct from MODES (tho derived from Ionian and Aeolian modes originally). These sounds have become so ingrained in our consciousness we hear other modes as somehow secondary, certainly as tonally weaker. So it's all the more important, when playing in (say) A dorian, to focus on A as keynote and try and forget about G major.
     
  4. JSeth

    JSeth Member

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    Kind of depends on the tune, IMO - playing a song in A dorian is one thing... playing some be-bop tune where the tonal center changes every couple bars is another thing! While I always know that A is "home", I'm also fully cognizant of the fact that A dorian is the G major scale, run from A to A.

    Interestingly enough, I come up with some nice comping/groove ideas when I realize that vamping over an A dorian tune means I can frequently use chords found in the G major diatonic chord scale, always focusing back to the A min chord...
     
  5. markbosko

    markbosko Member

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    That's actually a good question. Invest in a couple of low cost books that cover that and much more: simple explanations and how to apply them.

    Musician's Institute:

    1. Guitar Fretboard Workbook.
    2. Chord-Tone Soloing.

    You can get them both at Amazon. Good for Jazz, blues, rock, country, metal, reggae, etc.
     
  6. KRosser

    KRosser Member

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    I would write an A dorian piece in Am and use accidentals.
     
  7. Franklin

    Franklin Member

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    This is how I do it too, right or wrong! I consider the key of G to be the "tonal center" and will play an A dorian mode. When I need to move around the neck, I use the G Major (or a A natual minor with the flat 6) as a reference to map stuff out but stay with the A dorian for my phrasing.
     
  8. Tomo

    Tomo Member

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    Nothing is dumb questions about. Here... we have many great teachers. So I will sit back and watch you enjoy!

    PS, I don't know so many things. Don't worry what others think!

    Tomo
     
  9. arthur rotfeld

    arthur rotfeld Member

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    I see that often enough--and I can appreciate that--but in my own work, and after writing in the umpteenth F#, I'd feel a bit silly, especially if it was a largely diatonic work.
     
  10. arthur rotfeld

    arthur rotfeld Member

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    To the op, while the notes of G major and A Dorian are the same, those notes have completely different functions in each setting. Sure you can play or "think" of either for fingerings and what have you..... but the results would be unusual if you consistently played unabashed G major ideas over A minor, or vice versa.
     
  11. KRosser

    KRosser Member

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    I hear ya, but - the use of a key signature is to indicate the tonic, not to make it easier to write.
     
  12. Bryan T

    Bryan T Guitar Owner Silver Supporting Member

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    My personal preference is to make it easier to read. :huh



    Here's "Scarborough Fair," which sounds like D Dorian to me. They notate it in D minor and add accidentals for the sixths. http://www.8notes.com/scores/525.asp

    However, Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor" (the one nicknamed "Dorian," not the really popular one) is often written with no sharps or flats.

    :huh
     
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2009
  13. gennation

    gennation Member

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    You're always at the mercy of the transcriber.

    I always give it a signature that makes it to look cleaner too.
     
  14. KRosser

    KRosser Member

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    Yeah, this isn't really law, it's just something that sort of works itself out in practice...for me, it bothers me to see a key sig of C major or A minor and have D minor be the actual audible key center. A key sig with one flat and rampant B naturals throughout tells me in a half-second that it's in the D dorian mode before I even play a note of it.

    Easier to read, easier to write - probably so...but IMHO the one-flat key sig w/accidentals more accurately describes what's really going on musically - a home key center of D minor with frequently raised sixths.
     
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2009
  15. KRosser

    KRosser Member

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    By the way - this is not a dumb question, not even close....a very good one in fact...
     
  16. Bryan T

    Bryan T Guitar Owner Silver Supporting Member

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    Yep. I learned something.
     
  17. JonR

    JonR Member

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    But a key sig can represent one of two keys: major or relative minor. Therefore it can't "indicate the tonic" - not by itself.
    A key sig merely indicates a scale: the number of alterations (if any) from the natural notes (ABCDEFG). We then need to look at the music to confirm the key and the tonic.

    However, I'm 50/50 on use of key sig and modes. On the one hand I prefer to see A dorian with a 1 sharp sig. On the other I know many people see a key sig as representing only 2 options, and therefore a minor-key-with-accidentals-for-the-6th may be better, even tho it's more work and less economical.
     
  18. vhollund

    vhollund Member

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    I write everything in C major and use accidentals. (I'm a cromatic reader)
    But what i've seen most is to write it in G. and maybe note "A dorian."
     
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2009
  19. KRosser

    KRosser Member

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    There is no historical or academic standard on this, so it's basically up to the troops on the ground...I was merely stating my own preference

    Using a key sig to represent something other than the tonic is called "transposing modes", and yes it's used often.
     

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