How do you think of modes?

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by phillygtr, Feb 14, 2009.

  1. phillygtr

    phillygtr Member

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    When I was first learning about scales, I was taught that modes are nothing more than variations on the major scale, but just "starting on a different interval" than the root e.g. A Dorian is the same as G Ionian starting on the 2nd interval, C Lydian same as G but starting on the 4th etc.

    I'm sure this concept comes in handy, but have you really found this to be helpful? My problem is I keep thinking that A Dorian has to "resolve" to the G or D Mixolydian resolves to G. Do you get what I'm saying? I didn't really get the sound of the individual modes that way because they were too tied in my mind to the relative major scale's root note. I know jazz guys love this concept however.

    Many of my keyboard playing friends learned the modes differently. They would take G major, then play G Dorian, then G Phrygian etc. That way they think of the modes as separate tonalities. They would build chords off the modes, write songs within the modes. Without thinking of "A Dorian is in the key of G" kind of thing. The mode would just stand on its own.

    So how do you think of modes? Same scale just rearranged? Or different tonalities all together? Which approach has made the biggest impact on your playing? Do jazz guys think of it one way? Joe Satriani types another?
     
  2. shredtrash

    shredtrash Supporting Member

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    For me, the modes stand on their own. I base everything off of major and minor pentatonic scales and then use the remaining notes in the pentatonics to give me the modal flavor I'm looking for. For example, if the chord progression suggests Dorian, I'll play a minor pentatonic shape and add a raised 6 and a natural 2 at my discretion to get a Dorian tonality.
     
  3. 56_Special

    56_Special Member

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    Unless a tune is a modal vamp, like "So What," I don't really think about modes. I think about key centers, arpeggios, voice leading and, most importantly, melody. Maybe modes are important for historical reasons, but I would be surprised if many sophisticated players think in terms of them. For example, can you imagine Jim Hall thinking over a ii-V-I: okay, dorian, mixolydian, ionian?
     
  4. phillygtr

    phillygtr Member

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    That's my point. How useful is it really to think of modes as part of some root key?

     
  5. KRosser

    KRosser Member

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    I remember them from their own roots and where the whole steps and half steps are (or in some cases like Harmonic Minor, Harmonic Major and the Augmented scales and their modes, the step-and-a-half).
     
  6. KagakuNinja

    KagakuNinja Member

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    Here's how I approach modes. On the piano, I think white keys. On the guitar, I'll often play against an open string (which provides a "pedal tone"). Strike both the low E and A strings at the same time. On the A string, play the notes of the A major scale against the open E pedal tone. That is the mixolydian mode. Then try jamming with the A and D strings. Play the notes of A major on the D string, against the open A string. You get a different feel. Do this using different open strings and scales (ex, playing the C major notes against an open E string is, uh, phyrgian mode?)

    My playing is all about modes, but I suppose I am not a "sophisticated player"
     
  7. Swain

    Swain Member

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    I find them only useful for examining a piece of music, after the fact. I think of them as more of a consequence of the Harmony and the Melody. But, I don't really think of them as a starting point.
     
  8. dewey decibel

    dewey decibel Supporting Member

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    I don't think of modes at all, I think of chords. Cmaj#11 would be C lydian, D7 would be D mixolydian, Db7#11 would be Db lydian dominant, Etc. But again, I'm not thinking of the mode, just the chord. If you know the note in the chord it doesn't take much to add the rest of the notes for your scale/mode.
     
  9. ?&!

    ?&! Member

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    That's pretty much exactly the system I use.
     
  10. stevel

    stevel Member

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    I think of them in multiple ways:

    1. As intervallic collections: Dorian is W H W W W H W

    2. As compared to a Major or minor: Dorian is Minor with a raised 6th.

    3. As "rotations" of a basic set
    A. Rotations of Major (or Ionian) - Dorian is "the second mode" of Ionian (or D Dorian is the second mode of C Major, etc.)

    B. D-E-G-A-C is a pentatonic rotation of A-C-D-E-G - or all 5 pentatonic modes (and 7 diatonic modes) are rotations of each other.

    This last goes to the point that you can apply the "rotational" form of modal thinking to any set of notes, which can be quite handy.

    I tend to implement of them in many ways too.

    For example, I may be thinking of playing in a position, that is really a C Major scale starting on the D (say I'm at the 10th fret). So I'm playing a "pattern" that out of context would be called Dorian, but really I'm just thinking of it as C Major starting on its 2nd note. So it's purely a "pattern of C major" rather than a Mode of C Major, or a Mode per se.

    But sometimes if I'm playing over a Im7 - IV7 vamp - say Am7 to D7, I'll very often play Am Pentatonic, but add the F# in the D chord. My brain at this point just says the F# "comes from" the Dorian mode of A, but I'm not playing the whole A Dorian mode necessarily - so I'm *thinking* pentatonic with an added note, as opposed to Dorian with a subtracted note (the B) if that makes sense.

    Steve
     
  11. derekd

    derekd Supporting Member

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    I think of them as versions of either the major (lydian and mixo) scale, or the minor (dorian, phrygian, locrian) scale. I see the color notes, #4 of lydian that is available for the major scale, etc.
     
  12. funkycam

    funkycam Member

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    An interesting idea is to disregard the connections between the modes for a minute.
    So you have 7 different scales (in the case of a major scale), each with a different colour, each with a different use.
    Practise how to use each one (including harmonizing & building chords), learn why you would use one not another (eg dorian vs aeolian) & the connections will become apparent.

    The beauty of this is you end up not thinking in scales, but in tonalities
     
  13. rotren

    rotren Member

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    I think of them the same way Krosser does. However, sometimes I think of, for example, G Mixolydian as D Dorian. It seems to make me play a bit different when I'm viewing the mode (Dorian) that way, even though it's really G Mixolydian. I like having more than one way to skin a cat. :)
     
  14. phillygtr

    phillygtr Member

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    Thanks for all the replies!
     
  15. KRosser

    KRosser Member

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    Interesting - I do that too, but I often go back and forth between them because I think of that as a self-contained ii-V
     
  16. kimock

    kimock Member

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    I think we get different "dorian" vocabulary depending on whether the D minor is the dominant minor of G, or the relative minor of F.
    I know that's mixing up the mode and the C/S approaches, but as long as we're down there. . .

    I think of the modes as tunings, and practice them accordingly.
    Oddly, when viewed from that perspective, D minor G7 doesn't exist as ii-V in the key of C.
    D minor and G7 being a fifth apart as we normally think of them in jazz harmony is a consequence of too few pitches in 12 tone, not an issue when you tune the modes from scratch.
    Those seven white notes on the piano stand for twelve different pitches in the key of C, depends how you're using the D A E B and F. Could be thirds, could be fifths.
    just sayin'. . .

    peace
     
  17. ?&!

    ?&! Member

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    I'm so glad Ken and Steve post here. I have my mind blown by both regularly on these threads. It's amazing to get conceptual insight from guys that freakin' good. The last two posts are gonna have me busy for a while!!!
     
  18. Austinrocks

    Austinrocks Member

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    I play key based, but I also play keyboards, so for me the modes are just a way of playing in the key, really interesting watching people struggle with the modes, they are just a different way of playing the major scale, C major, C Ionian, D dorian, E phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian, A minor, A Aeolian, B Locrian, they are all the key of C, just different names for it, so a pattern player can sound like a musician, they always use mixolydian or dorian, I notice, jazz its always locrian, lydian, phrygian. They are all the same thing, just a cooler name, of course A minor is so much cooler than C major, same thing, and when you can understand that they are all the same thing and use them to expand your playing then you will understand modes, and be able to sound cool.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2009
  19. dantedayjob

    dantedayjob Member

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    I used to agonize over this kind of stuff and it really got in the way of just letting loose and playing... I reevaluated my playing and took a sort of Jeet Kune Do approach! Throw out what doesn't work, look at what does and frame it all on the basics... So, instead of concentrating on modes, etc. I look at everything in terms of major vs. minor tonalities and relation to a chromatic scale... I know the sound I want, my mind knows how the intervals sound... only worrying about the practical, I can let the music play through me... my playing has become smoother and more creative... I've also found that I can play faster and transition faster when I set my mind free...
     
  20. JonR

    JonR Member

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    I'm probably repeating what everyone else has said, :rolleyes: but...

    Modes are different from keys.
    A major key is one mode - Ionian. It does not contain other modes (in any musically meaningful sense).

    The modes work as tonalities in their own right, as follows:

    Ionian = major key
    Mixolydian = major key with b7
    Lydian = major key with #4

    Aeolian = minor key (natural minor scale, to be precise)
    Dorian = natural minor with major 6th
    Phrygian = natural minor with b2

    Locrian = natural minor with b5 and b2 (Locrian is not actually a "tonality" at all, because it's root chord is unstable due to the b5).

    Many guitarists seem to suffer from the idea that a mode is tied to a particular pattern on the fretboard. The different fret patterns of a major scale are just positions, covering different ranges of the scale, different sections of the neck. Any one can work as any mode (or none).

    To talk about playing (say) D dorian over a G7 chord makes no sense. The sound is still G mixolydian, whatever pattern of the C major scale you choose.
    It is certainly true that different finger patterns will allow or encourage different phrases, a different focus (which is presumably what people mean when they talk in these terms). But the differences are not modal. Eg, if you are thinking "D dorian" while playing over a G7 chord, you may get more stress on the 5th, 7th, 9th or 11th of the chord. (Only "may", of course - there may be no noticeable different at all.) It's still a mixolydian effect.
    And if the G7 is the V in the key of C major, then it's not really mixolydian either, except in name (and a pointless and misleading name at that). It's really the sound of a V chord in C ionian. A true G mixolydian sound has no tendency to resolve to C; its "keynote" is G.

    The important thing, IOW, is to be aware of how the set of notes you are using is working in whatever context you are playing (key and chord together). You can't apply one tonality (mode) over another (key or chord) - because you can only hear one tonality at a time, and the underlying one rules (ie the previously stated or existing one, or the one containing the lowest bass note).

    ("Polytonality" can exist, but is a special case and needs to be carefully written into the music. It doesn't apply generally to most music.)
     

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