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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Three Approaches to Modes

I made this post in September 2011, original link is p=27849510&postcount=31

I've put it her just to keep for copy/paste purposes. Feel free to have a read anyways.


Three Forms of Using Modes

1. The Traditional Form of Modes

The least recognised (on the internet anyway) form of modes is actually their origins, predating major and minor scales and keys. The most important thing about modes in this fashion is that they are in a separate realm of tonality. Whilst there is a tonic/chord that they resolve to, the pull to them is nowhere near as strong as a song in a major or minor key. To maintain the ambiguous feel of a mode, accidentals cannot be used as they'll hint at a stronger resolution, and the chord structure cannot be too complex, as this will definately pull the progression back to tonality.

To illustrate this, most people will say "play a one chord vamp, and solo with the mode over it". The student will then play over it and go "wow, that sounds crazy". Then they take it home and not understanding it completely will profess they now know modes and justify it using the dumbed down CST method, which will be described below.

I actually like to demonstrate it in a different way, when they're ready. Play an i - ii vamp, just the chords. Where does it resolve to? Both chords? Neither? A "floaty" feel about the resolution? That's the tonality of a mode, it's hard to pick.

Now add just one chord to it. i - ii - V. Where does it resolve to now? The i. Whilst the progression always resolved to the i (it has to), by adding this extra V, the resolution is much, much stronger. This is the feel of a major/minor key. The resolution is extremely strong when compared to a mode.

2. Major/Minor Scales with Accidentals

Over a song in a major or minor key, you will always be playing a major or minor scale. However you can also use accidentals, giving you access to all 12 tones. You can derive scales from the modes and play them over songs in major/minor keys, for example you can use a major 6th in a minor key, and you'll have a scale which shares the same notes as dorian. You're actually playing the minor scale with a major 6th, not a mode.

3. Chord Scale Theory (CST)

This is also a method applying modal scales to major/minor scales. The idea however is to consider each chord as an island, unrelated to the next.

So say we have a progression in C major, an I - ii - V - C Dm G. Chord scale theory basically divides modes into major and minor modes. The major modes are those with a major 3rd. So they would be ionian, lydian and mixolydian. The minor modes are those with a minor 3rd - aoelian, phygian and dorian.

As the purpose of CST is to grant the player access to extra accidentals, instead of simply playing the C major scale over the I - ii- V progression, the player instead will look at the I, and play a major mode over it, one that does not share exactly the same notes as the C major scale. So C ionian is out for the I, instead they will play C lydian or mixolydian over the I. Over the ii, for the same reason they will not play D dorian, instead they will play D phrygian or D aoelian. Over the V they will not play G mixolydian, they will play G ionian or G lydian.

This grants access to extra accidentals. It's mainly used by jazz musicians, where the pieces are extremely complex in terms of chord progressions, compared to mainstream music.

Although they are deriving the scales from modes like approach number 2, they are still playing the C major scale, that's where it resolves to.

These 3 methods are all acceptable approaches to modes, as long as each is understood. You don't necessarily need to practice these in your playing, but a general understanding of how each works is preferred, especially why numbers 2 and 3 are merely visualising accidentals, rather than actual modal playing.

And finally the most popular and least correct approach to modes is:

4. The dumbed down CST approach

You can see how people with very little patience would have created this one. Somebody showed them that if you played over one chord in approach number 1, it created a different sound. They then took a brief glance at CST in number 3 and boom, they have number 4.

In this approach, it's very similar to CST in that each chord is treated like an island. We'll use that I - ii - V progression again. Whilst in number 3 above I explained why someone with the CST approach would not prefer to use ionian over the I, dorian over the ii, and mixolydian over the V, that's exactly what number 4 does.

So they play C ionian, D dorian and G mixolydian over our progression in C major. The notes of C major over the key of C major. It's just the C major scale.

Additionally users of this method will praise how they achieve all the different sounds over these chords, and claim that each chord is a new resolution and that through their soloing they have now shoved the progression from C major into 3 separate modes. Good stuff.

However, in fact they are just playing the C major scale. Even worse is that they aren't even employing accidentals, so there's no change in the sound. They have convinced themselves somehow that the resulting sound is very, very different to the C major scale, even though it is the C major scale, and nothing more.

There are a lot of videos on youtube teaching this method. As soon as the teacher says "i'm gonna teach you the modes in the key of C major" I turn it off. These people will continuously show up in this forum too, and profess that number 4 is the only way to play modes. They appear to be the most closed minded.

So you can understand why we drill pretty much every new person who comes in here who claims to know modes. Most don't.
2:14 am - 13 comments - 15 Kudos
Friday, October 22, 2010

AlanHB Storytime #2: The Guitar Hero

One of my bands Them As Well needed to replace it's rhythm guitarist, so started up auditions for them. This is a story about one of the auditions as sent to my mate the night after.

The Guitar Hero (Events occur in September 2010)

Today I was auditioning a guitarist for a band who had a gig in 3 weeks. Basically I needed someone who knew their shit. I've got chord sheets written out. He was not available for full band practice, so I arranged with him to check him out, just us two tonight.

Anyways when he arrives I'm like, "what guitar you got?" and he's "yeah got a Squire, used to have a Les Paul but I had to sell it", I go "wow that change from humbuckers to single coil is interesting", he goes "huh? what? I've got humbuckers in this baby!". Of course when his guitar comes out it's just stock Squire stuff :P

So I bring out the chord sheets and he says "I can't read music". I go "that's ok, I can't either, these are just chord sheets", he says some stuff about learning from youtube, basically he's "monkey see, monkey do" (his words not mine). His technique is shit. He can only up-pick and is out of time. It takes about 15 mins to explain a 4 chord song to him. I don't know whether his guitar is in tune or not because he always hits the wrong notes. I ask him "is your guitar in tune?". He goes "well it was in tune when I left the house". :P

Now, I thought this guy may have the chance of being good, so I arranged for my bassist to come over. I originally thought that we'd get 3 easy songs down, then try them out as us 3.

So we're "attempting" to jam out the songs, it's not going well. I'm like, "have a solo dude!" and he cranks out really random notes. If it was a scale, I'd say it was the "accidental" scale. He seemed to catch on to the random times when he came in key though. He didn't like being loud, so it was hard to hear him. Whenever I turned the volume on his amp up, he'd turn the guitar down. Obviously a sign of someone who is not confident in themselves, or doesn't really like the sound coming out of the amp. I'd like to think both.

Near the end (my bassist was suppressing his laughter/hate for me for bringing him out) I suggested we play a 12 bar blues with me on drums. My point was to make him really hear himself, and perhaps realise that he wasn't that great. Bass starts off, I join in with bass, guitar goes on some tangent, a lot faster than the beat, not really knowing what he was doing. He had a solo with that song too, it wasn't very fun.

And you know, that's a real pity. Cause he was a nice guy and really keen. All he needed to do was play the chords. But he doesn't know chords so fuck that.

2:42 am - 1 comments - 1 Kudos
Friday, October 22, 2010

AlanHB Storytime #1: The Maestro

This will be the first of a set of blogs based on previous events in my musical experience. Some are basically copy and pasted from old posts on UG. Enjoy!

The Maestro (Events occur in February 2009, post is from this time)

So I get a message on my phone asking if I'm willing to try out for a band. This is not uncommon, as guitarists that play something other than metal are becoming harder and harder to come by, and bands are starting to email guitar schools where I live to see if they have any guitarists willing. My guitar school always promotes me for anything other than metal bands, because it's not my thing.

I have a quick chat to the guy, tell him to email me some demos and chord sheets. To my surprise, the demos are REALLY good. Like awesome. I've never enjoyed listening to demos the first time like those. I work up some parts for the songs and get ready for the "audition". Not really an audition because I was the only guitarist willing to try out; the songs were extremely complex piano songs, which as we all know aren't like songs written for the guitar - shifting keys all over the place and random chords.

So audition is on Wednesday. On Wednesday morning they call and say it has to be put back a day. Umm, ok. Thursday morning, another call, they push it back to Saturday. I don't like where this is going. Saturday we actually catch up and it has a nice groove, I'm happy and keen to catch up again soon.

Two days later the singer messages me, we have a very long message conversation (I was very drunk watching the footy at the time. I nearly got into a physical fight over Michael Jackson. One of "those" nights). Basically I explicitly said that all I want is professionalism and dedication and the singer agreed, he was really keen.

I organised a rehearsal room. One problem. The pianist doesn't have a keyboard, the bassist doesn't have a bass or a bass amp, and the drummer doesn't have a drum kit. Whilst this may be acceptable when you're 12, it's not with me - I'm not in bands just to play around. Because the music was so great I told the singer I'd organise a drum kit, we'd hire a PA and stick my bass into that temporarily (which the bassist would use) and all the singer had to do was organise a keyboard. I told him that it's very important he get the keyboard. I hired the rehearsal room for 3pm on the Saturday.

Saturday rolls around. At 2pm (1 hour before the practice) the singer calls me. He checks whether we're still on, I assure him we are. I ask whether he has got the keyboard. Nope. He hasn't got one, despite being given a weeks notice to get one. He assures me that he'll get one by the time he gets to rehearsal, he's just "leaving his house now". Eh? Bit early to be leaving mate? Nope, he's about 100 miles out of the city.

Well I'm mates with the guy who owns the rehearsal place so I show up on time. I don't want to be blacklisted with him, it could affect my other bands. So I show up and wait. And wait and wait and wait. I wait for an hour before the singer and drummer arrive. We play for the remaining hour that the room is booked in. The pianist refuses to play certain passages of the songs. He says they sound like crap because he doesn't have his sustain pedal. The pianist is also a drummer, and every song is stop start whilst the pianist jumps onto the drums showing the drummer EXACTLY what he wants him to play. I've never seen anything like that before, I'd get pissed off if someone told me EXACTLY how to play my guitar parts. In fact, I can feel myself getting pissed off for the drummer.

After that's over another practice is scheduled in a week. I put time aside to go, and the practice is canceled some 2 hours before it starts. I give the singer a call and say I'm quitting. I tell them that I made it explicit that I want professionalism, and this is obviously just a bunch of guys ****ing around. The singer pleads and pleads for me to reconsider, and although I was inwardly tempted to give it a shot, my logical side dictated that this situation was not going to change. I tell him good luck with the future and that he may want to consider being a solo performer due to his inability to be organised with band stuff and that he was inconsiderate of other people's time.

I'd wasted enough time with that band. End it early before I really got pissed off. The singer took it like a little girl though, sending me messages and calling me for a week like some chick I broke up with "you're so great!", "I can change!", "it won't work without you" bla bla bla.

So that's the last time I quit a band. If I was going to kick anyone out of that band it would have been the singer, but he wrote all the music which was awesome. Quite sad really, that this great music will never be heard simply due to lack of organisation.

2:42 am - 2 comments - 2 Kudos