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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Three Approaches to Modes

Views: 2,980
Comments: 13
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 - Report!
MaggaraMarine wrote on Aug 6th, 2012 10:39am

Thank you! Everybody should read this.


gabinja wrote on Mar 1st, 2013 5:12pm

Understood. Thanx


Bad Kharmel wrote on May 3rd, 2013 9:09am

so... since we have had our disagreements in the past I feel it necessary to inform you on the true nature of modes, they are IDPLMAL Ionial/major, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Myxolydian, Aeolian/minor, Locrian (the bad one) these correspond to the degree of the major scale, I ionian, II Dorian, III phrygian, IV Lydian, V myxolydian, VI aeolian, VII Locrian...... but you can harmonize with any that share the same notes so C major harmonizes with C major/G Myxolydian, or C myxolydian..... its all based on which notes in said scale correspond with said chords


AlanHBa wrote on May 17th, 2013 1:07pm

^^^ Mate, thanks for your input. Which approach above best describes yours?


JimDawson wrote on Oct 14th, 2013 1:16am

^ lol


blazing riff wrote on Jan 12th, 2014 10:46pm

Good read! I think more people should read this. Too many people say they have a firm grasp on modes but actually just play a major, relative minor scale and land on the root of the chord... Only thing I seem to be missing in all articles about modes is how "irrelevant" they are in popular music. Hell, 99% of todays music isn't close to modal music.

I'm sorry if I'm ranting on about this.


semus wrote on Feb 18th, 2014 1:48pm

Good stuff, this is real musicianship.


Pastafarian96 wrote on Mar 4th, 2014 8:46am

God I wish I'd found this a year ago, would have made year 11 music so much clearer.


MaggaraMarine wrote on Jul 8th, 2015 4:10pm

One thing to add to the list is referring to 3nps scale positions as "modes". There's technically nothing wrong with it - just play the notes of a scale position from the lowest to the highest note without a context, and it will sound like a mode. But that's not how you use them in a real context. What matters is what you play over.

This approach just confuses people. They will think they are playing "modally" when they are actually just playing the notes of the C major scale. The position you are playing in has no effect on the sound.

I know it's an easy way to name the 3nps shapes. There are 7 shapes, there are 7 modes. And each shape played out of context from the lowest note to the highest note will sound like the mode. But as I said, when playing in context, nobody will hear what position you are playing in. You are not playing anything modal.


MaggaraMarine wrote on Jul 8th, 2015 4:10pm

Oh, and also, accidentals aren't really "forbidden" in modal music. But of course the more accidentals you add, the less modal it will sound, because accidentals create more "pull".

Accidentals were used in pre-tonal (modal) music (originally) to avoid tritones. It didn't change the fact that the song was still modal. One accidental doesn't make the song tonal, and the lack of accidentals doesn't make a song modal. It's more about how different harmonies follow each other - they can follow each other in a "tonal way" (like ii-V-I or circle of fifths progression or whatever) or in a "modal way" (where you don't even really think in chords - but if the harmonies were analyzed as chords, the "progressions" would look a bit strange and not that "logical", but that's because they weren't thinking in chords). If you create a progression like ii-V-I, that really suggests tonal. But even modal music has cadences. So a single ii-V-I doesn't make a song tonal either. It's about the big picture.


instinctkiller811 wrote on Jan 1st, 2016 8:53pm



Tim Clay wrote on Mar 2nd, 2016 4:56pm

Very interesting to read.. lots of great points, nicely explained, thanks.
I shall endeavour to think carefully before referring to a "modal" pattern as anything other than a major scale navigation tool..
As you point out it is misleading and causes confusion..


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