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The Skinny on Modes
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Joined: 25 Jun 2005
Posts: 13

PostPosted: Tue Jun 28, 2005 3:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sorry to post again, but I realized I might be able to offer some ideas to lance uppercut. Basically Lance, you can think of it in terms of a "feel" or overall sound, but it might makre more sence to consider what notes are in a chord when thinking about what scale to play over it. Consider the following question: If you're trying to avoid playing non-diatonic notes (notes not in the scale), which modes could you play over a C triad (C E G?)

Well, here you have quite a few options. I will list them and then sum up why they work.

C Ionian/D Dorian/E Phrygian, etc: If you use these, you will get a major seventh feel. The C Ionian scale contains C,E, and G, and the B natural gives the major seventh flavor.

C Mixolydian/D Aeolian/E Locrian, etc: Again, these work because they contain the C, E, and the G. Here, however, you'll be getting the b7, giving the scale a dominant feel.

C Lydian/ D Mixolydian/ etc...: Here you're getting into some more interesting harmony. Again, you get the C E G, but the F# contained in the C Lydian scale gives you the #11, or a tritone. This sounds a little more unresolved. You also get he major 7 again.

Those three options: Mixolydian, Lydian, and Ionian, are the major modes. The other modes are minor (as determined by the b3).

Ready? It's going to get slightly more complicated... or more simple, in a way. If the chord is a seventh, you're limited if you want to stick with diatonic harmony. IE, if it says C7, you can only play C mixolydian (again, you CAN play whatever you want; this is just strictly diatonic application we're discussing.) If it says Cmaj7, well then you have two options: C Ionian OR C Lydian (Lydian has the #4, remember, AND the major 7). If it's a CMaj7#11, then you might want to stick with Lydian. BUT, if it's just a triad, then any of those three scales will work.

Now, this is just an example of the major scale modes. You can also take the same logic and apply it to the minor modes: phrygian, aeolian, dorian, locrian. The thing is to think of the characteristic notes for each mode. I'll list them below:

Ionian: A Major scale
Dorian: Minor scale with a natural 6
Phrygian: Minor scale with a b2 and a b6
Lydian: Major scale with a #4
Mixolydian: Major scale with a b7
Aeolian: Minor scale (with a b6)
Locrian: Minor scale with a b5, b6, b2

Once you get this stuff under your belt, you can move on to some really cool scales derived from the harmonic and melodic minor scales... my personal favorite? Lydian dominant... a combination of mixolydian and lydian, or a major scale with a b7 and a #4.

Hope this helps.
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lance uppercut

Joined: 25 Jan 2005
Posts: 55

PostPosted: Thu Jun 30, 2005 4:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for the response, Fez.

Maybe its a function of starting too late in life and going the self-taught route, but I do struggle a bit with theory. Lately I've just been tossing all of it aside, b/c I've not been practicing well, at all. When I was most stuck, I thought back to a Kimock show from awhile back, it was a benefit for his son up in Bethlehem, and he did this solo piece on the lap guitar to start the show. Before he began, he gave a little commentary about his practicing, how he's basically just searching for interesting notes. And then proceeded to play this terrific piece that blended some traditional blues phrasings with middle eastern phrasings, et al.

So lately I've been trying to pursue that philosophy, namely, just not worrying about formulas or, really, anything premeditated. Often times that's leading me to play the non-diatonic notes you mentioned. Sometimes they sound great and interesting, other times,,,not so much (though I can't explain 'why', in either case). But its brought the fun back, which for me is all this little exercise is about.

That said, I will try to apply some of the concepts you mentioned when I get a more solid footing. Thanks again.

P.S. The show I mentioned - does anyone know if it circulates? Didn't see it at It'd be great to get a clip of that first track.
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