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Thread: When to use WHICH MODE?

  1. #1
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    When to use WHICH MODE?

    Hello,

    I've been learning the different modes of the G Major and C Major scales. I am confused as to when to apply them!

    For example, I know that E Phrygian is the 3rd mode of the C Major scale, and when you drone an open E behind that mode, it sounds really "exotic". The same can be said about the other modes/certain "backing or reference" notes.

    I am totally confused as to when to apply the modes! When I play E Phr., do I play that with a rhythm guitar playing an E Minor chord progression, or what? What type of scale/rhythm would I apply a D Dorian mode over, etc? I could go on and on here.

    Is there a general rule or tip that explains when XYZ chords are used, you use XYZ mode?

    If what I am asking is unclear, I could try to rephrase my question.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Your question is not only very clear, it's an extremely common one!

    So I'm going to rephrase the answer I always give. (I could copy and paste, but that's just lazy...)

    The confusion is between modes as fret patterns (if you hadn't said you were a guitarist, I'd have guessed.... ), and modes as sounds.

    You're right about E phrygian working when you have an E drone - or an Em chord - as backing.
    But you will get that phrygian sound whatever pattern of the C major scale you use. It's simply the result of the E bass note (the aural root or tonal centre) combined with the set of other notes (A B C D F G, could be any order). You can find the notes you need anywhere on the neck. You can focus on an E root (if you want to) in any position on the neck.

    ANY mode of the C major scale can be applied on ANY chord in that key. It's the chords that will deliver the modal sounds, not your pattern choice.
    There is no point thinking about modes at all. Just regard them as simply different arrangements of the notes of the parent major scale.
    The only reason for choosing one pattern over another is to do with what kind of phrase you want to play, or how high on the neck you want to go. The patterns make no difference to the modal sound.

    IOW, when you "play a D dorian mode pattern", you are not "playing in D dorian mode".
    You are only playing "in D dorian mode" if the music is written in that mode to begin with - and it might be as simple as a one-chord groove on Dm.
    And in that case, you are "playing in D dorian mode" regardless of what C major pattern you choose. You could choose an "E phrygian" pattern, you would still be "in D Dorian". (The different patterns make a slight difference - but it's not a modal difference.)
    Play an "E phrygian" pattern over an F chord, it will become an "F lydian" pattern. F, not E, is the root, because that's the chord root. If you accent the E, you simply get a focus on the maj7 of the F; IOW, an "Fmaj7" effect, not an E phrygian effect. Accent the B note, you will get a stronger F lydian effect, because that's the #4 that is the distinctive note of F lydian. Again, you can do this from any pattern, because they all contain B notes!

    A mode is like a key. It's the overall sound of a piece of music, dependent on the set of notes used, and the tonal centre (which note is heard as primary, or final). All you need to know (as an improviser) is the set of notes. The rest is done for you.
    OK, it's good to also know the chords, so you can highlight significant notes as you go, reflecting the changes.
    And it's true that each chord has a modal identity, because of the relationship it forms with the scale. But for any chord other than the tonic chord, that identity is irrelevant - because it is usually temporary and fleeting.

    Let's say you have an Em chord occurring in a sequence in the key of C major. Does it do any good to know that that's a "phrygian" chord? No - because it isn't, in any real or useful sense (only in a passing theoretical sense.) It's simply the iii chord in C major - or the iii in C ionian, if you want to use modal terms.

    The short answer is: as a player, you DON'T "use" modes. Compositions might use modes (or, more commonly, they use keys).
    If you have learned scale patterns with mode names, that's OK, but you need to forget that those names have any meaningful musical application. They don't. They're just names. You might as well call them "Fred" or "Sue" or "Bob" or "no.329", or whatever.
    Every scale - and every mode - runs all over the neck. For practical purposes, we like to break the neck down into 3- or 4-fret patterns; simply because we can then play a scale across the neck without moving our hand anywhere. The different patterns have no musical meaning or identity (therefore they should not be named as if they do). The lowest note of the pattern is not a "root", in any meaningful sense; the actual musical root could be anywhere in the pattern, and depends on the key or chord you're playing over.

    HOWEVER - there are times when you might want to capitalise on the fact that a triad chord can usually take 3 different modes. These occasions are rare - but worth knowing about.

    Take that one-chord groove on Dm. You could play the C major scale over it and get D dorian mode. But you also choose the F major scale - to get the D aeolian or natural minor sound - or the Bb major scale, to get a D phrygian sound. This could be your choice.
    At the same time, watch out for a composer's intentions. E.g., if you are playing Miles Davis's "So What" (which is basically a groove on Dm, with a bridge in Ebm), you need to know that dorian mode is the whole point of the piece. You could choose to play D aeolian or phrygian over it - but you'd be missing the point; you'd be playing a different tune. (And if you WANT a phrygian sound, that's fine - but then don't play "So What"; find a phrygian tune, or write your own.)

    One place where jazz players DO apply a different mode is on the tonic chord in a major key.
    E.g., on a C chord in key of C, jazz soloists will often choose C lydian (G major scale). This is because they don't like the perfect 4th (F) and prefer the sound of the raised 4th (F#). (It's only theorists that get excited and start talking about "using lydian mode"...)
    The #4/#11 sounds much better against a maj7 chord than a natural 4/11 does. (Most jazz musicians DO know it's called lydian mode, of course - but it's a practical choice based on harmonic considerations, not on the concept of a lydian "mood", whatever that is.)

  3. #3
    dwest2419
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    Hey, what if i played an A maJor chord in the key of A, i wouldn't have to play the Major Scale? Or if i played a C#min i dont have to play the phrygian over that?

  4. #4
    Jazzman Poparad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 6StringShredder

    Is there a general rule or tip that explains when XYZ chords are used, you use XYZ mode?

    That's it there. When x chord is used, x mode is used. If you're playing a riff based on the iii chord in the key, then you'd use phrygian. Each mode is completely tied to one particular chord, so your scale choice is bound to whatever chord is being used.

    Not every chord progression is modal, though (most aren't, actually). A progression is modal when it sticks around a chord that's not a I chord in major or minor. A modal progression usually has only one or two chords in it, and rarely three. Any more than that and it starts to sound like the progresion needs to go back to the I chord.

    If you're dealing with a chromatic progression where the chord progression doesn't belong to a single key, you have a lot more freedom in how you treat each chord, but you still have to fit minor chords with minor modes (dorian, phrygian, aeolian) and so on.

  5. #5
    Wordgirl: Jaded Musician jade_bodhi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Poparad
    A progression is modal when it sticks around a chord that's not a I chord in major or minor. A modal progression usually has only one or two chords in it, and rarely three. Any more than that and it starts to sound like the progresion needs to go back to the I chord.
    I'm also interested in this but don't understand it. Mr. Poparad, can you illustrate what you're saying above with an example, perhaps using some common popular American tune from the canon of folk music or rock and roll? That would help me a lot to be able to hear what you explaining. Thank you.

    jade
    Nobody ever shared
    what we have known...

  6. #6
    Jazzman Poparad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jade_bodhi
    I'm also interested in this but don't understand it. Mr. Poparad, can you illustrate what you're saying above with an example, perhaps using some common popular American tune from the canon of folk music or rock and roll? That would help me a lot to be able to hear what you explaining. Thank you.

    jade

    Most rock music and just about all folk music is not modal, so you're not going to find anything by looking there.

    You're most likely to see something modal in jazz or in jazz influenced rock.


    One common example of a modal progression in rock music is the dorian vamp popularized by Carlos Santana in many of his tunes:

    | Dm7 | G7 |

    You might also consider that to be a mixolydian vamp, as both chords have an almost equal feeling of stability in the progression, though it's most commonly labelled by others as dorian.


    An example of a phrygian progression with three chords off the top of my head:

    | Em | Em | F | G |


    Modal 'progressions' are usually very limited in the number of chords used, and often use more complex chords (7ths, 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths). When using thicker chords that include more notes from the mode, it's not necessary to have more than one chord in a progression. An E phrygian vamp could be played using a voicing like this:

    0-2-3-0-3-0 (E B F G D E)

  7. #7
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dwest2419
    Hey, what if i played an A maJor chord in the key of A, i wouldn't have to play the Major Scale?
    Yes you would, normally. But the A major scale is available all over the neck, in at least 5 patterns.
    Sometimes you can either flatten the 7th (making it mixolydian) or raise the 4th (making it lydian). But you need to check how these alternatives sound to see whether they're suitable for the song. Mixolydian is a blues/rock/country sound, lydian is a jazz ballad (sort of) sound.
    Or, if it's a heavy blues or rock tune, you can sometimes play the A minor pentatonic over it.
    A major pent will, of course, fit in any case.
    Quote Originally Posted by dwest2419
    Or if i played a C#min i dont have to play the phrygian over that?
    Nope. If you play the A major scale, in any mode or pattern, it will come out as C# phrygian, because the chord governs the mode sound.
    Or you could play the B major scale to get C# dorian, or E major to get C# aeolian. (Depends on what key you are in to start with.)
    The sound of the C# root comes from the chord, not from the pattern you choose.
    (Of course it helps if you focus on a C# note in your improvisation, but you can do that in any pattern. C# notes occur all over the neck...)

    To repeat: pick a pattern (any pattern) of the A major scale. Play a phrase or lick (using as many notes of the scale as possible).
    That phrase will have an A ionian sound if the chord is A. The exact same phrase will have a C# phrygian sound if the chord is C#m. Or a D lydian sound if the chord is D. Etc....
    (You'd need to include every note of the scale to be sure of the mode sound for each chord.)

  8. #8
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jade_bodhi
    I'm also interested in this but don't understand it. Mr. Poparad, can you illustrate what you're saying above with an example, perhaps using some common popular American tune from the canon of folk music or rock and roll? That would help me a lot to be able to hear what you explaining. Thank you.
    There are jazz examples as Poparad said, but here's some pop/rock/folk examples. Bear in mind that these musicians - unlike in jazz - generally have no idea that they are using modal concepts (the Doors being an honourable exception). Which perhaps explains why they are rarely consistent throughout a song. They just go for sounds they like, without caring what they are called. (Good for them... )
    The Beatles (Lennon and Harrison at least) were unusual in that - without being aware of the theory - they identified and refined mixolydian mode down to its essence on their Indian-inspired tunes.

    Mixolydian mode:

    Traditional folk (Scots/Irish): "She Moved Through The Fair"
    Traditional folk (Scots): "I Loved a Lass (The False Bride)"
    Martha and the Vandellas: "Dancing in the Street" (main verse part)
    Rolling Stones: "Satisfaction" (main riff and verse)
    Rolling Stones: "The Last Time" (verse)*
    Rolling Stones: "Sympathy for the Devil" (whole song)
    Beatles: "Norwegian Wood" (verse)
    Beatles: "Tomorrow Never Knows" (whole tune)
    Beatles: "Within You Without You" (whole tune - except for one or two notes)
    Beatles: "If I Needed Someone" (verse)
    Beatles: "Hard Days Night" (verse)
    Beatles: "Day Tripper" (riff and verse)
    (and many more... The Beatles wrote a lot of songs with mixolydian verses and major key choruses.)
    Them/Van Morrison: "Gloria"
    Free: "Alright Now" (whole song)
    David Bowie: "Heroes" (whole song)
    Guns 'n' Roses: "Sweet Child of Mine" (most of song)

    (*with "The Last Time", you can argue that the verse is simply a vamp on the dominant, with the chorus being a resolution to the tonic. Depends on where you hear the tonal centre when listening to the verse.)

    Dorian:

    Traditional folk (English): "Scarborough Fair"
    Traditional folk (English): "What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor"
    Santana/Tito Puente: "Oye Como Va" (these dorian vamps are very common in Cuban music)
    Santana: "Evil Ways" (verse)
    Santana/Zombies: "She's Not There" (verse)
    Van Morrison: "Moondance" (verse)
    Doors: "Light My Fire" (solo only)
    Pink Floyd: "Breathe" (verse)
    Pink Floyd: "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" (first section)
    Stevie Wonder: "I Wish" (verse)

    (Just as mixolydian verses tend to move to major key choruses, so dorian verses tend to move to minor key choruses.)

    Aeolian:

    Nirvana: "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (whole song, apart from the odd phrygian moment)
    REM: "Losing My Religion" (whole song, apart from 4-bar bridge in relative major)

    Phrygian:

    Pink Floyd: "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun"
    Metallica: "Master of Puppets"
    Metallica: "Enter Sandman"
    (All these have a strong phrygian vibe - and all E phrygian too - without being strictly phrygian alone.)

    You will notice that within each mode there is a huge variety of moods and sounds. It's not true, therefore, that mode is an over-riding factor governing the mood of a tune. It matters, but other things matter more - like tempo, rhythm, instrumentation, effects, dynamics, etc.

    (By the way, I've been recycling these examples for ages, so if anyone has any additions, let me know!)

  9. #9
    dwest2419
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    If i was playing a A7,D7, and a E7 chord in the key of A. Could i use the F# Blues Scale for this 1-4-5 Blues Progression?

  10. #10
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dwest2419
    If i was playing a A7,D7, and a E7 chord in the key of A. Could i use the F# Blues Scale for this 1-4-5 Blues Progression?
    Ye-e-e-e-s... at least over the A7 chord. You might need to avoid one or 2 notes on D7 and E7.
    F# minor pent = A major pent (A-B-C#-E-F#). That's why it works. The F# blues scale adds C natural - a useful b3 on the A, and the b7 of D7. But the C# in the scale is best avoided on the D7 - and the A is best avoided on E7.
    Otherwise, try it!

  11. #11
    rock and roll over!!!! Crippy Don's Avatar
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    Ill try make this simple for ya man.

    Mode Suitable chords
    Ionian Major, Major 7th
    Dorian Minor, Minor 7th
    Phrygian Major, Minor, power chords
    Lydian Major, Major 6th, Major 7th, Major 7#11
    Mixolydian Dominant 7th, most 7th chords
    Aeolian Most minor chords, Power chords
    Locrian Diminished triads, Minor7b5

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