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Thread: Scale/mode combination question

  1. #1
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    Scale/mode combination question

    I'm writing my the first part of my song in mode A Phrygian Major (5th mode of the D Harmonic Minor scale)

    Now, when I get to the solo I want go back to the root (D Harmonic minor) and play in the first mode. HOWEVER, I want to combine the D harmonic Minor with another scale so I can have more notes to use for the solo.

    I'm thinking D harmonic minor + D major.

    Or........ can I combine multiple scales ex D harmonic minor + D major +D natural minor + D melodic minor? (ie. 4 scales)

    Any rules as such to be wary of?

    Or should I combine the A Phrygian Major with another scale to get more notes?

  2. #2
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by whitedragon View Post
    I'm writing my the first part of my song in mode A Phrygian Major (5th mode of the D Harmonic Minor scale)

    Now, when I get to the solo I want go back to the root (D Harmonic minor) and play in the first mode. HOWEVER, I want to combine the D harmonic Minor with another scale so I can have more notes to use for the solo.

    I'm thinking D harmonic minor + D major.

    Or........ can I combine multiple scales ex D harmonic minor + D major +D natural minor + D melodic minor? (ie. 4 scales)

    Any rules as such to be wary of?

    Or should I combine the A Phrygian Major with another scale to get more notes?
    There's no rules here!
    This is more a case of (a) defining the sounds you're using correctly, and (b) maybe offering other suggestions as to how to extend or develop what you're doing. (Not things you "can" or "can't" do, but things to try in search of effects you like.)

    1. To play in A phrygian dominant, best to use only the one chord (A7, A7b9, etc.), esp if you want to make the change to D minor clear. Bb or Gm will work as secondary chords, but use them less than the A(7).

    2. To play in D (harmonic) minor, more chords are usable because the tonality is stronger. Dm, Gm, Bb and A(7) are all good. Even so, to contrast with the previous section, don't spend too long on the A7. Underline that Dm home chord.
    (The point here being that the way the scale is heard - as A phrygian dominant or D harmonic minor - depends on whether A or D is heard clearly as the tonal focus, the key centre. How you use chords is the best way to establish this.)

    3. Best way to "use more notes" is to add chromatics - half-steps below or above chord tones, or between scale notes. Combining two scales is not really a good strategy. (You can do it, but it will probably just sound like one scale with a few chromatics anyway, depending on what tonic chord you're using.)

    4. However, one effective way to mix scales is to use chords harmonised from different parallel modes. This is a familiar sound in rock (which often mixes chords from the parallel minor in with the major key), and in traditional minor keys, of course, which borrow the major V from the major key.
    Eg, you could have a tonality based on a D major chord (maybe with other chords from the major scale), but add a mixolydian bVII (C) or phrygian bII (Eb), or aeolian minor iv (Gm).
    You would then adapt the scale you use as far as necessary to accommodate each chord in turn. (Best to try and use one scale on as many chords as it will fit; don't change scale chord to chord. Oops, I said "don't" . I meant "it will make the music sound disjointed" - which might be a cool effect. Your call!)

    5. It can be very effective to switch to another parallel mode/key entirely, keeping the two distinct. Eg, from D harmonic minor to D major, or to D phrygian or lydian, or whatever. This is called "modal interchange". You'd need to use the appropriate chords for each scale of course.

    6. Variations on A phrygian dominant include the double harmonic, where you raise the 7th to G# (A Bb C# D E F G#) - the "Misirlou" scale.
    As with other exotic scales, though, it's best to keep them distinct and not blend them with other more familiar scales. As I say, that's likely to sound like
    the familiar scale with a few chromatics in it - so that's the way to think about it from the start.

    7.Think twice about whether you really need "more notes". Great jazz musicians can play brilliant solos with far less than that. Quality, not quantity, remember . One or two passing chromatics should be all you need. Look for interest in other areas: rhythm, dynamics, timing, tone, etc.
    Good musical ideas don't depend on the number of notes; they're more likely to depend on limiting your note choice in some way.
    All 12 notes are available at all times, in any case. Your creative decision is how you whittle that down to the important ones...

  3. #3
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    Ok, thanks.

    The modal interchange and sound difference depends on how many notes are changed from the original scale, right?

    My A Phrygian is A,A#,C#,D,E,F,G (D Harmonic Minor being D,E,F,G,A,A#,C#).

    Now using modal interchange ie. D Hm to D Nm I get D,E,F,G,A,A#,C (One note difference.

    This is a small change. Now a modal change to D Major results in 2 note changes.

    Now by combining the All 3 minors (natural, harmonic, melodic) + major I get a huge 10 note scale without D# and G#.

    Now, how do I differentiate (and make use of) between which notes are added chromatics and which scales are combined?

    Because most of my solo will involve just individual notes from the combined scale (added chromatic scale?), and not chords which I used using the A Phrygian major. I feel using new chords made from combining the scales (or added chromatics?) will make the sound more disjointed than by using single notes.

    You mentioned quality over quantity, which I fully agree with from one angle. However, if I am given more to work with (ie. even a chromatic scale) then more variety and depth could be created, right?

    Finally, are there any hard and fast rules when it comes to adding chromatics to strengthen my solo, without adding to many? (I know in Jazz we use alter chords 5#, b9 etc to change the sound)

  4. #4
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by whitedragon View Post
    Ok, thanks.

    The modal interchange and sound difference depends on how many notes are changed from the original scale, right?
    Yes

    Quote Originally Posted by whitedragon View Post
    My A Phrygian is A,A#,C#,D,E,F,G (D Harmonic Minor being D,E,F,G,A,A#,C#).
    A# should be called Bb. The rule is one of each note letter, so we have 7 different note letters per scale.
    Quote Originally Posted by whitedragon View Post
    Now using modal interchange ie. D Hm to D Nm I get D,E,F,G,A,A#,C (One note difference.

    This is a small change. Now a modal change to D Major results in 2 note changes.

    Now by combining the All 3 minors (natural, harmonic, melodic) + major I get a huge 10 note scale without D# and G#.

    Now, how do I differentiate (and make use of) between which notes are added chromatics and which scales are combined?
    The simple rule is - what is your tonic chord?

    If it's D major, then the F, Bb and C will sound like chromatics. (The F is the strongest "outside" note, the C the weakest. That's because there is no D scale that contains both F and F# - except arguably "major blues" - but one common one that contains C (D mixolydian) and a couple of rarer ones that contain Bb (D harmonic major, and 5th mode of G harmnic minor.)
    (IOW, you could regard scales like D mixolydian, D mixolydian b6 (G melodic minor mode V) and D harmonic major, as intermediate scales between D major and D minor. They contain the same variations in 6th and 7th as the minor key scales do.)

    If your tonic chord is D minor, then all the minor scale options will sound OK. (You could add D dorian to the mix.) Only the F# from D major is going to sound wrong.
    Harmonic and melodic minor are not really different keys or modes - they are occasional alterations (within a tune) to the natural minor scale. IOW, if we write a tune in the D minor key, we may well use both 6ths and 7ths at different times, and the chords that go with them at those points.
    For example, a very common minor key sequence is Dm-C-Bb-A (the so-called "Andalucian cadence"). The first 3 chords suggest D natural minor, the 4th could be harmonic or melodic minor. In fact, all 3 minor scales will fit the Dm, and harmonic minor could also fit the Bb. But C has to be D natural minor.
    IOW, it may be best not to think about your raw material to begin with - the notes and scales you can use - but to work from the chords and (ideally) a melody.
    If you're working in a minor key, you have the option of chords harmonised from all 3 scales. But you should find that sometimes (in D minor) you want a C or Am, sometimes you want an A or A7. You may even want a G major (from D melodic minor) instead of Gm sometimes. You should experiment with the whole set to get used to the sounds.

    And - of course - also experiment with moving between the minor key chord set and the major key one. What does it sound like to play D-G-A-Dm?
    Or Dm-Gm-A7-D?
    Quote Originally Posted by whitedragon View Post
    Because most of my solo will involve just individual notes from the combined scale (added chromatic scale?), and not chords which I used using the A Phrygian major.
    Not sure I follow you here. Are you improvising with no chord backing? Or with just one chord?

    If with no chord, then you need to establish tonality through your phrasing (that's if you're keen to highlight the tonal difference between your sections).
    This means, to begin with, starting and ending phrases on your chosen tonic (D I'm guessing).
    If you're combining different D scales, the tonality (major minor or something else?) will be ambiguous unless you highlight chord arpeggios, esp arpeggios of a tonic chord. Eg, the notes D-F#-A in a phrase, esp if repeated (perhaps with passing E, B or C# to keep it interesting), will communicate "D major" - A note like F or Bb will then sound "surprising" - IOW chromatic. OTOH, if you play phrases containing D-F-A, perhaps with E, Bb or G in passing, then that communicates "D minor", and the F# note will sound "out" - while B, C or C# may just sound like the usual variants in a minor key (not really chromatic).

    I guess my point is, you're making it hard on yourself if you are going to solo without chords, using a combined scale, while also trying to communicate an unusual scale or tonality. You have to have some idea in your head, and in your playing, that is chord-based. So in a sense you will be playing (implying) a chord sequence anyway.
    Quote Originally Posted by whitedragon View Post
    I feel using new chords made from combining the scales (or added chromatics?) will make the sound more disjointed than by using single notes.
    Not necessarily. It depends on making them into a logical sequence, which might have (say) a bass line linking them.
    Eg another common minor key sequence is Dm - A/C# - F/C - G/B - Bb - A. That pretty much covers all the minor scale possibilities but sounds very logical (even a cliche). (To solo over such a sequence you would begin from arpeggios - chord tones - and not worry too much about entire scales for each chord.)
    Quote Originally Posted by whitedragon View Post
    You mentioned quality over quantity, which I fully agree with from one angle. However, if I am given more to work with (ie. even a chromatic scale) then more variety and depth could be created, right?
    Harmonic and melodic variety, to be sure.
    But it also risks sounding a mess, unless you're really in control of what you're doing. (IOW sounding disjointed or disorganised is more of a risk than if you work out a sensible sounding chord sequence or melody first.) You're giving yourself too many balls to juggle.
    IOW, you're setting yourself a fairly advanced task, if you're not fully on top of major and minor key theory (and also modal theory) - or if you don't have a very good ear. (I'm guessing as you're asking these questions, you're not quite at that point yet!)
    Quote Originally Posted by whitedragon View Post
    Finally, are there any hard and fast rules when it comes to adding chromatics to strengthen my solo, without adding to many? (I know in Jazz we use alter chords 5#, b9 etc to change the sound)
    The simple rule is as I said - half-steps below or above chord tones, resolving to those chord tones. Half-steps below are far more common in jazz; half-steps above tend to have a kind of exotic sound. (Not "wrong" - just not like ordinary jazz.)
    You don't have to have a chord backing to work in this way, but (if playing single-note line solos) you do have to establish chord arpeggios pretty clearly, as something to work the chromatics against.
    IOW, you have to make the "inside" clear in some way for the "outside" (chromatics) to make sense - to give your music structure.

  5. #5
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    You mentioned having a 10 note scale. What I'm seeing from your post -- You like the idea of having a lot of notes available should you need them.

    As we harmonize by having the melody notes and the chord tones share like notes. Most of those chords are going to be 3 to 4 note chords - that gives you 6 notes in reserve should you need them.

    I'm reminded of the old man with both suspenders and a belt.

    If you need a note grab it - everything on the fretboard is available. Just remember we try and harmonize what's happening at this specific moment. The chord's pentatonic will let that happen and that is only 5 notes.

    Use what you need... sometime less is more. Of course IMHO.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 09-16-2010 at 01:25 PM.

  6. #6
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    Ok. I'll be thinking about the stuff you guys have written, especially chord tones. I just feel this scale combination and tonal centre stuff has room for development and exploration.

    I'm writing my first symphony with the main melody instruments being a piano and violin. Once the whole thing is done, I'll post the song for you pros to hear and get some feedback. I'll keep popping questions as the music develops. Keep it up boys!

    Cheers, all.

  7. #7
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Symphony????

    You can write a symphony and you're asking US questions??

    (It's not somethng I'd dare to try.)

    But I'll look forward to yours.

    (I like the word "first", too. Nothing wrong with ambition! )

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