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Thread: modes, stuck in my craw

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  1. #1
    Registered User fortymile's Avatar
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    Jun 2004
    orlando, florida, usa

    modes, stuck in my craw

    hi, i'm new here. i'm sure there are thousands of posts here about modes, and i can't wait to browse them. but first i'd like to ask a particular question that will help sort this thing out once and for all for me.

    i understand modes and how they're derived. (personally i strongly prefer to think of them as altered major scales, as opposed to thinking of them as displaced major scales.) i also understand how to harmonize them into a modal key signature. the one thing i'm still a bit foggy on is when and how to use them in soloing. i've seen two different explanations. one makes sense. the other bothers me.

    i *think* i've seen this sensible method in print somewhere, but i could be wrong: maybe i just made it up and am making a mistake. basically, the one that makes sense to me is to be on the lookout for 'foreign' chords, chords that are technically out of key, or non-diatonic. once you hear or see one, you identify which of its notes are out of key relative to the tonic. that is, relative to the tonic what is that A flat? (say you're in the key of c major--it'd be a flat 6 or aug 5 relative to c.) after you do this, you can think about using different C modes to solo over that chord. for example, i suppose a chord containing A flat might be receptive to any mode with a flat 6 in it and no other clashing notes. maybe C aolian. the thing that makes sense to me here is that you're basing your soloing mode on the tonic C. you're simply looking for "outlier notes" in the song's chords and varying your usual home-base soloing scale (c major, perhaps) to a different C mode to exploit the chordal oddity when it appears in the harmony.

    that makes sense to me.

    tom kolb, in this month's guitar one magazine, suggests a different method. he says to be on the lookout for the chance to use relevant modes over top of the normal diatonic chords. for example, if you see the IV chord, you're allowed to use the lydian mode starting *on that root note* since the lydian mode is derived from the fourth scale step of C. so if you saw the F major chord pop up in a key-of-C song, you could solo over it using F lydian. if you saw the G chord, you could choose to momentarily use G mixolydian.

    my problem with this method, of course, is that it's just dressing up the normal C major scale in fancy modal lingo. playing G mixolydian in a key-of-C song is still just using the C major scale. you've just shifted your starting note from C to G. yes, it resolves differently, but...*no new harmonic material has been introduced.* you might as well just say to yourself "oh, i'll just stay in my familiar c major scale." the same thing is accomplished. if you have even a halfway decent ear, you don't need to think about modes if this is all you're going to do. you don't have to logically decide to reposition your starting note. your halfway decent ear will, instead, simply lead you to play the notes of the c major scale that sound best and resolve best. and so i have to question whether kolb is even really talking about modal soloing here. this method doesn't help me to really use modes and get cool modal effects. and that's what i want to do.

    i'm left feeling hollow, as if the world is trying to deceive me about modes. can anyone explain how to thnk about this?

    thanks in advance

  2. #2
    Groovemastah DanF's Avatar
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    May 2003
    Reno, NV
    Erm. Kolb has got the right idea (as you might expect from someone who's authored several books on soloing).

    Since you already mentioned having good ears I would say to play through each mode and use your ears. They all have different sounds/feelings.

    I'm not sure I know what you mean by "cool modal sounds" but try playing a C major scale in 3rds, 4ths and 5ths. I'll bet playing through a scale in 5ths may be the sound you're after.

    "In improvised music you easily can tell who is a guitar player and who is a musician." - Maarten (fellow IBMer)

  3. #3
    Resident Curmudgeon szulc's Avatar
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    Apr 2002
    Jackson MS
    You have the same mental block that everyone has when starting on modes.
    You think it is redundant to reiterate the major scale starting on a different note.
    The important thing about modes is which note is FUNCTIONING as the root. Pretend the root of the scale is note x use it for resolution. Seek it. Record a two chord vamp say Em and D and analyze what modes are possible on it.
    Em (ii, iii, vi) [D, C, G] {Dorian, Phrygian, Aeolian}
    D (I, IV, V) [D, A, G] {Ionian, Lydian, Mixolydian}
    D Major and G Major are common to both chords E Dorian/D Ionian or E Aeolian/D Mixolydian are choices that can stay in one key. You could choose to play a different key on each chord is you like. But in the begining you should try common keys.
    Last edited by szulc; 06-28-2004 at 09:26 PM.
    "Listen to the Spaces Between the sounds."
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  4. #4
    Registered User fortymile's Avatar
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    Jun 2004
    orlando, florida, usa
    Erm. I'm not questioning tom kolb's expertise. give me a little credit there. i'm just saying that if this is all that's meant by modal soloing, then it's really, *really* easy. i guess that's why i wasn't buying it. it's like just using a fancy word for what you already know how to do intuitively. and given the amount of time it took me to finally understand what modes even were, this comes as a shock to me. i'm a bit let down. haha.

  5. #5
    Registered User fortymile's Avatar
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    Jun 2004
    orlando, florida, usa
    dan, by soloing in fifths you're suggesting what, moviing along the scale in fifths instead of linearly through it? can you tell me your thoughts on why you think a scale like c, g, d, a, e will sound modal?

    oh yeah, by the way guys...
    henry rollins once said that, growing up, he always pretended to be a know-it-all...even when he had no clue what he was talking about. if you need or want some rationalization for why i would have the audacity to question tom kolb, it's because that's one way you can learn things deeply. i would be cheating myself if i didn't.
    Last edited by fortymile; 06-28-2004 at 06:17 PM.

  6. #6
    some guy Doug McMullen's Avatar
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    Jun 2002
    Hi 40mile...

    Go ahead and question everyone and everything, it is a good way to learn.

    When it comes to modes... I agree with the defense of Tom Kolb's perspective as offered by szulc. It _is_ where "everyone has a mental block" and it _is_ important to learn modes that way. It's not as trivial as you seem to think it is, 40 mi. However THERE IS MORE TO MODES THAN JUST DIATONIC APPLICATIONS <-- we'll get back to the more, okay.

    To get to the more, first let's continue with the diatonic modes thing: Some examples:

    If I know Dmin G7 Cmaj7 as a ii V I in C... and I play over it with a c scale, great, I'm playing on the key.

    If I play over Dmin7 G7 Cmaj7 thinking modally, ii -- d dorian, V -- G mixolydian, I -- C ionian... I'm doing the same dang thing, but I'm probably emphasizing the chord tones a bit more (just from the way I go at the patterns) and I'm also probably making things more complicated for myself than they need to be (although, in all honesty, I personally have gotten so comfortable with the modes, that I _do_ think in this "complicated" way now... I don't reccommend it thought and it certainly isn't necessary... it's just that a person can get familiar with anything if they keep at it long enough)

    Now, if the progression is C7 -- F7 -- G7 (in a twelve bar blues form)... we have a different application of the modes... I can go "okay, that's blues in C, so I'll play in the key of C blues scale" ... fine, that'll work... but using the same scale over a blues progression is a great way to sound like a very lame blues player...

    If I know my mode scales, I can go at the chords a bit more directly by playing C mixolydian, F mixolydian, G mixolydian, and that might make it easier to play parallel ideas from one chord to the next...

    Or, (and this leads to the same exact available note choices as the above, but just gives a different theoretical lens to view the note choices from) I can do (this is sort of your idea of using modes in your original post, and it's a good idea, too) this: I can say -- C7 = C mixolydian, F7 is found in the key of Bb major and in Bb major I'd have C dorian, so F7 = C dorain, and G7 is found in the key of C, G7 give C ionian...

    And now we see that C7 F7 G7 blues moves us thru the notes of these scales: C mixolydian, C dorian, C ionian...

    Now calling G7 C ionian is quite problematic (okay, 180 degrees off) but that's another story... the deal here is about note choices and perspective but looking at the modes of C we get a clear picture of the scale changing under our fingers from a single root (C) perspective. We don't have to stick to the modes giving, we can mix in our C blues ideas along with it... but if we're developing a melody over big chunks of the progression, or playing clal and response, knowing that the IV chord is related to C minor could really help us nail the playing.

    Now, in truth none of this actually means sheeeet in the long run. But in the short run playing around with these ideas gets you examining and learning the thing which _really_ matters... which is learning and playing with the sound of distinct intervals as heard against chords.

    There's this palette of intervals and you want to learn how the sound harmoniically in different contexts... the b9 and the #9 and the #4 and b5 and #5 and b6 and b7 and 7 .... Those are the things you want to hear and comprehend... and they can all be used all over the place. Studying modes, and their applications (which include, but also go beyond, the Tom Kolb diatonic modes idea) is a GREAT way to learn to think intervallically. Meaning -- interval against chord.

    Eventually you'll stop giving a crap about mixolydian this or that, and really hear the thing which matters, which is hearing the b7 interval against a major triad. Lydian schmidian -- hear the way a #4 works in variety of contexts.

    There's a chord, and there's the notes you play over the chord all of which have an intervallic relationship to the chord(root, primarily) -- modes are one way of grabbing a handful of intervals. You can grab a handful of diatonic intervals, or you can grab something with things that are a little out... you can grab whatever the heck you want so long as you do it with conviction and intention.

    ... And of course there's a whole nother way to use modes... it is how I think a lot of metal type players use modes (without quite realizing I think, but maybe I'm being a jazz snob, and anyway, what the heck I don't listen to a lot of metal) which is using modes over basslines/undefinedchords/powerchords....

    If you are playing with just a bass player pounding on the root, or root and fifth, and the rhythm guitarist is whanging away on power chords (R5 chords) ... well the darn harmony you are playing against is completely undefined... which is leaves things wide open for a soloist.... imagine four bars of C5 followed by four bars of F5.... what the hell, you could treat that a variety of ways in your solo. Power chords are like a solist's make your own Sundae ... you can add chocolate syrup or cherry or whatever... C5 is two dang notes, C and G... That is you can define (with your playing) the chord as C minor, or C major, or C dominant... you can get all kinds of pure C mode sounds out of the chord, because the chord doesnt' have any harmony of its own to interfere with your exotic scale explorations.

    To learn the unique sounds of modes -- outside of diatonic harmony as harmonic creatures on their own -- experiment playing over simple root only basslines and over simple powerchord progressions.

    By the way, a lot of "modal music" in jazz explores the sound of a single chord or mode from a variety of angles... for example "Impressions" a coltrane tune (based on the Miles Davis composition so what) explores Dm7 and Ebm7... Coltrane just goes nuts on them, (primarily) in the Dorian mode on each. This approach is what a lot of jazz musicians think of when they hear "modal" music. It means jamming on very very slow moving chords, a la the Kind of Blue album (miles Davis) which introduced this concept to jazz.

    Um, I think that's enough... but the mode scale fun continues with melodic minor scale and it's modes.

    Last edited by Doug McMullen; 06-28-2004 at 07:28 PM.

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