View Full Version : I understand modes but how do you use them?

09-01-2002, 07:38 AM
I understand modes but how are they actually used in a jam? The concept is confusing to me. If you are play a C major progression and using the major scale then you may not always start on the root. Now what if you are playing a C major progression and using the dorian mode? Im sure that music theory has not limited you to play from root to octave when using modes. What is the difference in playing a C major scale and playing a D dorian start on C? Are modes just a reference for licks and runs or what. Sometimes I can almost grasp this concept but then I play a bad note. Sometimes I will have nice modal sound going on but I always get pulled back into my pentatonic safe zone. It litterally makes me sick. Please help!

The Bash
09-01-2002, 08:31 AM
The Basic Modes themselves are built on each degree of the Major Scale. You can build modes from Harmonic and Melodic Minor as well. That much I assume is making sense to you.

C Major: C D E F G A B C
D Dorian: D E F G A B C D
Nothing changes except where the half steps fall.

Now the confusing part is this you canít (at least in my opinion) really just sit down and
Say Iím gonna play a Dorian Mode. You can Practice what I look at as The Dorian Shape or Pattern. But unless you have a drone note or chord to play the Dorian shape over your just playing a shape. It can be C Major. D Dorian Etc. depending on what you wanna think or what you hear as the tonal center.

To Me you donít really Have a Mode until you Have a Chord or least a Drone Note.

Ex: All the Mode shapes of C Major are still C major. Thus if you know all 7 fingering patterns you know the shapes for all 7 modes of C. Thatís C Major D Dorian Etc. You got em all.

Ex. Now if you were to play over say Dm G C chord progression using C major shape (starting on any of the 7 notes) you gotta C Major Scale. If you play over the same thing using a D Dorian Shape (Note I said Shape) starting on any note: you still gotta C major Scale. This is true with any of the modal shapes of C Major. Why? Cause the progression is C Major.

Ex. Now if you were to play over this Am-G-F-G chord progression using C Major shape or any of the modal shapes derived from the notes of C Major. You Get an A Minor Scale. Solo all day long over this with a C Major shape and its still A minor. Why? Cause the Progression is A Minor.

Play Dm-G chord progression you get D Dorian though it sounds better if you spice it up Dm7-G7 or better yet Dm7-G9 to me the 3 rd option sounds most Dorian.

Anyway, hope that helps sum. I Know it probably raises more questions than answers.
But I think itís the Actual How They Apply to a Progression your confused on.

Remember to actually play in a mode itís the progression thatís actually modal or determines the note. It picks which tone is in charge. Each has itís own flavor or personality depending on whoís the boss. Imagine having 7 different bosses at work your relationship will be different with each one. Thatís kinna how modes work.

To Play a C Major scale you donít have to Start on the Root. This only applies to a Jury or test when one says Play Me a C Major Scale. Likewise with D Dorian they are expecting you in that case to play the shape starting with D.

The Bash
09-01-2002, 08:41 AM
BTW check out Guniís Chord Scale articles. There one the best Iíve ever seen. I wish I had something like those 16 years ago before taking Music Classes. I had to start pretty much ground zero and work my but off to catch up to some the classically trained pianist who been doing that stuff since they were 5. If you havenít already Iíd start with the Intervals then Triads then progress through the Chord Scales I and II. Stop before the extensions in II and seriously review everything before proceeding. Once you can grasp that , review it all again try to apply it before braving the Deadly Chord Scale III. Seriously go to III learn Harmonic and Melodic Minor then stop and really, really be sure itís pretty easy cause from there it gets real deep and probably best saved for a latter day.

09-01-2002, 01:29 PM
The answer is a mode is defined by which of the tones is functioning as the root. What does this mean? The root is the ultimate note of RESOLUTION (resting) where all the phrases are leading. So if you are playing a C major scale but the A note is functioning as the root you are playing in A Aeolian. Normally I would use the phrase "what note are you pretending the root to be?"

Your practice of mode should take place using two methods.
1. Play the Modes of a Particular Key ( Like the modes of C, C Ionian, C Dorian , C Phrygian etc...)
For this one record a bass part od just the root key note ( ie C).
Play each mode for several measures until you get the sound in your head.( Try to hang them on somthing, like Dorian reminds me of the DOORS, or Phrygian reminds me of Spanish Guitar)

2. The Modes of a particular Major Scale ( C Ionian, D Dorian, E Phrygian)

Record a bass part with 16 measures of each of these root notes (in the case of the example , C,D,E,F,G ....)

Now play the Root Major Scale (in this case C) over each of these bass notes, make the bass function as the root by resolving to it.

When you have got the above exercises down and in your head, move on to two chord exercises. I posted somthing about this recently, I will try to fing the link and post it.

09-01-2002, 01:37 PM
Here is the link I was talking about.


09-02-2002, 10:06 AM
When I'm playing over a chord progression that is all in one key, I don't think of modes.
C - Am - F - G - C : that's C major and I'm playing the C major scale. I pay attention to chord notes when the chord changes, so you might say that I'm changing from C Ionian to A aeolian to F Lydian ... but I think C major and chord tones all the time.

Now, let's say you have a one-chord vamp: 24 bars of C.
It might get a bit boring to play C major all through it. So I change into other major sounding modes: C Lydian and C Mixolydian - but this only works if the underlying chord is a triad. If you've got a maj7 chord, only C Ionian and Lydian work and if it's a dom7, only Mixolydian is really safe.

With Am, I can use A Dorian, A Phrygian or A Aeolian ...

When playing a Blues (Blues uses dom7 chords), you can either use the traditional blues scale and pentatonics, or the Mixolydian mode of the root of the underlying chord: A mixolydian, D mixolydian, E mixolydian and get a modern sound.

As the blues scale contains a minor third that contributes a lot to the blues sound, you could also try minor sounding modes (I prefer Dorian: A Dorian over A7, the same mode over D7 is D Mixolydian so that fits perfectly, and over E7 the same notes are E aeolian).

... just some ideas.

09-02-2002, 07:28 PM
Two little things to experiment with:
If you just wanna compare the sounds of different scales, just use the low E-string as a drone string... it will give you some kind of a tonal center.
Over that drone note, play E Major, E Dorian, Phrygian... Minor... Harmonic Minor etc. Also good as an exercise to memorize those scales.

Also, experiment with slash chords...

Take i.e. two triads, G maj and F maj, and play them over... lets say the open E-String. You get Gmaj/E Fmaj/E ( of course those chords could be interpreted as different chords also, but right now we just look at them as the V and IV of C major, played over an E-bassnote, giving us a Phrygian Sound ).
Use a capo if you like, and play Gmaj/F Fmaj ( or, if you want to, add a third chord, like C maj, and play Gmaj/F, Fmaj, Cmaj/F )... will sound lydian
This is another way to check out the sounds of those modes, and it might be interesting how much the sound of these chords change if you just change the bassnote.
If you feel like it, record some of those ( or more sophisticated ones ) and do what James suggested, play the different modes / shapes over that...
Warm regards

10-11-2002, 08:44 PM
I just wrote an article on a site called Sound Bee http://www.soundbee.com that has a totally different way to approach modes.

It's the first of a series that I'm looking forward to.

I believe the direct link is: http://www.soundbee.com/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=1

Note: you may have to sign up to be able to read it... Let me know what you think...?

11-15-2002, 02:38 AM

I am from Taiwan, an amateur self-taught jazz player.

Regarding to the modes, I read articles in a Taiwan website. I think it sounds pretty good to me.

The difference of C Ionion and D Dorian is, their sound structure is different regardless they share the same notes group.

Ex. when playing over an C major, the triad is CEG. The third note is E(a major third). D Dorian is DFA while the third note is F(a minor third).

This will sounds harmonic different when you play with major idea and minor idea in mind.

I think this sounds reasonable.

11-21-2002, 09:30 PM
Here's a some cool things to try with modes thats used a lot by Vai and Satriani, and a lot of other players:

first, break the progression you're playing over into individual scales. let's say you're playing over Am-C-Em-G

you could look at it like this:
play E minor the whole time =
A dorian over Am
C Lydian over C
E minor over Em
G mixolydian over G

or you could consider every mode that could fit over each of these chords:
Am = A minor, A dorian, A phygerian
C = C major, C lydian, C mixolydian
Em = E minor , E phygerian, E dorian
G = G major, G mixolydian, G lydian

so you can switch between all of these modes freely. if you're asking which mode to use, I recommend playing each mode over a drone note and really get the sound in your head, and try to associate emotions and sounds with each mode, ex:
Major = happy
Dorian = jazzy
Phygerian = Dark
Lydian = dreamy
Mixolydian = playful
Minor = sad
Locarian = demented

but that's just me, yours could be different.

another thing is to break down the modes into arpeggios.

C major
C Lydian
C mixolydian

now let's say you're playing a jam in the C major, and you're playing over the C chord.you could throw in a Bb or Edim arpeggio to give a bit of a mixolydian sound, or a D or Bm for a lydian sound.

11-21-2002, 10:02 PM
Thanks. I think this post will really help me.