View Full Version : My First Post. Modes. Starting to HATE them...

04-07-2003, 06:55 PM
Hi everyone. I was referred here from a member of the PEtrucci forum, so I thought I'd give it a whirl.

The debate over modes is maddening. The 5 pattern version? The 7 Pattern Version? Going by the SOUND? The theory version (This mode is "blah" with a flat "bleh" and a flat "frf").

SO I want to hear from some of the accomplished guitarists among you. Where did you start? Is there a good way of getting this down with reasonable speed? I like the 7 variants for remembering which mode I'm using quickly. However, the 2 note string is a pain sometimes.

Basically, let's hear your thoughts. I've heard the heavyweights at JP's board comment. Just looking for a little further opinion/discussion.


04-08-2003, 05:25 AM
well I don't really know how to answer your question, but welcome, and someone will be along shortly that does know how to answer your question. :)


The Mechanix
04-08-2003, 09:21 AM
Hello Unevenground,

Welcome to Ibreathemusic first of all. The way I've always thought of the 5 vs 7(3n/s) position debate, was basically to

a: Use the 5 position system to play a melody, or 'groove' in an area.

b: Use the 7 Position system to connect these positions, and for fast type runs.

The reasoning behind a:, is that the position often required by the fretting hand for the 3n/s patterns requires the thumb to be placed in the middle of the back of the neck, to accomodate the wider stretches needed. This is impractical for applying bending and any serious vibrato, where the thumb is needed over the top of the neck.

Also, the 5 position system allows you to identify the pentatonic (minor or major) that is contained within your scale shape. Very useful.

I would think however that everyone would use some kind of combination of all the approaches depending on the musical situation.

Just my opinions.

In Frank Gambales 'Modes no more mystery' video, he says that no matter which way you choose, you should eventually see the mode across the whole fretboard.

btw, could you provide a link to the other discussion, I would find it ineresting.

04-08-2003, 10:29 AM
Sure thing Mechanix: http://www.petrucciforum.com/cgi-bin/ikonboard/topic.cgi?forum=1&topic=12174

So essentialy I should learn both. Each one has some variances too, I've noticed. Then it even comes down to preference, right?


04-09-2003, 04:16 PM
You could also try a different approach like the one I describe on this page under 'Improvisation': http://www.ibreathemusic.com/learn/article/106/6


04-09-2003, 06:28 PM
Hi there,

Well, the 5 vs. 7 pattern debate shouldn't be a debate at all really. They are both great methods of learning scale patterns as long as you eventually break out of patterns and just play. The whole modes subject seems so complicated because we're all different and will approach them in diiferent ways. Personally, I think the most important thing to graap when learning modes, scales, arpeggios, etc is how they sound in a musical context. Anyone can learn to play patterns, the hard part is learning to play music with all those fingerings and notes. Guni's approach and his improv article are a great place to start. Ultimately, it comes down to playing all those scales over different chords, jam tracks, musical situations to learn what sounds good to you. Also, if you don't like the position patterns much, look into linear patterns up and down the strings.

Good Luck!
Wyll Watts

04-10-2003, 07:21 AM
Hi Wyll,

Great post - ya got my vote!

Actually, I don't understand this 5 vs 7 pattern debate at all. Ok, you gotta start out at some point learning a few patterns. But why would somone put the limit to 5 or 7? If you stay in position and start on every not of a scale there are all together 12 patterns. Ok, some of them are quite similar but I recommend having a look at them as they enable someone to glue together the entire fretboard. I think this is a good first step into horizontal playing.

I'll try to find the time today to tab out all of those 12 patterns for clarification.


04-10-2003, 09:37 PM
"Just starting to hate modes" hmm?

Well then buckle up you're in for a long,bumpy ride!

:D ...take your vitamins !

04-11-2003, 06:32 PM
After playing guitar for about ten years, I thought I had a good understanding of the modes. But a month ago I did the unthinkable and, aghast!, starting taking piano lessons. Actually it's the best thing I could have done. I'm learning to make music from a musician's perspective rather than a guitar player's.

On the piano, there is only one major scale pattern. It is not necessary to learn it starting on each of the degrees. Same goes for pentatonics. On the piano my mind is much more "pattern free". Music is melody and harmony, not patterns and shapes.

So now to the point of my post. My piano teacher, a well accomplished jazz player, has a good chuckle when I talk about modes. He has me practice major/minor pentatonics, major, melodic minor and harmonic minor. No modes!

I say what key is this progression in? (Dm7-G7-Am). He says C major and not to confuse myself to much. Play the changes rather than find a mode that fits all. Think of everything you could do over each one of the chords. Over the Dm7, don't think D dorian. Think Dm7 arpeggio, Dm pentatonic, m6, M6, b5, #5, b9, etc. These are certainly easier to see on the piano and easier to remember!

So.....are the modes a guitarists invention? Simply a way to learn to play all over the neck in one key? Is it easier for the guitarist to see patterns rather than visualize scale degrees?

How many songs are written in a major key? A lot. How many are completely in a mode? Few. Usually a chorus or verse may be in a mode, or a chord change may imply one.

A read a wonderful book called "How to Write Songs on Guitar" by Rikky Rooksby. I consider myself well versed in instruction books (always looking for the musical light bulb to go on in my head) and this is one of the best. Talks about the diatonic chords, and other commonly used, non scale chords; bVII, bIII, iv, etc. No talk of modes.

I used to look at the common blues rock progression A-D-G-A as A Mixolydian. It's the bVII major chord that tells me so. Say that's the verse, and the chorus goes A-D-E-A. Where are we now? Not A mixolydian. Should I throw out mixolydian and just think A major with a hip bVII chord?

I believe (from experience) that you can learn to play guitar without listening. Memorize this chord shape, this pentatonic pattern, play it over anything, etc? Ah to make music, that requires a different learning process.

Points to Ponder......

04-11-2003, 08:39 PM
Nick said:So.....are the modes a guitarists invention?

Well, I believe the seven modes of the major scale originated from the calculations of Pythagoras, and each is named after a Greek tribe. No guitars then.. although Pythagoras did play a lyre. The modes were also later called the Church Modes as they were used in religious music quite a bit.

Nick said:How many songs are written in a major key? A lot. How many are completely in a mode? Few.

Today's music theory mainly focuses on major/minor in overall song key and structure with modal analysis chord by chord. However, there are many, many songs written in the church modes before the major/minor theory took over. For a more in debth discussion of how attitudes changed over modes see Schoenburg's Theory of Harmony. As far as patterns go, many guitraists do think in patterns and I'm sure some thing in intervals etc.. it seems that either way you're thinking in patterns just either abstract or physical.

Overall, no, guitarists didn't invent the modes. The modal system really isn't as popular on the macro scale after the major/minor system dominated things. BUT! The modes are still useful in describing relationships between harmony and scales.

By the way, I think it's great you're thinking about these things. Learning another instrument really broadens the way you approach music theory. Keep jazzin!

Best Wishes,
Wyll Watts

04-12-2003, 02:43 PM
The single most important thing about modes is understanding (internalizing) how they sound. CAGED forms are good to get the basics of how to execute them, but other methods should (as always) be explored. I suggest learning a series of fingerings for the C major scale and then (using the speaking in tongues post as a guidline http://www.ibreathemusic.com/forums/showthread.php?s=&threadid=249) modify each fingering to create the other modes. To do this you will need to know the scale degree of each note in each fingering. Then just flat (or sharp) the appropriate scale degree to create the new mode (each time from your base C major scale). If you do this exercise you will have a good understanding of how modes sound compared with the Major scale. The idea here is to play all of the modes with C as the root not using new patterns but by altering patterns you already know.
This helps remove the pattern idea and replaces it with the more musical idea of what accidentals you need to play each of the C based modes. For instance C Ionian is just C Major, but C Dorian has 2 flats (Bb and Eb), C Mixolydian has 1 flat (Bb), C lydian has 1 Sharp F# and so on...

The idea here is similar to learning the Major Scale from Cycle 4/5 using math to tell you that you need to Raise the 4th or lower the seventh to move up or down a 5th (or down or up a 4th). Which is the REAL* reason that Each Major scale has the particular key signature they have. You can use similar ideas to modify the Major scale to produce Melodic or Harmonic Minor.

I feel another "Moving From The Familiar To The Unfamiliar" article coming on!

04-12-2003, 05:20 PM
I understand what you mean about comparing the modes based on the same root note. Parallel rather than relative. The Dorian mode is like the Aeolian except with a M6, Mixolydian is like Ioninan except with a b7, Phrygian is Aeolian with a b2, etc. Each can be looked at as a separate scale.

But as guitar players, I think we have gotten the cart before the horse, so to speak. What came first, the melody or the scale? We tend to take the notes that we may use in a given melody and arrange them stepwise into a scale.

Just yesterday I reread Guni's article on modes (Chord-Scales II). (I first read this years ago in the Guitar4U days.) Anyway, his point was to think of the modes not as some ancient, mystic scale, but as a series of notes that can be player over a certain chord.

Having said that, I believe the modes are simply arpeggios with selected color notes added. As guitarists, we like patterns. So if I want to improvise over a minor chord but want the jazzy, latin M6, I just play the Dorian mode.

I see so much talk of these modes, but nothing of pentatonic modes. If diatonic modes are derived off of each degree of the major scale, why note derive modes off of each degree of the major and minor pentatonics. Take Am pentatonic and derive a mode off of the 5 (E-G-A-C-D). It contains the R(E), b3(G) and b7(D) with the P4 and b6. Nothing magical about it. No historical signifigance. Simply a different pentatonic pattern. Would sound great over an Em7 chord, the b6 gives a darker sound.

So what have I done here. Created a new mode? Now I could write a book, "Essential Pentatonic Modes" and makes some of the money I spent over the years back! Or have I simply taken 5 of the 12 possible notes and grouped them into an easy to remember format.

I guess that is my conclusion of the modes. Rather than thinking in a full mode, it is freeing for me to think in terms of arpeggios and color notes. If you think in terms of modes, an given jazz tune will weave through all of them. It is easier for me to think Dm7 arpeggio with a B note (M6) rather than a piece of a D Dorian scale. I've found that scales are great for doing runs, but when it comes settling in to a melody, arpeggios and color notes work better for me. I guess my goal is to be able to clear everything from my mind that is not essential to palying music. Too much to think about leaves you going no where.

On a side note, I'd be interested in the actual origin of the modes. I doubt what we refer to as the Dorian mode orginated in that province of ancient Greece. I would guess that somewhere along the line, middle ages, classical period, someone gave the name Dorian to that particular sequence of half and whole steps (maybe a Greek professor who was a musician!). It wasn't until Bach that anyone even had the same tuning (Johann's A didn't sound the same as Franz's A). I guess my point is because of the greek names, the modes seem more important then they really are.

Alot to ponder....thoughts?

04-12-2003, 11:35 PM
Guys, I love the insights. Maybe it's the internet's non-emotional communication, but I feel MORE bogged down than ever. I guess it's frustrating to think that I've been playing this long and now I've got to rebuild the fundamentals.

So the purist suggestion seems to be learn how the modes sound in relation to the current "chord" (which present a trouble area immediately in the world of single not riffs and power chord progressions [especially chromatic riffs]).

The math guys seem to be more into the pattern formula.

Both necessitate some prior knowledge:
- Key sigs and what notes are affected.
- Chord notes (arps)
- Why the seemngly correct mode won't "akways" work in it's entirety.

OK, I'm not really a theory newbie, honest, but for some reason I've always struggled with locking this stuff into my memory.
Tips on that?

So have I missed it? Can anyone put down a logical progression to travel in studying and geting the modes and relative scales down??

Thanks guys.


04-13-2003, 12:08 AM
Record 2-3 minutes of a C note then 2-3 minutes of a D note then EFGAB (2 minutes each).
Now Play the notes of C major over each of these trying to make up meaningful melodies (limit you note choices to only notes from C major). Do this once a day for a couple of weeks it will take up 14 minutes of your valuable practice time. By the second week you should 'hear' the modes. It is not necessary that you think of playing over a chord, only the root note of the mode.

After several weeks of this Record 14 minutes of C then put some kind of indication on the track to let you know when each two minute period is up. Now play through the modes with C as the root. Once again try to make up melodies. I would likely play them in an order like: (Cycle 4)
Lydian Locrian Phrygian Aeolian Dorian Mixolydian Ionian.