View Full Version : what mode/scale am i in?

07-16-2002, 11:47 AM
hi everyone. i have a question. i have attached the diagram below as part of my question.the diagram shows the Am pentatonic scale( in the 5th position) that i use to improvise over an Am progression. the circles indicate the notes that i use as passing tones.now during the course of the progression i will use all of these passing tones at least once. so is it correct to say , that i am using ALL the modes/scales to improvise over the Am progression??

07-16-2002, 12:04 PM
If these aare used as "Passing Tones" and not as melody notes points of interest or resolution then you are just using the A min Pentatonic with lots of chromaticism.

If you are truly using all these tones equally with no bias towards any one note or subset of the chromatic scale this would be considered "Atonal".

My bet is closer to the first choice. The most likely scenario is that you are using sections in one mode or another and other section in the Pentatonic with added "flavor notes" that don't necessarily add up to a particular mode. ( ie. added M3(C#) and M6(F#) b5(Eb))
The pentatonic can be used in three different places within ( as a subset of) the Major scale. I
f we are talking about the Minor Pentatonic it fits starting at the ii the iii and the vi ( or from C Major D, E, A).

It is also interesting to note that the notes missing from the Major scale form the minor Pentatonic starting on b3. ( ie. black Keys on a piano are 'missing ' from C major and form an Eb Minor Pentatonic)

07-16-2002, 12:30 PM
Hi Peter,

Chromatic scale starting on A going up:


Chromatic scale going down:



07-16-2002, 09:33 PM
thanks guys. the reason i say passing tones is that if i sustain or end on any of the circled notes and not resolve them to the pentatonic, it sounds out of tune over the progression. again the progression i am talking about is (house of the rising sun)Am-c-d-f-e7.the Am pentatonic omitts the F,B notes. i favour these two over the chromatics but even though they are part of the scale they still have to be resolved to the pentatonic or they sound odd! when i improvise over this progression i never just use the pentatonic becuse it sounds pretty boring alhough still very useful. to me, all the circled notes in the above diagram have to be resolved to the pentatonic. maybe i am just so used to hearing the pentatonic notes so many times that i just "think" the rest sound strange. or maybe if there were different chords in the progression the circled notes could be sustained?? am i making any sense?
please reply, Peter

07-16-2002, 10:06 PM

Lets try walking a little before we run.
Record a Drum pattern and Just and Am chord for a good long time. Now try to make up melodies based on that using Pentatonic, then Aeolian, then Phrygian then Dorian. Play the whole thing through with just one of these choices at a time, until you get the sound in your head.

When you are satisfied that you can improvise over Am with the above choices record a G Major chord for a good long time, now try the same scale choices but skip Phrygian. (All still in Am)
Play the whole thing through with just one of these choices at a time, until you get the sound in your head.

Now record 8 beats of each chord Am and G
and repeat this for a good long time. Once again,try the same scale choices but skip Phrygian. (All still in Am)
Play the whole thing through with just one of these choices at a time, until you get the sound in your head.

Now try Am and C but skip Phrygian. (All still in Am)

Now try Am and Em but skip Phrygian. (All still in Am)

Ok, now try Am and Dm but skip Dorian. (All still in Am)

Ok, now try Am and F but skip Dorian. (All still in Am)

Ok, now try Am and C but skip Dorian. (All still in Am)

This should help a bit.

Try to see if you can figure out why I chose these chords and scales.


07-17-2002, 06:45 AM
that sounds like a great idea james.
i just want to ask some questions. i am not sure why you chose those chords and scales except, the Am chord and the pentatonic scale because that is what i am using now. and why do i have to skip a scale when adding chords?can i add any chords or just the ones you mention? please reply because this whole thing sounds like it is the way to go.

07-17-2002, 10:04 AM
Hi Peter,

Szulc described a great way of learning to hear modes. That's why he chose chords that fit into a certain mode.

Now try Am and Em but skip Phrygian. (All still in Am)

If you analyze this in terms of what modes this progression can be in you get 2 choices:

Am is the II in G major
Em is the VI in G major
= Am - Em is A Dorian.


Am is the VI in C major
Em is the III in C major
= Am - Em is A Aeolian

Third choice would be that Am is the III in F major but Em doesn't fit into F major as the VII chord in F major is Edim. That's why you skip phrygian for this example.

See how this works?


07-17-2002, 11:05 AM
M M m o M m m
C D E F#G A B G Major/E Minor
M m m M M m o
C D E F G A B C Major/A Minor
M m o M m m M
C D E F G A Bb F Major/D Minor

Above are three closely related scaled F, C and G Major.
Above the notes of each Scale ( each starts on C for this demonstration) are the quality of each chord that starts on that scale degree ( M = Major, m= Minor, o = Diminished).
The bold notes/chord qualities shows where they are the same in two or more scales. C major occurs in all three scales as does A minor. The top two share E Minor and G Major, the bottom two share D minor and F Major.

07-17-2002, 12:22 PM
The Order of chord qualities in any Major scale remains constant.

I ii iii IV V vi viio
Maj Min Min Maj Maj Min Dim

The first thing you need to notice from this is
I, IV and V are all Major
and ii, iii and iv ar all Minor

Which means, when you are analyzing a chord progression
Any Major chord can be functioning as the I, IV or V chord and any Minor chord can be functioning as the ii, iii or vi chord.

If you are improvising over just one chord use the mode that that chord is functioning as. For example Am, lets say we want this chord to be functioning as ii ( second chord of the scale)
What mode starts on the second note of the scale?
Dorian, so we should use Dorian.
We could have chosen the chord to function as vi and used Aeolian or iii and used Phrygian.
If it is just one chord, the choice is up to us.

When you have two chords your choices are limited (unless you WANT to play different scales on each). The diagram in my previous post to this thread shows that across the F.C and G Major Scales.
Why did I choose these scales?
Because your example was in Am (Aeolian or Sixth Mode of C Major) and G Major and F major differ from C major by only 1 accidental ( F# and Bb).
Major Scales whose roots are a fifth apart differ by only 1 note (Circle of Fifths).
C is the Fifth of F major and G is the fifth of C Major.
To create the major scale from the fifth of any given major scale raise the forth tine 1/2 step amd the Fifth becomes the new root.

To create the major scale from the fourth of any major scale lower ther seventh 1/2 step and start on the fourth.

Guni, Do you concur?

07-18-2002, 11:46 AM
THANKS GUYS,slowly but surely it is starting to make sense.
see ya later,Peter