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Thread: Led Zeppelin Modes Examples

  1. #1
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    Led Zeppelin Modes Examples

    Hello friends! I would like to know examples from modes in Led Zeppelin songs, especially the phrygian mode and the harmonic minor scale.
    Did Jimmy Page use scales like phrygian dominant?
    Thanks to all!

  2. #2
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    I don't know all of Zep's material, but I found a reference for two that feature modes:

    Ramble On, dual guitar lead (the first one): E dorian
    Dancing Days, main riff: G lydian

    However, having checked these, I disagree. "Ramble On" is really mixolydian (because the main chord is E major, not Em).
    Mixolydian is extremely common in all rock music, in fact you could say it's the default rock mode (altering the major key by flattening the 7th) - so nothing very unusual about the song in that respect.

    Lydian is a lot more unusual, and there is certainly a distinctive #4 (C# in key of G) in the opening riff of "Dancing Days" - but it's only in that riff. (There's a similar hint of lydian #4 in the vocal riff in "Immigrant Song" - which they took from "Bali Ha'i" in South Pacific .)

    White Summer and Black Mountainside are both mixolydian, because they're taken from arrangements of Irish mixolydian folk tunes She Moved Through The Fair and Blackwaterside by Davy Graham and Bert Jansch respectively. (IOW, good example of "folk mixolydian" rather than "rock mixolydian" - the same scale material treated in slightly different ways.)

    The guitar solo in "Stairway to Heaven" is largely aeolian mode, but that's simply because Page is mostly soloing in standard A minor pentatonic, but occasionally referring to chord tones on the F chord. "A minor pent plus F note" implies A aeolian - there is no B or Bb anywhere, but the G major chord in the backing points to aeolian rather than phrygian.
    IOW, the best way of understanding the solo is that the chords (Am, G, F) are drawn from A natural minor (which is probably how Page saw it), and Page is simply using that material; instinctively falling back on A minor pent (with occasional blues b5) for the most part, but incorporating an F note sometimes when an F chord turns up (the F chord being the most prominent in the sequence). I doubt very much that he was thinking "A aeolian mode", and probably hadn't even heard of modal terms at that time.

    Generally, if you want to hear examples of modes in rock music, Led Zep are not the best example. OTOH, if you're trying to understand Zep's music, modal theory is not the best tool. (with the arguable exception of White Summer/Black Mountainside.)

    I also very much doubt Page ever used lydian dominant in his life. (But if anyone knows better I'd love to know!) He was certainly very inventive in many ways - as guitarist, composer, producer - and drew inspiration from folk and ethnic music as well as blues, but AFAIK jazz theory and modes played little if any part in his inspirations.
    Last edited by JonR; 10-08-2013 at 10:08 AM.

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    Hello JonR! First of all thanks for answers! Do you know if Kashmir has phrygian mode use? I think the verses of dancing days after the intro can be in the phrygian mode

  4. #4
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Kashmir is not phrygian. It does contain a lot of interesting chromatics, suggesting parallel modes on D, but none of them are phrygian. D phrygian would require an Eb note, and that's one of the few notes that doesn't seem to be employed.

    Dancing Days does have a hint of C phrygian in the verses, which are mainly based on C, but with a contrasting Db chord. I think these are both power chords, but I hear them as implying C major, not minor, which would mean phrygian dominant. But then after 8 bars it goes down to Bb and A; A is not part of C phrygian or phrygian dominant. (And it doesn't really have a phrygian dominant vibe about it anyway, IMO.)
    IOW, thinking of one overall mode or scale is the wrong angle with this tune - as it is with all the Zep tracks I know. If anything marks out Page's originality - the unorthodox sounds he obviously enjoyed and experimented with - it's the idea of exotic chromaticism, not traditional western modes. (My suspicion is that if Page had discovered phrygian mode, he'd have thought it a little too limiting and obvious to base a whole tune on.)
    The chromaticism wasn't always exotic either: Stairway to Heaven has a totally traditional use of descending chromatics in a minor key in its classic intro.
    In comparison, Kashmir's "exotic" sound derives largely from the rising chromatic line from the 5th, and the offset rhythm of the riff.

    As I said, modal terms are not the best tools for analysing Zep tunes, as least the ones I'm familiar with. But there are lots I'm not familiar with! and you'll need to wait for more informed answers in that case.

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    Thanks one more time JonR!! i have a question about minor key songs in Zeppelin catalog... Dazed and Confused is in E minor or E major? Immigrant song is in minor key?

  6. #6
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Dazed and Confused is in E minor. The opening bass riff is chromatic (|G F# F E |D C# C B|), not suggesting a clear key on its own, but the vocal uses the E minor pent scale. When the instrumental takes off at double tempo around half-way through, then it's definitely E minor, with an Em pent riff.

    Immigrant song is in F# minor - so it was misleading of me to say earlier that the #4 (in the "Aah-ah-aah" intro) was "Lydian".
    The chord is really a power chord, but the implication is that it's minor. When the verse comes in it goes down to E major, which sounds a little like the key chord, but then it resolves back up to F#m. (Other chords are A, B and C all either power chords or major chords, all of which suggest a key centre of E, but the F#m keeps re-establishing itself.)
    You could theorise about a minor scale with a #4 if you wanted - it does sound quite cool - 1 2 b3 #4 5 6 b7 = 4th mode harmonic minor - but that's not really what they're doing; it's more like Robert Plant is just flattening the 5th of the scale, inspired partly by blues, maybe, and/or that opening phrase in "Bali Ha'i".
    Again, the answer is nothing to do with modes (or even with scales) but is about chromatically altering chord tones. Ie, you don't need scale thinking, just the idea of singing that #4 against a minor chord and you have the impact you want.

    Check this out:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ8zf5hR13Q
    - not much like Led Zep to start with - - but wait for 0:40 and tell me that's not the beginning of Immigrant Song! (OK, it isn't, but you know what I mean...)
    The South Pacific soundtrack album was simply huge in the early 60s, and - like it or not (and rock fans didn't!) - you couldn't escape it then.
    Last edited by JonR; 10-09-2013 at 09:34 AM.

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    Thanks JonR!! you are master hehe I am studying some led zeppelin songs in minor keys and have some doubts. "Tangerine" is in A minor?? "Out on the Tiles" seems to begin in A major and switch to F#minor dorian, and then switch to E minor in the final riffs...what do you think about? "The battle of evermore" in A minor...
    Thank you for your attention and clarification and apology the amount of questions. You have helped me a lot in my study.

  8. #8
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    It's not always easy - or important - to determine the key of a song.
    The answer is always "what sounds like the key" (which chord "sounds like home"), but that can often be ambiguous.
    Take "Tangerine". Sometimes it sounds like A minor, sometimes like G major. The verse part seems to gravitate to Am - as does the instrumental section with the F and E chords - but the chorus (G and C chords) sounds much more like G major.
    It's extremely common for songs to move between two keys like this.
    I haven't checked the other songs you mention, but your guesses may well be right; as I say, just find which chord seems to be the "tonal centre" of the tune, that the others seem to gravitate towards - and that might well vary from section to section.
    Don't let theoretical rules about which chords "belong" put you off; theory can give you some pointers, but let the ear decide in the end.

    An important question is: why do you want to know the key? To clarify some aspect of theory? You certainly don't need to know the key in order to play the song, or to improvise on it.

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    Hi JonR! I'm a guitarist, Led Zeppelin fan and like to study composition, structures, chord progressions, tonality and solos(scales). Tangerine seems to me too A minor on verses and G major on the other parts. Thank you one more time for explanation. You're right, the ear is the right choice

  10. #10
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ronaldoortiz195 View Post
    Hi JonR! I'm a guitarist, Led Zeppelin fan and like to study composition, structures, chord progressions, tonality and solos(scales).
    Me too . Although maybe not such a Zep fan as you are. (I missed out on them first time round, I was into folk and acoustic blues at that time. I had them down as a heavy rock band, a bunch of posers. I've since realised my mistake... Still don't much like Plant's voice, mind...)

    The interesting thing about key - for me - is how flexible it is. It's fascinating the various ways a melody or chord sequence can establish a key centre in our minds. It might be as simple as playing one chord for long enough. Other times, a key can be suggested without the key chord ever being played.
    But ultimately (IMO) it all comes down to melody. Even chord changes work melodically, by the way each note moves to the nearest note in the next chord. That "voice-leading" is really the heart of how chord sequences work, and explains how progressions can move freely out of key and still sound "right". (Helped by the fact that any major or minor triad can belong to three keys, so logical chord-to-chord links can still lead away from an initial key, by the "pivot" principle. Eg in key of G we can move to Am (diatonic ii) and from there maybe to Bb (IV of F, in which Am is iii). But does the Bb mean we've changed key? Or have we just borrowed Bb from G minor? )
    IOW, the importance of key - while a natural phenomenon - can be exaggerated. The ear does always search for a key centre, a tonality - but it also enjoys the unfolding of chord sequences, being led away from a presumed key centre.
    It's just another illustration of the way music is a mix of the familiar and the surprising, the tried-and-tested with the fresh and original.
    "Safety" = diatonic; regular meter; on the beat; familiar forms
    "Danger" = chromatic; irregular meter; syncopation; unfamiliar forms
    A bit of both is what we want.
    Last edited by JonR; 10-11-2013 at 06:05 PM.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by ronaldoortiz195 View Post
    Hello friends! I would like to know examples from modes in Led Zeppelin songs, especially the phrygian mode and the harmonic minor scale.
    Did Jimmy Page use scales like phrygian dominant?
    Thanks to all!
    I think that the numbers from those scales I hear. Maybe less b2, but if you want to sound like jimmy I'd doubt it would be from simplifying it to a scale.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Valentino View Post
    I think that the numbers from those scales I hear. Maybe less b2, but if you want to sound like jimmy I'd doubt it would be from simplifying it to a scale.
    thank you Ken..i would like to know examples of phrygian or harmonic minor in led zeppelin catalog...the solo from immigrant song live in how the west was won cd seems to me to have some phrygian in it...

  13. #13
    Yes I'm sorry the immigrant song actually would be easy to use b2 with. Sense there's a strong root on the b7, the b2 of the key can also be a b3 of the b7. Try 2,b3,2,1 to the b7. and then get back to the Key. If in the key of F# this would be F#,G,F#,E, F#

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Valentino View Post
    Yes I'm sorry the immigrant song actually would be easy to use b2 with. Sense there's a strong root on the b7, the b2 of the key can also be a b3 of the b7. Try 2,b3,2,1 to the b7. and then get back to the Key. If in the key of F# this would be F#,G,F#,E, F#
    Yes Ken. Immigrant song is entire in the key of F#m? Do you think Kashmir has phrygian in it?

  15. #15
    The G and A roots have a similar situation. A Bb would be a b2 to the A, but a b3 to the G. If you've memorized the sound of these numbers then you'll be able to hear it when it changes.

    The b2 also can add some symmetric issues to the 5 since they're a tritone apart. If you're memorizing the sound of everything in Phrygian I wouldn't skip over the 5 just because I thought I already knew it.

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