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Thread: Using Modes in the same Key for Soloing

  1. #1
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    Feb 2018

    Lightbulb Using Modes in the same Key for Soloing

    Hi guys!

    New here, but decided to post in this subforum instead of NMZ, because it is music theory related.

    My name is Igor, I've been making electronic music for 7 years, and also perform live: I play improvised dance music with modular synth, grooveboxes, drum machines, and stuff. I think I'll refrain from posting videos for now, because they may contain some enharmonic intervals (heheh) and I don't know if it's acceptable here or would get me banned.

    The actual question is this... after neglecting it for quite some time, I decided to pick up a guitar again and get more... scientific with it, this is how I came across some articles like Introduction to Modes. Here's an excerpt (courtesy of guitarchords247):

    If you are playing a piece in C major chord progression and keep playing C major scale over it, this will sound okay unless you start playing a mode based on the C major scale. If you play E Phrygian or F Lydian (these two modes are based on the C major scale) over this progression, you will not feel a significant difference in the resulting sound but if you play C Phrygian or C Lydian over this progression, you will immediately notice a shift in the overall mood created by these modes.
    So I want to try some things like this, this is a very interesting approach, it seems to me. As you know, in its most basic, there is a different one, where I would play D Dorian over Dm, and C Ionian over Cmaj, each time changing mode depending on a root note of a chord. But this seems somewhat boring to me, and I want to experiment with more open-ended approach, where melody and harmony do not share the same notes (polytonality, if you like). This is what is described as “playing C Phrygian or C Lydian over C major chord progression”. It seems that it is acceptable, at least in the guitar world: the article states that people like Steve Vai or Satriani do it, and (especially Vai's) harmonies are wonderful.

    Now, the main question(s).

    How do I go about applying this to my music? In simpler words, what is the general rule behind playing modes in the same Key (not of the same Key!)?

    Let’s imagine I decided to write a song. Something basic, like verse-chorus-verse, 3 to 4 minutes long, may contain lyrics or instrumental. Say, it's in F Major, and to spice it up, I want to play sth like F Mixolydian over it (I think picking F Locrian would be “going full retard” sort of thing, since it contains 6 flats? ). Now, what's next? Should I just pick a mode to my taste and stick to it on a duration of a whole song – or can I utilize several modes? For example, F Lydian seems to be nice choice as well, even if relatively “safe” (same notes as Cmaj, and one less flat compared to Fmaj), so it seems a good start.

    Can I start playing in this mode — some solo over my Fmaj progression, — but then make a break for a while, let just chords play (back to Fmaj) and come back with a more elaborate F Mixolydian melodic part? (Moving from simple to more advanced)? Or would it be “over-the-top”?

    Also, which modes are more tonal, so to speak (less enharmonic)? Do I just judge by the notes inside a mode/scale, or is there a general rule? So far, it seems to me, Locrian is the weirdest of all, my conclusion at this point.

    Last edited by radiokoala; 02-22-2018 at 06:27 AM.

  2. #2
    MMus, MA, PGCE JumpingJack's Avatar
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    Dec 2011
    Quote Originally Posted by radiokoala View Post
    If you are playing a piece in C major chord progression and keep playing C major scale over it, this will sound okay unless you start playing a mode based on the C major scale...
    If you're in C major, with an obvious C major chord progression, then you're in C major. It doesn't need to get any more complicated than that. Whether you solo using the Dorian mode on D, Phrygian mode on E, Lydian mode on F and so on is completely irrelevant, you're still in C major. (The only possible difference might be what note your solo starts on which is not generally important to the overall tonality.)

    If you suddenly find an F# in there (for example), it could indicate a variety of things; a possible modulation for example, a type of chord (such as a secondary dominant), or it could just be a passing chromaticism. Either way, you don't necessarily need to start wracking your brains thinking up whatever possible modes might be appropriate... Although the type of music will make a difference, keys (tonality) and modes are historically very different. It's generally best to think in terms of one of the other, but not both simultaneously.

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