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Thread: Modes. Why is it so hard?

  1. #1
    Latin Wedding Band Los Boleros's Avatar
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    Modes. Why is it so hard?

    Why are there so many questions and so many heated discussions regarding this topic if most of the information is well documented? There are great sites online as well as some well written articles write here on iBreathe. Yet time after time so much friction and so much misunderstanding. Here is what I think.
    • A good instructional book on modes from A to Z could be a very intense book with hundreds of pages, yet so many times you find it summarized in about 3-5 pages.
    • Many readers read the first section on diatonic modes in a basic major scale and learn the names of the modes, the arpegios and that it is all just one scale. They can get a grasp on that and say yeah I get it and move on. They keep doing this until they get to the advanced stuff. The truth is they are not ready for the advanced stuff yet.
    • People have gotten the Idea that modes start on their tonic.
    • Sometimes a thread is asking a basic question regarding the modes and people will Reply with advanced stuff that you wouldn't need to know untill you are at the more advanced stages. (I think this confuses people more than anything)
    • Sometimes a thread is asking an advanced question without thorough knowledge of the basics.
    • If you were taking lessons from a good teacher, He would introduce you to the modes and let you chew on excercises to enforce the basic knowledge. The progression would be slow but steady. Ultimately you would be learning the more advanced stuff but not until you are ready.
    • I sense a reall attitude sometimes that "Cause I learned it this way, it has to be the only way."


    There are many aspects to modes.
    • The basic knowledge of Modes, Their names, The associated Arpegios.
    • How each note of each mode relates to its associated arpegio.
    • Different fingerings for modes. How to use the same position for all seven modes.
    • How to play the same melody in each mode
    • Relationship to the relative minor.
    • The purpose of the locrian mode.
    • Harmonic minor and Melodic Minor.
    • Diminished scales and arpegios.
    • Using modes for chords of the moment verses over the entire progression.
    • The sound of modes over different chords.
    • Using modes other than Ionian or Aeolian over progressions.
    • Using modes in progressions with altered chords.
    • Modal progressions


    I wonder how much I am forgeting here. Help me out.

    It is my opinion that most of the people asking the questions have not really mastered the first four sections listed above and are getting bombarded with information from the last sections listed above. There is enough topic here for a real good book with lots of examples and excercises.

    what I would like to see here is your appoach to excercises the the topics listed above. Please specify the topic.
    example:
    Harmonic minor and melodic minor
    There was this kid named Yngwy............
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  2. #2
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    Heck, you should be writing an article. This is commonly the last theory jump for guitar players before they start exploring different styles and composition effectively. I'll be using this as a reference myself. Thanks!

  3. #3
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    You make some very good points and I also think you should be writing an article.

    I find a lot of people that are getting into modes want to know it all and since the first sections might be mentally easy to grasp it is very easy to jump ahead of yourself. How many beginers want to know the diminished scale or phrygian dominant when they can't even play a major scale around the circle of 5ths?

    Depending on the student, what I often do is start off with just Ionian. Learn it in 7 positions and then learn how to play it around the cirlce of 5ths in 7 positions. Then when you move on to other modes get them to play it through all 12 keys in a completely random order in 7 positions. Then move to aeolian, rinse and repeat. Each time a mode is introduced also introduce the corresponding argeggio and do all the circle of 5ths stuff with those. Then after aeolian add mixolydian and dorian. Start talking about ii-V-I progressions. Add the locrian and start talking about minor ii-V-i's. At this point they can start practicing these overtop of charts, popular songs or just random progressions. This way eventually I try and get it so all mode/scale/arpeggio practice is directly related to a song that is sitting infront of them.

    I find that if you teach people what modes are and how to play them all it isn't good enough. They have to have a piece of music sitting in front of them or else when they play over stuff they revert back to pentatonic, major and minor scales. I've always found that the closer you relate it to playing the more understandable it is, instead of just sitting and running up and down scales mindlessly.

  4. #4
    Latin Wedding Band Los Boleros's Avatar
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    Here is a quote that I copied and pasted from another forum.
    Quote Originally Posted by Auggie Doggie
    What I have noticed over many years is that 'modes' have become some bizarre rite of passage for guitarists. They feel that by having some knowledge of the modes, they have passed some kind of milestone. Oddly, this 'milestone' is often reached before the player has any concept of tonality or functional harmony.

    Adding fuel to the fire is that 'modes' are taught (and I condemn every text and teacher who repeatedly enforces this myth) as a series of fingering patterns on the fretboard. Fingering patterns are easy to memorize (often mistaken for knowledge), and they have names. People LOVE to name things; if we have a name to call it, we own it, or we know it. Legions of guitarists memorized a bunch of scale patterns, called them 'modes', and feel they have reached some major evolutionary step. Even worse, the modes have Greek names...and when someone starts speaking of things that have foreign names, they feel especially important, even if they're blowing smoke out their posterior.

    Guitar books, magazines, teachers, and especially message board users always seem to give the advice "learn your scales and modes and you will become a better soloist". Then they perpetuate that myth by feeding a bunch of dot diagrams to the player, teaching them the fingerboard by completely misusing a theory concept...and even worse, they also perpetuate the idea of 'use this pattern over this chord and you will be a soloing genius', with no mention of things like melody, harmony, or rhythm. Is it any wonder so many players think of a solo as a time to run their scales?

    I've heard a lot of players stake a claim to 'modes' as a basis for bragging rights. I've seen entire books about modes for guitarists, written by authors who honestly have NO F'ING CLUE what modes really are (or ever were). I've read analyses of music that mention a change of 'mode' every time a chord change occurs, while the same analyses never actually mention harmony! I've actually heard people speak of modes as if they are the pinnacle of music theory, and if you know the modes, you know all there is to know. All of these things are a damn shame.

    In reality, modes are a small (and in MANY cases, a completely nonexistent) issue. In modern practice, modes are merely a subset of the tonal system; in their original form (I even wrote a thread about it) they were MUCH different from how we view them now (as was music in general). Guitarists are obsessed with modes (as is clear by the number of threads about them), but somehow it doesn't occur to them that a working knowledge of the tonal system pretty much explains all there is to know about them. Modes are touted as some sort of musical holy grail, usually by the people who know the least about them.

    So, to summarize, modes are given WAY too much importance and emphasis...they are generally taught in a completely incorrect and horribly incomplete manner...and they are damned by virtue of their having names. One cannot just say 'I know harmony' or 'I know voice leading' or 'I know counterpoint' or 'I know melody'...those are broad yet abstract topics. However, one can say "I know the modes" (even when they usually don't know them), and back it up with a modicum of tangible evidence ("Lookie...I can play the Phrygian mode on my guitar if I play on these dots!"). That ties modes into ego, and there is your smoking gun.
    and to that I add...."Exactly! The modes are not a set of finger patterns. You can use any finger pattern and find all seven modes within it. Look at the piano. There is only one finger pattern for any given key yet they have access to all the modes."
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    Hey I like that bit...explains why half decent guitarists are a dime a dozen. Ask most of them to play an Ab dorian. Hey, no problem. How about a ii-V-I in Gb up and down only on the 3rd string?

  6. #6
    I am not very nice DemonSorcerer's Avatar
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    You know what's the problem with guitarists, nowadays??? THEY LOVE TO LOOK AT DOTS ON A FRETBOARD CHART!!!! Even, worse, they love to just follow the dots on the chart without asking what's happening on that chart...they love to memorize what they don't know...and the worst thing is that they LOVE blabbing about the modes & other suposedly called "complicated things" at other ppl just to feel superior...*sighs*

    What they don't like is to investigate...to search for clues...to look for a solid understanding of what they're doing...they don't give a damn about it, and even worse...they don't even know that they're screwing themselves up to their thoats...*sighs* I mean, how can an artist create a piece of art if he even doesn't know his colors?? and what those colors express?? and UNDERSTAND the whole context of Image Theory, Stetic and blah, blah...*sighs* i find it frustrating, you know?? Not for me, but i feel frustrated for them...If only they wanted to look far beyond the dots...

    Now tell me...imagine this...let's say i blindfold you...very tight...and i put a piece of music...maybe a 15 secs, well-based, long melody in C Lydian, for example...play it over and over and over...you have it stuck in your head...you're still blindfold and i give you a guitar...i whistle the long melody to you just to make sure you got it...now, can you play what you heard?? Can you play what's in your mind without looking at your l.h. fingers or fretboard?? think about it for a few secs...

    Modes, as any other (and every) scale, are just HARMONIC SITUATIONS...HARMONIC ENVIRONMENTS...HARMONIC PICTURES...and each one has its own qualities...think about this...let's say that you're staring at this picture of a snowy mountain lake, with tons of different blue tonalities...close your eyes and think of the pic...you can feel the wind, as you stare looking at the lake...you feel that you're in a fantasy place, as in a dream...everything is tranquil and calmed, and you just see the clouds as they roll in the sky...NOW!!!! stop thinking. what mode do you have on your head?? think of a melody that fits the situation...*sighs* It's LYDIAN...lydian has the specific intervals to fit THAT context, that situation...*sighs again*

    A few more words...Guitarists will learn and understand everythign they want to learn ONLY when they learn to listen with their ears and not with their fingers on the fretboard...

    David

  7. #7
    Latin Wedding Band Los Boleros's Avatar
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    Thank you David for that Picturesque analogy.
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  8. #8
    Registered User fortymile's Avatar
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    so...

    what can we do with these here modes, then, hey?

    for the love of GOD, someone, please.
    "All bad poetry is sincere" -- Oscar Wilde

  9. #9
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    What you can do with them depends on the level you are at. There is alot you can do at the basic to intermediate level. Alot. And then there's a whole lot more. Depends also on what your passion is too. Is it more Classical influence or Jazz?
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  10. #10
    Registered User fortymile's Avatar
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    i listen to classical sometimes, and am interested in jazz--albeit with the jazz in a very removed kind of way. i wouldn't be proper to call me a fan of either, because being a fan implies that you follow the stuff, buy it, seek it out.

    i'm all about pop rock, heavy guitars, and general composing. as in film scores. my classical tastes feed into that, but they're not very developed yet.

    so yeah. rock. my main interest for the past decade has been writing and learning to write rock songs.

    you mention classical and jazz, but not world. when i was 18 i became entranced with the lydian mode after hearing it and identifying it in an indian raga. i'm a big fan of indian music to this day. that mode inspired my interest in modes generally.

    sometime after that i noticed that i really loved the songs greensleeves and scarborough fair and a few other such songs which i believe are harmonized in the aeolian mode (might be wrong). since then i have strongly wanted to learn how modes can be used to write spooky, forlorn chord progressions containing an aura of mystery.

    my interest in modes doesn't go beyond that at this point. i am interested most of all in chord progressions, as they have the most utility for me as a songwriter. i'm not very interested in learning to solo with modes on the guitar at this time, though i will be in the future. the way in which i AM interested in modal soloing concerns how modes can be used to impart modal flavor to vocal lines. which covers the same sort of ground as modal guitar soloing.

    i am trying to figure out what i need to learn in order to write a SONG that itself sounds modal in the same way that greensleeves or scarborough fair does. it's been a while since i've looked at them and i have temporarily forgotten any insights i might have had. i remember thinking 'if this is aeolian harmony, then what would lydian harmony sound like? a song written to sound spooky in the lydian way?'

    i've never answered that question.
    "All bad poetry is sincere" -- Oscar Wilde

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by fortymile
    i listen to classical sometimes, and am interested in jazz--albeit with the jazz in a very removed kind of way. i wouldn't be proper to call me a fan of either, because being a fan implies that you follow the stuff, buy it, seek it out.

    i'm all about pop rock, heavy guitars, and general composing. as in film scores. my classical tastes feed into that, but they're not very developed yet.
    For this I would recommend a regiment of Theory in the Diatonic scale dept. and get to really know harmony up the the seventh degree. Whats cool about rock is that while most progressions are triad based, it's the melody that brings out the kool 9ths and 11th etc. with tension/release.
    Quote Originally Posted by fortymile
    you mention classical and jazz, but not world. when i was 18 i became entranced with the lydian mode after hearing it and identifying it in an indian raga. i'm a big fan of indian music to this day. that mode inspired my interest in modes generally.
    You and I both feel the same there.
    Quote Originally Posted by fortymile
    sometime after that i noticed that i really loved the songs greensleeves and scarborough fair and a few other such songs which i believe are harmonized in the aeolian mode (might be wrong). since then i have strongly wanted to learn how modes can be used to write spooky, forlorn chord progressions containing an aura of mystery.
    Thanks for the references. Take greensleaves in Em.
    As the chords decend down the Em scale, i,VII,VI,V7, the melody follows the chords very closely. One of the very first disiplines to harmony is to be able to play within the chords and that is what is happening here. This is the starting place for modal recognition. Each mode represent the chord being played.
    Code:
    Em  chord	E Aeolian
    E---------------------------
    B---------------------------
    G-------------4--5--4------
    D-------5--7--------------
    A----7---------------------
    E--------------------------
    *in E Aeolian,   this melody is	1  3  4  5  6  5
     
    D chord	  D Mixolydian
    E---------------------------
    B---------------------------
    G---------------------------
    D--7--4---------4----------
    A--------5--7-------------
    E-------------------------- 
    *in D Mixolydian, this melody is  5 3  1  2  3
     
    C chord	C  Lydian
    E---------------------------
    B---------------------------
    G--------------------------
    D---5------------------------
    A------7--7--6--7-----------
    E----------------------------
    *in C Lydian this melody is 5  3  3  b3  3.  The b3 here is an embelishment in anticipation of the dominant chord to come.
     
    B7 chord   B Phrygian  E Harmonic minor scale
    E-----------------------------
    B-----------------------------
    G----------------------------
    D--4--4----------------------
    A--------6-------------------
    E------------7--------------- 
    *in B phrygian this melody is  5  5  3  1
    Anything in these melodies that is not a 1,3,5 or 7 is a tention note. Basically your 2,4,6 aer your tentions notes for each mode.
    Quote Originally Posted by fortymile
    my interest in modes doesn't go beyond that at this point. i am interested most of all in chord progressions, as they have the most utility for me as a songwriter. i'm not very interested in learning to solo with modes on the guitar at this time, though i will be in the future. the way in which i AM interested in modal soloing concerns how modes can be used to impart modal flavor to vocal lines. which covers the same sort of ground as modal guitar soloing.
    While some people say that they do the chords first and the melodies later or the melodies first and the chords later, you eventually have to turn up a finished song with both chords and a melody that jive. The disiplines practiced above forms a nice marriage of chords and melody. Grant it greensleeves is not Shred, it does have a great melody. I have to repeat that this is the very basics to modes. You could stop your theory studying here for a while and become a great musician just getting a good handle on this basic stuff.
    Quote Originally Posted by fortymile
    i am trying to figure out what i need to learn in order to write a SONG that itself sounds modal in the same way that greensleeves or scarborough fair does. it's been a while since i've looked at them and i have temporarily forgotten any insights i might have had. i remember thinking 'if this is aeolian harmony, then what would lydian harmony sound like? a song written to sound spooky in the lydian way?'
    Writing songs like these are quite easy since they don't involve any heavy duty theory to come up with it. They involve chord progressions that Have Been Done Before Millions Of Times. Don't be afraid to take a progression that you already know and use it for your own composition because diatonically speaking, it is impossible to come up with a new progression.

    You took some time to answer that question and you gave me a great response. I hope that find this usefull.

    Rudy
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    fan of the G string curiousgeorge's Avatar
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    Article, Article, ARTICLE!!! Please and thank you!

  13. #13
    Registered User fortymile's Avatar
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    los boleros,

    thanks muchly for that, but i'm afraid i still can't grasp the central point behind the chart. i read it three times. you talk about greensleeves, saying it's in e minor. that would mean it is using all the DIATONIC chords. and you are saying that the notes of the melody...here i lose track of what youre saying.

    how do those other modes relate to greensleeves?

    i understand what playing within the chords means.

    i know what tensions are.

    so youre saying that, as the chords change, you play within them, and the various tensions you add over top of them produce modal effects?

    surely that can't be all there is to writing modal-sounding songs?

    also, someone else here mentioned, i thought, that this was the wrong way to think about modes.

    thanks man...still confused, but i welcome/appreciate the discussion
    "All bad poetry is sincere" -- Oscar Wilde

  14. #14
    Latin Wedding Band Los Boleros's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fortymile
    los boleros,
    how do those other modes relate to greensleeves?

    i understand what playing within the chords means.

    i know what tensions are.

    so youre saying that, as the chords change, you play within them, and the various tensions you add over top of them produce modal effects?

    surely that can't be all there is to writing modal-sounding songs?

    also, someone else here mentioned, i thought, that this was the wrong way to think about modes.

    thanks man...still confused, but i welcome/appreciate the discussion
    You are right in thinking that there is allot more to modes. This however is the most basic level of modes. There are really no modal effects to speak of in this example. It is strictly Diatonic. You could just as well say I am playing in the key of e minor and that's it. But, using this as an excercise, and thinking of each chord in the progression as having its own mode allows you to associate how the scale relates to that one chord of the moment.

    Take this section for example:
    Code:
    D chord D Mixolydian
    E---------------------------
    B---------------------------
    G---------------------------
    D--7--4---------4----------
    A--------5--7-------------
    E-------------------------- 
    *in D Mixolydian, this melody is 5 3 1 2 3
    When the progression goes to the D chord, you are still in E minor scale. D mixolydian is in the key of E minor as are all the modes listed above. Now we think of D mixolydian as being its own scale.
    D is the 1, E is the 2, F# is the 3,G is the 4, A is the 5, B is the 6 and C is the 7.
    With that the melody played over the D chord is 5 3 1 2 3 in D mixolydian. Now we can see our tention and release as it is written. There is only one tension note in that phrase. It is the 2 (or 9).

    The point here is that modes are not fingering patterns but merely the re-numberization of the notes in the key of E minor.

    Again I state this is the most basic level of modal theory. I am not talking about using E dorian over the E minor chord. That would be a more advanced aspect of the modes and one that you can make better use of if you first master the basics.
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    Registered User fortymile's Avatar
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    hmm, yeah, i think i'm familiar with this already

    i know that in the key of c, for example, the dmin7 chord traces out notes from d dorian, the fmaj7 chord traces out notes from f lydian, etc. so you could be playing in the key of c and hit the f major chord and, while you're on that chord, you could accent the fourth note--the B. you could suppose for a minute that by hitting a B you're 'sharping the fourth' compared to the type of fourth a normal F major scale would include, and thereby surprising the ear modally. if that's what you're suggesting here, i'm not sure how much that gets to the heart of what i'm trying to learn.

    because the way i see it, if you're doing that, you're still playing completely within the home scale of c major AND your ear remembers and identifies with the tonic C major as the stable tonal center. so while using this method, yes--you accent tensions in relation to the chord, but you're not acenting modal tensions in relation to the tonal center of the key. which is where your ear is really invested. and the result is, it doesn't sound very modal to me. it sounds major. it IS major. what you're showing above is logically true, but does it lead to modal sounding things within the context of the chord progression? no.

    does that make sense? this is a huge part of what i'm having trouble grasping.

    it would seem to me that if you want to write, for example, a phrygian sounding song, you basically have to include the major chord build on the flat II, being that that chord is the most easily recognized aspect of phrygian mode. this being true, playing this sort of modal progression seems to involve re-defining the tonic to the location where a diatonic chord can be found one half-step above the tonic. is this not true? to do this you're still using the diatonic chords of c major but you're treating e minor as the tonic now.
    Last edited by fortymile; 12-04-2004 at 08:49 PM.
    "All bad poetry is sincere" -- Oscar Wilde

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