a music theory blog

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Introduction to Modes

Well, here we are... Delving into the weird world of modal music. This is going to be the first part of a 3 or 4 part series explaining different ways to look at modes. You may not understand everything about modal music by the end of the series, but hopefully you'll be able to introduce a bit of moda flair into your playing, or experiment with some new ideas.

What exactly is a mode? This questions has alot of answers... I'll reveal them as we work through some of the patterns and definitions of the modes.

How many modes are there and what are they called? There are seven modes. I am going to cover the seven modes that all relate to the major scale in this article.

Let's start with the familiar C major scale:
C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C

This is the first mode you're going to learn (or hopefully already know). The major scale is also
called the Ionian mode.

Here is a list of all seven modes:

Ionian (Major Scale)

What is the purpose of modes? Modes create different types of tension and emphasis when played as melodies over a chord progression. One mode can make a progression sound bluesy (Mixolydian) or give it a spanish flair (Phyrgian).

How exactly does this work? One way to look at modes is to view each one as having a different interval pattern based off of the Major scale. This allows you to see which notes are sharped or flatted in each mode.

We established that the Ionian mode is the same as the Major scale of the key that you are in.
The interval patterns for each mode are as follows:

Ionian (Major Scale)
Dorian b3 b7
Phrygian b2 b3 b6 b7
Lydian #4
Mixolydian b7
Aeolian b3 b6 b7
Locrian b2 b3 b5 b6 b7

So how does this all apply to actually making modal music? If I were playing a chord progression in C Major, and the progression has a C7 in it (chord formula = 1 - 3 - 5 - b7), I could decide to emphasize the b7 by switching to the Mixolydian mode for a solo. This would reinforce the tension created by the dominant 7.

Each scale has its own unique sound:

Ionian (Major Scale) - happy
Dorian jazzy
Phrygian spanish
Lydian majestic
Mixolydian blues
Aeolian (Minor Scale) - dark
Locrian weird

So, if you have a blues progression, you can play the major scale with a b7 and it will add the blues tonality to your melody. If you want to add a Santana-esque spanish flair over a progression try playing the with the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th flatted and it will be spanish influenced.

Notice that the Aeolian is also the minor scale. We learned in our Circle of Fifths Lesson that the relative minor of a given key was a minor 3rd away (1 and a half steps). This leads me to the next way we're going to look at modes: as displaced scales (a scale with the same notes as the key that you are playing in but the beginning and ending notes are different i.e. C Dorian begins and ends on D, C Phrygian begins and ends on E, etc.). We'll get into this way of working modally in the next installment.

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Blogger Brad Bailey said...

I appreciate your basic discussion of modes. I intend to use it with a couple of students I have out here in the desert. It's kind of weird that I had to go to Iraq to get back to teaching guitar.

11:36 AM


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