Question about using Modal Scales

Question about using Modal Scales

Postby Emoto » Thu Oct 15, 2009 11:30 am

So, something a buddy said to me kind of brought about an "aha moment" for me about the different modes. So, now I (sort of) know a way to play each mode based on an ordinary major scale, based on where I start the scale. For example, in E, if I start the scale on a D, the mode is Dorian. Correct so far?

Anyhow, thinking about playing along in a song and choosing the mode consciously, do I choose the mode based on the particular chord I am soloing over at that moment, or based on the key of the song? For example, a song in the key of A and the chord at the moment is D. If I want to play Dorian, does my scale start on a G or a C? Am I making sense?
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Re: Question about using Modal Scales

Postby wisedyes » Thu Oct 15, 2009 12:10 pm

I'm pretty sure that there have been many threads about this topic already, you may want to run a search and see what you come up with. If I remember correctly, there was some really good info in some of those. However, here is a quick breakdown of modes.

You are correct in that the modes follow the diatonic chords of the Major scale ( although there are also minor modes that follow the diatonic chords of minor scales ).The chords are as follows ( we'll use C Major to avoid sharps and flats ).

C - C major ( I or tonic ) extension - CMaj7 C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C
D - D minor ( ii or dorian ) - Dmin7 D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D
E- E minor ( iii or phyrgian ) - Emin7 E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E
F - F major ( IV or lydian ) - FMaj7 F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F
G - G major ( V or mixolydian ) - G7 G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G
A - A minor ( vi or aeolian ) - Amin7 A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A
B - B minor ( vii or locrian ) - Bmin7b5 B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B

So, if you look at the notes in the modal scales, they are all the same, just arranged in a different order. Doing this gives you different orders of major and minor intervals in the different modes, though, and each corresponds to the chord it is based off of. So, if say you are playing, to use your example, in A, and the chord of the moment is D, then that would be the 4th scale degree of A, or the lydian mode ( in C it would be F ). So, you could play A Major or D lydian all over that D chord, and either would sound fine, they would both be very safe, inside choices.
However, you could also go more outside, and play any of the modes from A Major over that D chord, although some are going to sound much better than others. Some will be funky as hell.The best primer to listen to for getting the idea behind modal playing that I can think of is Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. The whole thing is an exercise in modal improvisation.
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Re: Question about using Modal Scales

Postby Emoto » Thu Oct 15, 2009 12:21 pm

wisedyes wrote:I'm pretty sure that there have been many threads about this topic already, you may want to run a search and see what you come up with. If I remember correctly, there was some really good info in some of those. However, here is a quick breakdown of modes.

You are correct in that the modes follow the diatonic chords of the Major scale ( although there are also minor modes that follow the diatonic chords of minor scales ).The chords are as follows ( we'll use C Major to avoid sharps and flats ).

C - C major ( I or tonic ) extension - CMaj7 C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C
D - D minor ( ii or dorian ) - Dmin7 D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D
E- E minor ( iii or phyrgian ) - Emin7 E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E
F - F major ( IV or lydian ) - FMaj7 F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F
G - G major ( V or mixolydian ) - G7 G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G
A - A minor ( vi or aeolian ) - Amin7 A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A
B - B minor ( vii or locrian ) - Bmin7b5 B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B

So, if you look at the notes in the modal scales, they are all the same, just arranged in a different order. Doing this gives you different orders of major and minor intervals in the different modes, though, and each corresponds to the chord it is based off of. So, if say you are playing, to use your example, in A, and the chord of the moment is D, then that would be the 4th scale degree of A, or the lydian mode ( in C it would be F ). So, you could play A Major or D lydian all over that D chord, and either would sound fine, they would both be very safe, inside choices.
However, you could also go more outside, and play any of the modes from A Major over that D chord, although some are going to sound much better than others. Some will be funky as hell.The best primer to listen to for getting the idea behind modal playing that I can think of is Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. The whole thing is an exercise in modal improvisation.


Wow, lots o stuff. And thanks for that answer! I realize that there are probably a lot of threads, but I am a slow learner and have to kind of take a tiny nibble and then digest it for a while, so I just thought to ask the one question.
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Re: Question about using Modal Scales

Postby waldo041 » Thu Oct 15, 2009 12:44 pm

OR to reiterate wisedyes statements.

you can look at the key and start at any one of the major modes.

for this example the Key of A with all three major modes.
A - ionian ,
A - mixolydian,
Or A - Lydian.

If you start off in;

A - Lydian then the 4th degree is D - Locrian. so you can also try these.

or if you start with;

A - MixoLydian the the 4th degree is D - Ionian. or this also.

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Re: Question about using Modal Scales

Postby RiverRat » Thu Oct 15, 2009 2:26 pm

Email sent to you Mr Emoto.... It is a little different than the answers you're gonna get.
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Re: Question about using Modal Scales

Postby myoung6923 » Fri Oct 16, 2009 3:51 am

What mode you choose depends on the chord progression. For example A song in Dm you might use say D dorian because it has a flat 3rd in it which will fit nicely. As long as the other chords in the progression fit within the D dorian (ex - all of their notes are also within D dorian) then you can stick with that mode for the whole song.

Some progressions will require you to change modes - like the jam in eyes. On the Emaj 7 I use E maj (ionian) but you'll notice that during the Bm the flat 3rd is missing. To make it really fit you'll need to change modes to B dorian.
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Re: Question about using Modal Scales

Postby Billbbill » Fri Oct 16, 2009 6:30 am

myoung6923 wrote:Some progressions will require you to change modes - like the jam in eyes. On the Emaj 7 I use E maj (ionian) but you'll notice that during the Bm the flat 3rd is missing. To make it really fit you'll need to change modes to B dorian.


Question here - would this be considered more of key a change or modal change? When i go from soloing over the Emaj7 to the Bm (not taking into account any chromaticism) I just change from the Eb note over the Emaj 7 chord, to the D note over the Bm chord. All else is the same (also not considering some pentatonic runs within the standard 7 note scale). Would seem to me that even this slight change represents a key change rather than a modal change as the modes are generally viewed as existing within one key, all the same notes, with only differing intervals. No? Or no. :smile:

Just got me thinking is all.

Also for Emoto i think in your IP you got the E and D thing backwards - In D the Dorian mode would start on E...I think. :smile:
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Re: Question about using Modal Scales

Postby myoung6923 » Fri Oct 16, 2009 7:13 am

Billbbill wrote:Question here - would this be considered more of key a change or modal change? When i go from soloing over the Emaj7 to the Bm (not taking into account any chromaticism) I just change from the Eb note over the Emaj 7 chord, to the D note over the Bm chord. All else is the same (also not considering some pentatonic runs within the standard 7 note scale). Would seem to me that even this slight change represents a key change rather than a modal change as the modes are generally viewed as existing within one key, all the same notes, with only differing intervals. No? Or no. :smile:


I think it's just all in the name - B dorian would be considered a key change - but if you want to call it E mixolydian while you play the Bm then it would be a modal change - but they are really the same thing.
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Re: Question about using Modal Scales

Postby RiverRat » Fri Oct 16, 2009 7:34 am

The mode should fits the chord you're playing over, not the key you're playing in... That's why there are accidentals. Notes in the chord progression that fit within a certain chord but do not fit within the current key.

But a Bmin chord with no b3rd isn't a Bmin... Only until you add that b3rd in the melody does it become one.
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Re: Question about using Modal Scales

Postby Rusty the Scoob » Fri Oct 16, 2009 8:57 am

Billbbill wrote:
myoung6923 wrote:

Also for Emoto i think in your IP you got the E and D thing backwards - In D the Dorian mode would start on E...I think. :smile:


Billbill is correct - Starting with the D Major scale (i.e. key signature of two sharps) the Dorian scale would be built on E.

Starting with an E major scale you can't really build a mode on D because the E major scale contains only a D#.

If you're talking about E Mixolydian, the seventh mode would be D E F# G# A B C# D, or D Lydian.

I'm probably not helping... :lol: Let me start over.

I look at the modes as built on scale degrees. In C major it's

C Ionian (aka Major)
D Dorian (minor with a raised 6th)
E Phrygian (minor with a flatted 2nd)
F Lydian (Major with a raised 4th)
G Mixolydian (Major with a flatted 7th - good ol' blues scale)
A Aeolian (aka minor)
B Locrian (minor with a flatted 2nd and 5th - very spooky)


Learn that well and you can then easily transpose the whole thing to be built on any major scale. That's how I came up with D Lydian matching E Mixolydian.

Whoops.. looks like I just re-wrote WisedEyes's chart my own way. Shame on me for not really reading the thread....
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Re: Question about using Modal Scales

Postby myoung6923 » Fri Oct 16, 2009 9:26 am

RiverRat wrote:The mode should fits the chord you're playing over, not the key you're playing in... That's why there are accidentals. Notes in the chord progression that fit within a certain chord but do not fit within the current key.


While there are absolutely no hard and fast rules - and for every rule there's perfect way to break it - most of the stuff that Jerry played was one particular mode that fit the whole progression - with lots of exceptions of course. But - one mode that fits over the whole progression sounds very complete and harmonious.
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Re: Question about using Modal Scales

Postby wisedyes » Fri Oct 16, 2009 6:26 pm

Probably the best way to practice this, so that you'll learn to hear the changes when the chord changes, is to become familiar with the ii-V-I progression. This is by far the most common chord progression in jazz, and it really lends itself to playing modally - which, to me, is just a way of really making your lines accentuate the underlying harmony.

In A Major, the ii-V-I will be Bmin7 ( the ii minor ), E7 ( the V dominant 7 ), and then A Maj7. So, using modes of the A Major scale, over the Bmin7 use B dorian, and then E mixolydian over the E7, and then A Ionian ( A Major ) over the A Maj7. Yes, in reality, they are all the same notes - but by stressing the different modes, you get different intervallic structures in the lines, and that gives them their flavor. This is why the dorian mode sounds diatonic over the Bmin7, or it "fits", but over say the A Maj7 it sounds a little off. However, you can also substitute various modes ( or chords in a major scale ) for each other with awesome effects. One of the easiest ways to make your lines sound jazzy is to play the dorian mode over both the ii minor and the V dominant chord before switching to ionian over the I Major chord. The reason this works ( and it was Wes Montgomery's favorite ) is the "V of V" substitution - play the minor dorian scale of the V chord of whatever the V7 chord is of the key you are currently in. ( So, in A Major, your V chord is E7 - the V chord of E is B7 - so play B dorian over the E7 chord. Gives it a very jazz sound.
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Re: Question about using Modal Scales

Postby Emoto » Sat Oct 17, 2009 9:11 am

Damn. You guys are good, but this is so much info that my head may explode. :lol:

Still, much to try...
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Re: Question about using Modal Scales

Postby cunamara » Thu Oct 29, 2009 7:49 pm

Emoto, there have been previous discussions about using modes and they say most of the things you've already heard in this thread, just in various ways.

We learn the scales and get them under our fingers mechanically and get the sounds in our ears so that we *don't* have to think explicitly "hmm, Bmin7, I think I'll play the B Aeolian scale over that" because by the time we've gotten through that thought we will be three bars behind the rest of the band! We can just play that spooky sound or that sweet sound or that sad sound to express and evoke the emotions we want to express or evoke.

Try this: loop 24 bars of A minor in a tape or on your computer. Then solo 8 bars each in the key of G major, F major and C major (the three major keys in which an A minor naturally occurs). You will hear the emotional tone change and that is the aural effect of modal playing. Respectively, that would be in the B Dorian, B Lydian and B Aeolian modes. You can do the same thing over C major and play in C, F and G major (Ionian, Mixolydian and Lydian modes, respectively- remember, all the modes relate back to a parent major scale). With practice you know what those modes sound like over those chords and you will easily select the one that provides the effect you want when soloing.

Hope this helps. Basically: play the modes, learn the sound of each and the emotions they represent to you, and think about applying those *sounds* to a musical situation rather than focusing on the *mode*.

We can get into the modes of the harmonic minor scale another time <evil cackle>.
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Re: Question about using Modal Scales

Postby Emoto » Fri Oct 30, 2009 6:52 am

cunamara wrote:Emoto, there have been previous discussions about using modes and they say most of the things you've already heard in this thread, just in various ways.

We learn the scales and get them under our fingers mechanically and get the sounds in our ears so that we *don't* have to think explicitly "hmm, Bmin7, I think I'll play the B Aeolian scale over that" because by the time we've gotten through that thought we will be three bars behind the rest of the band! We can just play that spooky sound or that sweet sound or that sad sound to express and evoke the emotions we want to express or evoke.

Try this: loop 24 bars of A minor in a tape or on your computer. Then solo 8 bars each in the key of G major, F major and C major (the three major keys in which an A minor naturally occurs). You will hear the emotional tone change and that is the aural effect of modal playing. Respectively, that would be in the B Dorian, B Lydian and B Aeolian modes. You can do the same thing over C major and play in C, F and G major (Ionian, Mixolydian and Lydian modes, respectively- remember, all the modes relate back to a parent major scale). With practice you know what those modes sound like over those chords and you will easily select the one that provides the effect you want when soloing.

Hope this helps. Basically: play the modes, learn the sound of each and the emotions they represent to you, and think about applying those *sounds* to a musical situation rather than focusing on the *mode*.

We can get into the modes of the harmonic minor scale another time <evil cackle>.


Thanks for the ideas! This is kind of "back filling" things for me. I have noodled enough to be able to more or less call up a sad or happy sound or whatever, but am now trying to understand the nuts and bolts so I can improve. Like so much of my life, I am doing it ass-backwards. :lol:
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