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Fretsource
(@fretsource)
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In about 20 years of serious piano study, I was never required to learn fingerings for modes. I've never taken guitar lessons, so I don't know where all this mode-lust is coming from. Is the term "mode" commonly used in guitar pedagogy for something other than the ancient "scales"?

There are two ways that the 7 modes are commonly understood by guitarists.

First is the ancient way you mentioned. i.e., Scales devised by medieval monks, that all have unique interval patterns and most of which were in common use long before the term 'major scale' was ever coined. Music written with those modes produces modal music of a distinct character depending on the mode used. I guess that you, like me, learned them this way, as that's how they're explained in music colleges, music dictionaries, etc.

Second, is a modern way that's been contrived by guitarists, in which those 7 modes are seen as modes of the major scale. Some guitarists think this way so that they can keep within the same scale when changing chord root.

Example - Someone is playing C F & G progression, and a guitarist improvises notes from the C major (C Ionian) scale over it. When the chord changes to F, they shift position to the F Lydian mode (FGABCDEF) and play those notes. The notes are exactly the same, of course. Only the scale fingering has changed so that F is the main starting note.

Of course, musically, it's not the Lydian mode at all. It's still C major but now based on F although the tonal centre hasn't changed - it's still C - so the mode is still major/ Ionian. But some guitarists find it convenient to think of that new fingering position as F Lydian, especially if they have a memorised scale shape associated with F Lydian that they can immediately jump to. It keeps them in the same C major scale - but starting from different points depending on the root of the current chord.
I think it's purely this logical fretboard fingering convenience that explains why it's only some guitarists that like to think of modes in this way, and not any other type of musician.


   
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Samer
(@samer)
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Perfect explanation, that's what i meant by learning modes.


   
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Crow
 Crow
(@crow)
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Fretsource, thanks. That clears up a lot of confusion on this end.

"You can't write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say sometimes, so you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream." - Frank Zappa


   
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Samer
(@samer)
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Example - Someone is playing C F & G progression, and a guitarist improvises notes from the C major (C Ionian) scale over it. When the chord changes to F, they shift position to the F Lydian mode (FGABCDEF) and play those notes. The notes are exactly the same, of course. Only the scale fingering has changed so that F is the main starting note.

Of course, musically, it's not the Lydian mode at all. It's still C major but ow based on F although the tonal centre hasn't changed - it's still C - so the mode is still major/ Ionian.

One thing i don't get, if you are going from C Ionian to F Lydian; who is to say the tonal center hasn't changed, they both share the same key right?

Isn't it up to interpretation then?


   
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Fretsource
(@fretsource)
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One thing i don't get, if you are going from C Ionian to F Lydian; who is to say the tonal center hasn't changed, they both share the same key right?

No - the difference between C major (Ionian) and F Lydian is precisely the tonal centre. They both have exactly the same notes so the only possible difference is the tonal centre. So if the tonal centre really did change we'd all hear it. F would now become the I chord and no longer be the IV chord.

Now in a simple song in C major using chords C, F & G7, the key is C major and the tonal centre is C. This usually never changes, throughout the song. F is chord IV, G7 is V7 and everytime we hear that F or G7, they always sound like chord IV & V7. They never sound like chord I. If the tonal centre was to change with the chord to F or G, then we would all hear F major or G major as sounding like chord I. In that case the mode of the song would truly be F Lydian (or G Mixolydian).
As long we hear C as the I chord, F as the IV chord and G7 as V7, then we can be sure that the tonal centre is still C.

One way to shift the tonal centre from C to F in that example is by staying on the F chord so long that we forget how the C or I chord sounded - F will then become the tonal centre by default and the mode of the music will be F Lydian


   
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Samer
(@samer)
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Got it, thanks for the replay.


   
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Ricochet
(@ricochet)
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Of course, when you're talking about a I-IV-V blues, you can always solo over any part of it in the signature key. No need to think of that as a "mode."

"A cheerful heart is good medicine."


   
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NoteBoat
(@noteboat)
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I find teaching individual scales to be pointless, if you don't understand how a scale coordinates in specific key how can you improvise or compose in that key?

This is exactly my point on why guitarists mess up modes.

If you play Miles Davis' "So What", you are playing in D Dorian - you are NOT playing in C major. If you think of playing in C major "starting from the second note" you're taking an unnecessary step - why would you ever think of a key you're not in?

This extra step, especially under the real-time pressure of improvising, means you won't be playing your best. You're mucking it up with too much thinking.

On the other hand, if you know D Dorian as a unique scale, you're good to go.

I agree that it's hard to learn modes as individual scales - so I don't teach them that way. I teach them as altered scales - D Dorian is the D natural minor with a raised sixth. Learning them this way is no harder than learning them as "related" scales, but it's a lot more practical.

I was originally taught the modes in college just as you were - as "related" scales. Like Crow, I spent a lot of time with them, in theory, history, and counterpoint classes, and I played in an early music recorder ensemble that did a fair bit of modal music. But I found them extremely difficult to improvise with.

Then I took some improvisation lessons with a jazz bassist. When we started working on modes I head real problems and he had me explain what I was thinking. I did (in 'related scale' terms) and he laughed and said "Man, that's just mental m*****"" (rhymes with relation)

He proceeded to show me how the modes were simply altered scales, and the scales fell off my eyes. It's the only way to go about actually playing modal music. Relative thinking is fine for passing a theory test, but it won't get you through chord changes in any coherent way - because as you noted, it's pointless if you don't know how a scale relates to the key you're in... and you are NOT in a "related" key!

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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kingpatzer
(@kingpatzer)
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My relationship with modes was much like Noteboats. My eye-opener came when playing with a jazz guitarist.

I tried to talk modes with him and he'd sit there listening to what I was trying to do, and then would just shake his head. He'd ask me "What chord is that" and I"d answer something like "CMaj7b9#11" or whatever it was. And he'd just say "Ok, if it's a major chord, play a major scale. If it's a minor chord, play a minor scale. then just change what doesn't fit."

I thought he was nuts for a quite a bit. But eventually it clicked. Modes complicate what is simple.

It is much easier to know one scale intimately than it is to know a dozen adequately.

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST


   
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Samer
(@samer)
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I find teaching individual scales to be pointless, if you don't understand how a scale coordinates in specific key how can you improvise or compose in that key?

This is exactly my point on why guitarists mess up modes.

If you play Miles Davis' "So What", you are playing in D Dorian - you are NOT playing in C major. If you think of playing in C major "starting from the second note" you're taking an unnecessary step - why would you ever think of a key you're not in?

This extra step, especially under the real-time pressure of improvising, means you won't be playing your best. You're mucking it up with too much thinking.

On the other hand, if you know D Dorian as a unique scale, you're good to go.

I agree that it's hard to learn modes as individual scales - so I don't teach them that way. I teach them as altered scales - D Dorian is the D natural minor with a raised sixth. Learning them this way is no harder than learning them as "related" scales, but it's a lot more practical.

I was originally taught the modes in college just as you were - as "related" scales. Like Crow, I spent a lot of time with them, in theory, history, and counterpoint classes, and I played in an early music recorder ensemble that did a fair bit of modal music. But I found them extremely difficult to improvise with.

Then I took some improvisation lessons with a jazz bassist. When we started working on modes I head real problems and he had me explain what I was thinking. I did (in 'related scale' terms) and he laughed and said "Man, that's just mental m*****"" (rhymes with relation)

He proceeded to show me how the modes were simply altered scales, and the scales fell off my eyes. It's the only way to go about actually playing modal music. Relative thinking is fine for passing a theory test, but it won't get you through chord changes in any coherent way - because as you noted, it's pointless if you don't know how a scale relates to the key you're in... and you are NOT in a "related" key!

I see what you mean, that's a valid point; the way i use modes is for example if you are playing in ii - V - I, i start my lead playing on the ii and think within the Dorian mode (so i start playing on the second notes of the Major scale).

Ill be honest i haven't had a chance to play with too many Jazz players, i would love the opportunity though; my improve skills are average. What i really want to learn is how they play inverted chords on the fly.

The music i write would be classified as technical death metal, so most of the time ill start with a riff, and figure out what i can add to it by seeing what key its in, and then following modes.


   
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kingpatzer
(@kingpatzer)
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I see what you mean, that's a valid point; the way i use modes is for example if you are playing in ii - V - I, i start my lead playing on the ii and think within the Dorian mode (so i start playing on the second notes of the Major scale).

All you're doing is playing the major scale of the I chord and making it complicated.

Modes are legitimately useful in some types of music - baroque and modal jazz, but most of the time they're really not useful at all. Guitarists are about the only group of musicians out there who obsess over modes.

[digress]
As a rule, guitarists have two characteristics not shared by other musicians. First, they rarely have much in the way of formal music education and second, they frequently don't know what notes they are playing when they play their instrument. For some reason that I honestly believe is related to those to points, guitarists ave a group have developed a real fetish for modes.

As it relates to the first point, because guitarists don't understand the concept of scales, and key, and basic harmony very well, and they really don't have a way to learn since they by and large don't read music, they pick up on modes because modes can be "taught" as a way of relating scale patterns to chord names. But what they are doing has little to nothing to do with modes at all. Rather, they're just learning to play a C major scale over a Dm chord when the song's in the key of C.

As for the second point, stop just about any player on any instrument in the middle of a riff and ask them to name the note they're playing, and they can do so easily. Stop a guitarist jamming away and point to a note and ask the name, and you'll watch them start hopping around the fretboard trying to find landmarks to name the note. Because guitarists don't know the guitar (again as a group), they resort to playing shapes and patterns rather than notes. "Modes" instead of being understood as a scales with their own properties, are just shapes to be associated with chord names. Yet another pattern to be used in a run.

What gets frustrating for teachers is when a guitar player starts asking about how to make their playing more interesting, the first question usually is "what scale/mode?"

So wrapped up in that one lone aspect of music are guitarists - because shapes are all so many have to hang their musical hats on - that we often completely forget that what makes music interesting isn't the scale. What makes music interesting is the arrangement of sound so as to create tensions and to resolve them in time. Scales do nothing but organize tones into patterns that give hints as to how dissonance might be created and resolved. But the scale is the barest of beginnings when it comes to the fullness of sound.

We never hear a student say "You know, my playing is all sounding the same, can you help me with my dynamics to give it more interest?" or "Gee, this is sounding dull, can you give me some pointers on rhythmic phrasing?" or "Man, my playing is getting stale, can you help me be more minimalist?" We never hear any of that. We hear "I want to sound better, what mode should I use?"

[/digress]

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST


   
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Crow
 Crow
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...

+1

"You can't write a chord ugly enough to say what you want to say sometimes, so you have to rely on a giraffe filled with whipped cream." - Frank Zappa


   
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Samer
(@samer)
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Well said, i think part of this is also related to the guitar not being a visual instrument (like the keyboard) and the fact that popular guitar music is typically straight forward.


   
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kingpatzer
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Keyboards are about the only really "visual" instruments. There's not much in the way of visual clues to let a trumpet player in on the note being played, or a sax player, or a trombonist, and folks playing concert strings have fewer visual clues than a guitarist does.

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." -- HST


   
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Samer
(@samer)
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True, but there are also a lot more amateur guitar players than amateur trumpet or sax player. The majority of guitar players pick up the instrument as a casual hobby where in order to play saxophone you have to be familiar with a genre of music that requires more technical proficiency and some kind of class / instruction on how to play the instrument.

That being said its still not an excuse for not understanding the instrument.


   
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