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Modes, Please Help

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(@kingpatzer)
Noble Member
Joined: 17 years ago
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Sure. My view is that modes, when harmonized, produce the exact same chords as the major scale does (because modes consist of the same notes).

Therefore modes can't introduce new harmonic elements by themselves. The defining sound of a mode is created by the relationships of the notes to the tonic, not by any chords applied to harmonize those notes.

Doesn't that depend on if you're using relative or parrallel modes? Further, even if you're using relative modes, using the modal tones to suggest chord structures WILL introduce tones not in the major scale in the harmony.

The Dorian, Phrygian, and Aeolian modes will have a minor sound, because of the minor third in their scales. Each produces a minor chord on the tonic when harmonized. The Ionian, Lydian, and Mixolydian each produces a major chord on the tonic when harmonized. So if you have a Dm chord over a D tonic, it's impossible from that alone to determine if you're in D Dorian, D Phrygian, or D Aeolian... and even adding other chords to the mix won't help - it's the same chords derived from any of those scales.

I understand what you're saying here and agree with it.

Because of the prevalence of major/minor tonality in Western music, our ears interpret Dorian and Phrygian (and even Aeolian, since the most common minor scale is the harmonic) as minor scales with altered notes - the same is true of the lydian and mixolydian - we hear a major scale with a #4 or b7. We'll hear that difference whether it's supported by harmony or not; we won't hear a difference with the harmony itself.

IF all you're doing is simple tri-tones for your harmony, I agree. But isn't the point of a good composition of harmony to highlight the melody and draw it out? Use voicings that avoid the tritone and the mode will be defined in the harmony as well.
So you CAN create a 'modal harmony' without using a mode. Am-Em-C accompanying a C major melody would be one example of a modal harmony. However, it doesn't turn C into some other mode, and it isn't rooted in church modes - it's rooted in a theoretical explanation of melodies that weren't modes to begin with.

I'd argue that most of our use of modes aren't "rooted in church modes," period. Sure, it's where the structures were first observed, and it's where the names came from, but it's not like we turn to the theological texts highlighting the spiritual implications of tonal combinations to decide what mode we'll play in.
I've gotten into some arguments with other folks deep into theory on this topic - it seems they always like to bring up Schenkerian analysis at this point - Schenker's foreground/midground/background view of music is brought up, that the three 'layers' can be thought of as independent, and therefore the harmonic layer is modal all by itself. Frankly, I find it kind of funny that Schenker is used as the main ammunition - he felt modes were inferior to major/minor tonality. But I digress.

I have no idea who Schenker is/was, so I'm passing on this :)

I stress modes as purely melodic elements for three reasons:

1. Understanding elements of theory, harmony, form, etc., is best done in a historic perspective. Modes were used only in unharmonized plainsong for the first 1000 years of their existence.

While I do believe that history is improtant, I'd argue with you that the relevance of theory is in understanding music as it is played and heard today. Anchoring one's self to gregorian chant doesn't particularly help analyze a piece of modern fusion jazz written by someone who never studied chant.
2. Because modes can be conceptually related to the notes of a major scale, they are devilishly easy to talk about without understanding them. "The C scale from D to D" describes D Dorian, but it isn't D Dorian - D Dorian is a scale with the pattern W-H-W-W-W-H-W. As soon as you start thinking in terms of a C scale, you lose the essence of the mode.

And this seems to me to argue FOR not limiting modes to melody. If the music is written in a scale with the pattern "W-H-W-W-W-H-W" that happens to start on D, then the harmony of that piece should play with that structure, and not be merely a C-scale harmony.

3. Although harmony can enhance modes, and modal harmony is one way to approach that enhancement, modal harmony did not develop from modes. Modes are confusing enough without bringing a similarly named concept into the picture.

I'm not sure why you say that "modal harmony did not develop from modes," when the whole point of modal harmony is in fact to highlight the tonic center and build upon the mode in the harmony.

Don't get me wrong, I don't consider myself a music theory expert . . . I'm really just starting to get into this stuff. But much of what you say simply makes me scratch my head, so I'm asking questions and commenting about what is transpiring inside my noggin when I read your comments.

"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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(@noteboat)
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Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 4933
 

Doesn't that depend on if you're using relative or parrallel modes?No - a parallel mode will introduce the exact same harmony as its relative Ionian. if you go from F major to F Lydian, the chords - the harmony that's natural to the melody notes - will be identical to a move from F major to C major. So the harmonic element deals with the tonality of F major anc C major; it's the melody, the continued use of the F as the tonal center, that determines the mode.

If you were to play an F melody, and harmonize a portion of it with Bº instead of Bb major, or G major instead of G minor, melody will still contain the Bb note - changing the harmony will not change the mode of the piece. Using such a harmony will detract from the strength of the mode, no question... but it's not going to place it in F Lydian, bcause the Bb is still present in the melody line.
Use voicings that avoid the tritone and the mode will be defined in the harmony as well I assume you mean the tritone present between the 3rd and 5th in a dominant chord. The problem with saying the mode is defined in the harmony is that the absence of V-I or V-i leaves the key in question - is Am-Dm-C a i-iv-III in A Aeolian, a vi-ii-I in C Ionian, or a v-i-III in D Dorian? "Modal harmony" doesn't really define the mode at all - it supports the mode already established by the melody (or undermines it, if that's the composer's intent).
I'd argue that most of our use of modes aren't "rooted in church modes," period. That's like saying most rock songs aren't rooted in blues. It's true to a point, because of musical evolution... but the modes themselve are undeniably rooted in church music - just as the major/minor scales are rooted in classical harmony, whether you use them in classical music or bluegrass. Although we don't turn to theological texts to use modes, it's amazing how much of music has come from that theological backdrop... for instance, the use of 'C' to indicate 4/4 didn't come from 'common time' - it came from a broken circle (a circle was perfect, the Trinity was perfect, a circle therefore indicated triple time, and a broken circle duple or quadruple time).
Anchoring one's self to gregorian chant doesn't particularly help analyze a piece of modern fusion jazz written by someone who never studied chant. I don't advocate teaching modes by learning Gregorian chant - I advocate approaching them as alterations of a scale. That's got a lot more relevance, and a lot fewer pitfalls than viewing them as a shifted tonal center. When I'm talking about historic perspective, I mean that modes have been used as a melodic element, and modal harmony doesn't create a mode. Most discussion about modal harmony begins with the assumption that they're related to the modes somehow... it throws folks off the track, in my opinion.
If the music is written in a scale with the pattern "W-H-W-W-W-H-W" that happens to start on D, then the harmony of that piece should play with that structure, and not be merely a C-scale harmony. But you end up with Dm-Em-F-G-Am-Bº-C-Dm... the same chords that harmonize a C major scale. The chords won't tell you what mode you're in - they might support the mode, but they can't determine it.
I'm not sure why you say that "modal harmony did not develop from modes," when the whole point of modal harmony is in fact to highlight the tonic center and build upon the mode in the harmony
Modal harmony was the term applied to explain the non-classical harmonies used in classical compositions derived from folk music. For example, Chopin's Mazurka (Op. 24 No. 2) uses melody notes from the C major scale - but the phrases move the tonal center all over the place. The melody is setting up a modal feeling which changes from phrase to phrase - sometimes in C Ionian, sometimes in F Lydian, etc. The harmony, rather than supporting the modes, moves about as well... in a phrase ending on G, the chords act as if C is the tonal center, yet a few bars later both melody and harmony are centered on A. The shifting of the harmony away from, and back to, agreement with the melody, was termed 'modal harmony' - but take away the melody, and you've got a progression that solidly suggests C major and Am. So the point of 'modal harmony' isn't really to build on the mode - it's to move the tonality from what's expected by classical harmony.

In that sense, it's similar to modes in effect - modes shift one or more notes away from what our ears expect the major or minor scale to do; modal harmony presents chords in places we don't expect to hear them. But modal harmony doesn't create modes.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


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(@alfonso)
Active Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 8
 

"Now comes the sticky part: if you're playing in C, and you decide you'll switch to a mode related to C major (like F Lydian) and play there for a while... it won't work. You'll think you're doing something, but it's a waste of time; the tonal center determines what the ear expects, so all people will hear is C major - no matter what you do." **This is the quote from NoteBoat I was referring to in my post.

oh, hey here ya go again... this is to the o, I only wish I could have posted it earlier cause it's exactly what noteboat is talking about and you can see it in pattern form at this site I'm directing you to... And if you check it out Kingpatzer then maybe there won't be any confusion.

http://www.rickdelsavio.com/lessons/major_scale.pdf


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(@kingpatzer)
Noble Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 2198
 

Alfonso,

Actually, it's not what Noteboat is talking about. Those are modal scales, but it's also true that any moda can be played in any position. That sheet, in my mind, is confusing, because it implies that modes are related to fret position when they are not.

"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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(@noteboat)
Famed Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 4933
 

That last one is actually a pretty good article - the slant is on modes as scales, and on 'parallel' modes - viewing them as alterations of the major or minor. That's exactly the way I teach them.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


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(@alfonso)
Active Member
Joined: 18 years ago
Posts: 8
 

Kingpatzer,
Maybe sometime soon I'll realize the confusion, until then, happy pickin'

'Alfonso,

Actually, it's not what Noteboat is talking about. Those are modal scales, but it's also true that any moda can be played in any position. That sheet, in my mind, is confusing, because it implies that modes are related to fret position when they are not. 8)


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(@321barf)
Estimable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 133
 

Tom,

Let's say I wanted to compose something in C Ionian.Would the starting place be to invent a melody based on C Ionian and then would the starting point for harmonizing that melody not be the harmonised Ionian scale?

If so then why should it be any different for say D Dorian?
Why wouldn't I start by inventing a D Dorian melody and then begin looking at harmonizing that melody with the harmonised D Dorian scale as a starting place?

Is there anything wrong with that from a beginner's perspective?
You gotta start somewhere,right?

Because it seems you're skipping over the bare basics and jumping ahead and talking about much more advanced harmony concpets that are sailing way over most of our heads.

Or maybe I'm just a total meathead,lol.


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(@noteboat)
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Joined: 19 years ago
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That's a perfectly good approach, Derp. If you compose a melody in D Dorian, you've got a modal melody.

You can then harmonize it with the harmonized mode or a related harmony (the D harmonic minor chords, for example), and you can do it in classical harmony using cadences, or you can use "modal harmony".

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


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(@321barf)
Estimable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 133
 

Interesting....

8) must go and experiment


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(@321barf)
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Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 133
 

I get it.

You don't have to limit the harmony to the harmonized mode because any chord that contains a given melody note (from your modal melody) may be used to harmonize that note.Therefore you have all sorts of harmonic options some of which may sound completely weird and some of which may give you a fresh option to that of the purely harmonized mode.So you should only use those options that appeal to you.

If it sounds good,do it.

If it doesn't sound good,don't do it.
Otherwise you'll make a mess.

So the harmonized mode is certainly the safe approach.

But you can break from that enough to add some excitement and create more interest in the harmony.So that way you may actually be able to add some surprise elements to your music.Instead of always just playing "the expected" you can sometimes play "the unexpected",and this can definately sound more interesting than always doing the expected.Conversely you need a certain amount of the expected so that when you do something unexpected it is a noticeable contrast and provides the "surpirise" you were looking for.

So if you are playing in a mode,whether improvising/playing lead or playing a pure melody,etc. - adding an element of harmonic surprise may be just the thing to slap the listener in the face and say "hey pay attention here",or somthing like that.

Sound about right?

So I think I should now study voice-leading and counterpoint more closely?


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(@noteboat)
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Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 4933
 

Great description, Derp!

Voice leading fits right in there - you've gotten to the point of recognizing a harmonic choice (the chord that will go behind a note)... voice leading will help you choose which inversion or voicing of the chord makes the smoothest transition.

Counterpoint is really helpful in understanding some concepts of harmony; as a practical matter for guitar, it's more important for classical guitarists than plectrum.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


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(@321barf)
Estimable Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 133
 

Thanks man.I feel a little relieved now,like a little bit of weight has been lifted off of my shoulders.I think I've just hit one of those plateus in my playing/understanding.Nothing like looking at something slightly differently and gaining a whole new perspective on it.

I'm gonna have to go and take a breather now and reflect on all of this.

Thanks a bunch!

"whew!"

*breathes a huge sigh of relief*


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 Ezmo
(@ezmo)
Active Member
Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 15
 

One of the best threads in all of GuitarNoise. You guys are awesome. Many thanks for sharing this treasure chest full of info.


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(@nanne)
Active Member
Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 5
 

Ok, just trying to see if I get this right :P

Let's say there is a song with a melody written in D-dorian. The song also has some chords, let's say Dm and some Am (yeah, I'm a bad composer, but it makes it somewhat more simple too). Now, if I wanna play a simple solo in this song, I can alway use D minor pentatonic over the Dm and A minor pentatonic over the Am. But if I want to apply modes, I can also play the notes from D-dorian over both the Dm and the Am, right?

Or am I seeing this totally wrong?


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(@noteboat)
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Joined: 19 years ago
Posts: 4933
 

Yep, you're right.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


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