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Some important theory questions

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(@jbeckforever)
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Joined: 15 years ago
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Hey everyone! So I've got this band. Well, its actually my friend's band, because he's written most of the music for it. But anyway, we've got a show coming up soon, and I've admittedly been pretty lazy about the whole thing. I know all the basic parts to the song, they're all a complete cakewalk, but I want to know more about the structure of the songs so that I can play some sweet improv. Anyway, so I just need help in breaking these down, and making sure all the stuff I've assumed and concluded is correct. If any of you have powertab or the likes, I've uploaded the tabs my friend wrote for you to examine. Perhaps they can help in showing what I'm talking about. ( http://www.gigasize.com/get.php?d=qqn5cmg505d ) Ok here we go...

So our first song (called "Where Are You", for those of you who downloaded the .rar) has a progression that looks like this: Am-C-G-F-G and repeat. So I figured since there is no F# chord, we must be in the almighty key of C. But the progression starts on Am. So I thought I could use the A minor pentatonic over this progression and it should sound good. Good news, it sounds great! Now I understand that A minor is the relative minor of C major. Here is the first question: Can I use A natural minor too? What mode is that and why does it work. And if not A natural, what would be the best mode to use for this situation?

Second song (Breaking Free): I am quite sure the key is D major on this one. The progression goes D-A-Bm-G. Classic, right? But yeah, in the interlude, an F# chord is introduced. However, the song never uses a C chord, so I suppose to our knowledge the song could be in G major too. But D major sounds the most correct when I play around with it. So my question is, what mode(s) could be used in this situation? And its true that you might play in different modes, at different points of a song, even though the song does not change keys, right?

Ok last song is called "Shift". Its a nice little power chord progression that goes like this: D-Bb-G-A. It also has an E power chord in the chorus. So, with this information and working with flat keys, we assume the key is F right? F major or minor, I'm not sure, but the progression doesn't have an Eb so it has to be F. Or did I make a mistake? If the key is in fact F, what mode would be a good one to use here? This is what I did and it sounds ok, but I wonder if there is a better alternative. I think D is the relative minor of F, so if I start with D on the 6th string, and use a D major scale, yet focus my licks and solo'ing around F, it should sound pretty sweet right? What mode would that be, and is it the correct one to use here?

Finally, one last question not related to any of my bands songs. In any progression, is the relative minor of a chord always included in the key? It is right? So that should help in figuring out keys, I assume. Anyway, I'm just starting music theory and stuff, and my head is spinning with all the information, I just want to make sure I'm doing stuff right. Thanks!


   
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(@noteboat)
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Joined: 21 years ago
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You didn't say we'd have to wait a full minute before we could download. You left out some other stuff too, like the E major and F minor chords in "Where Are You", the fact that the powertabs use enharmonic spellings (A# when Bb would be expected), and the fact that the second and third songs are in drop D (important for any folks who don't read standard notation to know).

But I'll just answer what you've asked.

1. Yes, you can use A natural minor too. It's called the Aeolian mode. It works because it's got all the chord tones. Bonus answer to the unasked question: "using" the Aeolian mode will most likely put you in a C major scale, because the progression sounds major, and your ear will lead you in that direction.

2. It's not in G. The A chords have C# notes in them. You can find them in your score at m. 10, 23, 30, etc. The best mode will be the D major scale (D Ionian). And no, changing modes without changing keys will not improve things - you'll be thinking more, but you'll still be in the same mode - you won't be able to establish a new tonal center. I sometimes use a crude phrase to describe this logic, but this is a family site :)

3. The key is D minor, which is the relative minor of F. And it says so in the song title: "Shift - D minor". Those C# notes in the score should tell you you're in the harmonic minor scale. Using a D major scale won't sound very sweet no matter what string you start on - that sixth string D is the same pitch as fifth string, 5th fret, and the same as the fourth string open.

4. Yes, the relative minor chord is always the vi chord when you're in a major key.

I'd advise you to forget about modes, at least for now. They're not going to help a bit with the type of music you're working on.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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(@jbeckforever)
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Joined: 15 years ago
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Topic starter  

Ah thank you! By the way, the keys in the song titles are me, those were my guesses. But about point 3, just to clarify, the HARMONIC minor scale is not a mode, right? Not like the natural minor scale, which is a mode.

And yeah, I figured I was trying to overdo it here. I'm out with aspirations to fry bigger fish, but unfortunately its not my band. So I figured I could try and do complex stuff with what I was given, but I went straight for the deep end haha.

So are modes only useful when working with key changes? I'm just a little confused. Thank you for your reply noteboat!


   
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(@noteboat)
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Guitar players as a rule tend to overcomplicate things, especially modes. Modes are scales - and it really is that simple! ("Mode" is a Greek term, "Scale" is a Latin one - they mean the same thing). You WILL find music theorists who talk about the "harmonic minor mode". And you will find people (mostly guitarists) who talk about the "modes of the harmonic minor scale". For all practical purposes, thinking of the "modes of a scale" is useless, no matter what the scale is.

In composition there's a principle called "melodic inflection". Let's say you have a melody that runs in thirds, C-E-D-F-E-G-F. If you play it with one note changed, as in C-Eb-D-F-Eb-G-F or C-E-Db-F-E-G-F or C-E-D-F#-E-G-F, you'll have something that sounds like the original... but it's a little different. Essentially that's what the scales commonly called modes are: melodic inflections of other scales.

So if you play a C major scale, that's the C Ionian mode. If you play it again using F#, that's C Lydian. If you play the C major scale with Bb, that's C Mixolydian, and so on.

Notice that when these modes are compared to C it's easy to see the difference - CDEFGABC is not the same as CDEF#GABC. This is what gives modes their different flavors - using a different interval sequence.

You might be familiar with using a pentatonic major scale over a progression to get a country-ish or jazz-ish sound... while playing a minor pentatonic over the same progression gives you a blues-y or rock-y sound. That's how modes actually work: you're using the same tonal center - but you're inflecting the notes. (Example: C minor pentatonic = CEbFGBbC, C major pentatonic = CDEGA; same root, different intervals)

If you think the other way, it's useless. C Lydian (CDEF#GABC) and G major (GABCDEF#G) use the same notes. That does not make them the same scale! What scale you're actually in will be defined by the melody's tonal center, and nothing else - that's why I said using the A Aeolian mode would likely put you in C major in your first song. If you have a chord progression that's clearly "in C" (C as the tonal center), and you use a melody that is clearly not "in C", you'll probably sound like you don't know what you're doing. If you're any good at playing by ear, you'll make adjustments to your melody that change the tonal center - at which point you're in C major, not A Aeolian.

[Like all other things in music theory, there are exceptions. If your melody is really in A Aeolian, and the progression or counter melody is really in C major, this is called bitonality. It's hard to do well. And the vast majority of guitarists who talk about soloing this way aren't!]

Modes are no more useful with key changes than any other scale. If you're playing a song in C major, using the C major scale, and the chords change to G major, you might shift to the G major scale, right? If you're trying to get a modal feel, your solo might startin in C Lydian... now you have a choice: stay with the same tone set, and play in G major, or stay with the same interval set, and play in G Lydian. Which you do is up to you. IMO, your lines will be more coherent if you shift to G Lydian - that's how I start introducing playing over modulations to my students.

A couple more points on modes: they are not fingerings. Some guitar teachers teach "phrygian fingering" and other misconceptions along those lines. Your melody determines what mode you're in, not the fingers or frets you use. And where you start from has no relationship to the tonal center - I start almost all improvised lines on something other than the key note; this does not put me in some specific mode - the shape of my melody does that.

Guitar teacher offering lessons in Plainfield IL


   
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(@jbeckforever)
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Joined: 15 years ago
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Hmm, thank you for that clarification. So I guess the most interesting things I could do here is, since the progressions are done with power chords, I could emphasize major or minor thirds of those power chords in my solo'ing, and maybe arpeggiate the relative minors of the chords. Any other ideas to make these songs more interesting? It just bugs me that his stuff is so simple and cliche. Its like the stereotypical punkrock band and I'm trying to pull us as far from that as possible with my instrument. If I can do interesting things guitar wise, it would at least mark us different from 99% of the other punk bands out there.


   
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(@kingpatzer)
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Its like the stereotypical punkrock band and I'm trying to pull us as far from that as possible with my instrument. If I can do interesting things guitar wise, it would at least mark us different from 99% of the other punk bands out there.

If you're playing what is a punk tune, you're going to sound like a punk band. If you move away from punk, at some point you'll no longer be playing a punk tune.

Trying to change the basic genre of a song on a single instrument apart from the rest of the band, and not having those changes be part of the basic structure of the song is probably not the best way to achieve your goal.

A good song is going to exploit the genre, not fight against it.

"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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(@jbeckforever)
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True. I suppose I am trying to make us more "alternative". Alot of punk bands are really simplistic. Blink, Greenday, etc. It seems the biggest difference between them and alternative bands in some cases is the level of guitar work.


   
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(@kingpatzer)
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True. I suppose I am trying to make us more "alternative". Alot of punk bands are really simplistic. Blink, Greenday, etc. It seems the biggest difference between them and alternative bands in some cases is the level of guitar work.
Not really a theory discussion, but that has to be something the band does, not something a single member 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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(@alangreen)
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True. I suppose I am trying to make us more "alternative". Alot of punk bands are really simplistic. Blink, Greenday, etc. It seems the biggest difference between them and alternative bands in some cases is the level of guitar work.
Thing is, if you try to do something that's too much "not the same as the rest of the genre," your audience are going to think you don't know what you want to be and they'll go listen to someone else. The reason the pop-punk bands like Greenday and Blink succeed is because they produce repeated formulaic material that doesn't require much thinking about - Power Chords + Attitude = Chart product + singles sales. Look at Good Charlotte as a classic example - they tried to break from the Pop-punk mould with more intelligent material (The River - with M Shadows and Synyster Gates guesting, and Take Your Hands Off My Girl, both from the last album I knew about) and they tanked; they probably couldn't even get arrested now.

A :-)

"Be good at what you can do" - Fingerbanger"
I have always felt that it is better to do what is beautiful than what is 'right'" - Eliot Fisk
Wedding music and guitar lessons in Essex. Listen at: http://www.rollmopmusic.co.uk


   
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(@guitardestiny)
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you could add notes from different scales over the chords like if the chord progression was A major ,d minor, G major you could play an a major scale over the A major chord and when chord switches to d minor play a D minor scale and a g major scale over the g chord a good way to recycle riffs and licks


   
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