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Thread: Lets talk modes...

  1. #1

    Default Lets talk modes...

    I practice major, minor, blues, arpeggios and pentatonic scales. Recently, I started messing around with scale modes in order to further my musical understanding. I'm wondering who here practices some of the off color modes, how you practice them and where you use them in your own playing?

    It seems like a really big musical area. I can derive pentatonic scales from each mode. I can derive chords for each degree of each mode. It also makes me wonder if I'm practicing my major scales poorly. I know all the FFcP positions for major scales. However, when I try playing a mode, it doesn't flow like the major positions yet.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

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  3. #2
    Mandolin user MontanaMatt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    Today I'm happy...oh, modes...
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  4. #3

    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    Don't know if my experience is relevant, since it's not mandolin-specific. Fwiw, I play music based in modes perhaps not typically used in most of the mandolin-typical genres we're mostly accustomed. Played a lot of flamenco gtr which makes use of lots of phrygian; currently play balkan and mid-eastern music on accordian and arabic oud where there are several variations of these harmonized minor and dominant scales. Also on (clarsach) harp, which is diatonically tuned, I play mostly with modes rather than scales - the instrument, and musical repertoire, lend more to this approach. Early music tends to involve lots of colorful modes, as it predates our maj/min dominant systems.

    *WRT relative facility with different modes, compared with typical scale work and application based in typical context, a couple of things. Naturally, familiarity is salient - listening to music deriving from these varying sources would obviously benefit. A shift in mental and aesthetic approach - compare the lyrical and tonal basis of form with the maj/min harmonized form we're accustomed in the West. But you can use familiar scales to build others, which may be an effective approach, so you can approach it more theoretically too.
    Last edited by catmandu2; Nov-08-2017 at 1:01pm.

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    Registered User Mandolincelli's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    Most commonly, I use the Dorian mode (ii) in jazz when a minor sound is called for. Sometimes Locrian over half-dim. Don't use 'em much otherwise.

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    MandolaViola bratsche's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    Quote Originally Posted by MontanaMatt View Post
    Today I'm happy...oh, modes...
    Me too....

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    Been fooling around with Lydian, because of some articles I read. Nothing interesting has developed.
    Indulge responsibly!

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  12. #7

    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    Been fooling around with Lydian, because of some articles I read. Nothing interesting has developed.

    Just wrote a lengthy post on using modes in improvization, etc. Device booted me and lost it - c'est la vie. Suffice to say now - think modal approach when thinking about normal scalar application and exercises. Can be greatly useful tool in practice, inspiration, etc.

    Re Lydian, George Russell wrote an influential treatise you might look into as well.

  13. #8
    Registered User DougC's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    Many students of music seem to take a very academic approach to modes. It is almost as if they need to do them in order to graduate from something. How do you practice modes? I suppose you could play an etude in major and all the minor variations and then all of the modes. But why? What did it accomplish? Not much I suspect. Or not enough to understand how and why it is part of an ethnic style or even a choice in composing or improvising in Jazz music. Which is quite advanced stuff and you'll not have that perspective to start with.

    A far better way to understand modes is to find out where they are used and learn a bit about the style. For example some people here have said that dorian is used in Irish music. Blues music often uses pentatonic scales. Why? At least that is how I approach modes. I need a context for the use of a mode. It is not to say I don't study them. I just need a practical situation to understand the 'theory'.
    A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.

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  15. #9

    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    I went a little crazy and derived all the chords for each degree of each mode. Someone might find this interesting:

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  17. #10

    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    Taking up what Doug suggested, there's a neat little series of free online basic (lessons) info: a brief historical account on origins, very little theory, but very lucid examples of how modes are used, in this case, in harp "therapy" improvisation (not to be confused with the profession of music therapy); the field of therapeutic harping draws heavily from these old sources of modal principles of organization and application. http://www.emeraldharp.com/free-lesson/ (scroll down - vids #2 and #3). NFI.

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    Registered User T.D.Nydn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    If you want crazy,check out the harmonic minor modes,shifting into superlocrain makes you instant jazz...

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  21. #12

    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    I organized the modes by their brightness and looked at their respective pentatonic scales. Click image for larger version. 

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  23. #13
    Dave Sheets
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    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    The Aebersold jazz practice CDs (no financial interest on my part) are a fun way to mess around/practice soloing in different modes. I spent a lot of time at this on guitar, never have on mandolin. Jazz oriented stuff obviously, but the ideas and the hearing translates to other genres.
    Last edited by sheets; Nov-08-2017 at 7:02pm. Reason: mis-spelling
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  25. #14
    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    Quote Originally Posted by DougC View Post

    A far better way to understand modes is to find out where they are used and learn a bit about the style. For example some people here have said that dorian is used in Irish music. Blues music often uses pentatonic scales. Why? At least that is how I approach modes. I need a context for the use of a mode. It is not to say I don't study them. I just need a practical situation to understand the 'theory'.
    All modes come from actual musical situations.

    Even your plain old major scale is a mode.

    I like your comment about the styles of music that use particular modes. More on that later.....

    Quote Originally Posted by T.D.Nydn View Post
    If you want crazy,check out the harmonic minor modes,shifting into superlocrain makes you instant jazz...
    Well, for minor tunes in Gypsy jazz, right on!

    You will need other modes for other styles of jazz.

    Quote Originally Posted by sheets View Post
    The Aebersold jazz practice CDs (no financial interest on my part) are a fun way to mess around/practice soloing in different modes. I spent a lot of time at this on guitar, never have on mandolin. Jazz oriented stuff obviously, but the ideas and the hearing translates to other genres.
    my comments on the Aebersold series from another thread:

    The whole Aebersold series is an excellent tool, nicely written charts with correct chord changes, and most with cool play-along recordings so you can practice as much as you want.

    The downside - the books teach the chord-scale method of jazz improv exclusively, they do not cover the older, and to my teachers' taste (which included Ellis Marsalis among other less well known teachers), better basic method of improvising off of the chord changes and chord arpeggios.

    The chord-scale method is a great tool AFTER you know how to improvise the way everyone from Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet through Parker, Dizzy and Trane played.

    Then the chord-scale method came into use.....but one needs to know the older way first for it to really make sense.

    Use the Aebersold books and play-alongs, but make sure you learn to play off of the chord arpeggios of the song in question first.

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  27. #15
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    When you're playing Irish you have Dorian and Mixolydian for breakfast every day.
    the world is better off without bad ideas, good ideas are better off without the world

  28. #16

    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    I love music theory and had been struggling with modes and trying to just memorize and use them, then I finally ‘got’ the tetrachord and it helped me so much to understand how it all works...well, at times I do anyway but it was a huge ‘hello’ to constructing modes...
    Northfield NF5M #268

  29. #17
    Phil Goodson Philphool's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    Quote Originally Posted by bigskygirl View Post
    I love music theory and had been struggling with modes and trying to just memorize and use them, then I finally ‘got’ the tetrachord and it helped me so much to understand how it all works.......
    I've seen 'tetrachord' spoken of before, but I've never quite "gotten it". Do you have a reference or short explanation of what it is and how it works??? Thanks.
    Phil

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  30. #18

    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    Quote Originally Posted by Philphool View Post
    I've seen 'tetrachord' spoken of before, but I've never quite "gotten it". Do you have a reference or short explanation of what it is and how it works??? Thanks.
    Jazz Mando has you covered: http://jazzmando.com/tips/archives/000832.shtml

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  32. #19
    Registered User DougC's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    Quote Originally Posted by dadsaster View Post

    Tetrachords yea. O.K.
    Tetra means 4. There are 8 notes in a scale. Sometimes it is useful to look at only half of the scale.
    A very nice explanation. But it gets confusing the further you read.

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    It makes sense to work on a particular style (in this case it is Jazz) and a particular tune, and a particular phrase in a tune, in order to see why certain notes and certain chords 'don't work' or 'do work'. Knowing the simple stuff first is the key.

    Why do people try to be 'big shots' by using music theory to show how smart they are? I'll stick with 'one bite at a time'.
    A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.

  33. #20
    Registered User Perry's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    Modes can be useful but often promote a style where one just spews out random notes contained in the mode/scale. Much better to think in chord tones I feel. Or relate everything back to the major scale. i.e. mixolydian mode is just a major scale with the 7th note changed; understanding that we are replacing the"happy" major seventh with a more forceful dominant 7th. That said I do think the Dorian mode can be very useful when playing in minor keys

    I like what Robben Ford said about scales in one of his Truefire courses. He knows the scales but never just "runs them" rather he thinks of it as finger painting and he just plucks different colors off the fret board as he sees fit.

    Take a look/listen to the great Bill Frisell...the ultimate finger painter. I've never heard him run a scale..everything has a purpose.

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  35. #21

    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    Great link dadsaster! The visual is very helpful, I had been looking at it from the fretboard POV and working thru it and making it harder than I needed to. A friend of mine who is a Berklee grad has always spoken of tetrachords and while I could always follow along I just never really got it until recently.

    In improvising I was going along trying to keep up with chord changes and the key of the tune and such and I always suspected that if I really knew the modes better it would make things easier. However, I was thinking - great 7 modes to learn along with everything else...so I would generally abandon any study of them. Then one day I was reading about tetrachords and how there are just 4 and they are put together to form all the modes it was like...voila...and I got it finally.

    Now, the understanding fades in and out so I still have work to do but now rather than having to worry about chord changes and such I can go along using modes...it’s still not ‘easy” but for me it’s more logical to the way my brain works.

    I do agree that knowing scales, chord tones, and arpeggios are necessary whether one knows them from study of theory or by ear but tetrachords give me another tool to deploy while playing.
    Northfield NF5M #268

  36. #22

    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    Great post perry. I mostly agree, and have approached playing with a chordal/scalar concept most of my life - I enjoy the metaphorical way you describe. The didactic harp stuff is effective as a teaching tool, as well as especially lucid on the instrument, and perpetuates traditional concepts. Though modal thinking has inspired me lyrically, playing instruments like violin, woodwinds, that encourage concepts in ways other than the polyphonic instruments. I recall now that when I was studying pedal steel decades ago I think I was feeling modes too. There's a certain feel I get when I think modal, which varies among instruments and styles. (Again, not necessarily mandolin-related, much of this.)

  37. #23
    Registered User DougC's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    Let's keep in mind that Western Music is often the assumption when talking about this stuff.

    As a klezmer musician, and Irish musician, I have a 'different point of view' which comes from staying within certain modes at all times.

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  39. #24
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    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    Why do people try to be 'big shots' by using music theory to show how smart they are?
    Perhaps a snippet of theory opened a door for someone and they are simply holding the door open for someone else to walk through.
    Bobby Bill

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  41. #25

    Default Re: Lets talk modes...

    I won't say everything I know about modes I learned from Niles, but it's a high percentage.

    https://www.mandolincafe.com/niles2.html

    What strikes me about this lesson is "feel' comments. Like any language if one doesn't use it, one tends to loose it. As I'm a very tactile/intuitive player, if it's in context it sticks. If I use it a lot it sticks. That's not to say that I can't draw from something in the passed. It just takes a bit longer. I'm not going to expound upon modes. It's way too easy to get wrong. If I type WWHWWHWW, continuing through all the modes, if I screw up in one tiny place it's wrong, and misleading. But if you're playing a modal tune, i'll take a ride with you.

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