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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm looking for a clear explanation of the relationship of modes (Ionian, etc) to scales and chords. I know that the Ionian is the same as the major scale. I know that the Mj7th, Mi 7th and Dom. 7th chords are derived from the I, ii and V modes respectively. And I know that for there are seven modes which share the same key as their major scale (e.g. all modes of D Mj share that key, with F# and C#).

So I have this general understanding but I don't really understand the complete relationship of the modes to chords and scales, and I'm not sure I understand how one uses the modes.

I know this is a bit convoluted but I'm guessing that some of you shared a similar confusion at some point in time and can help me out here. None of the many books I have explain it very clearly. While they discuss the modes and some even lay out all of the modes for every note, none really explain the purpose of the modes.
 

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A modal scale is just one way of thinking about a tonal center. For example, "Impressions" is a tune based on D dorian with a b-section in Eb dorian. Base on key signature along you could say that the tune is really in C with a b-section in Db. However, by thinking of the tune in a specific mode such as dorian you point your focus on the 3rd and 7th tone in each chord as the most important. (these are the two scale tones that are most prominent in defining a chord quality). So despite its key signature Impressions would have a focus on the F-natural (3rd) and C-natural (7th) with a root of D.

As you step away from the dorian (ii) or mixolydian (V) scales you get into some very specific sounds. Lydian is very popular (based on the 4th note in the scale). Finding tunes based on the phrygian (iii) or locrian (vii) scales is difficult.

Then, if you want your head to explode, you can explore the modes of the melodic minor scale. Superlocrian rocks!

For a great, easy-to-understand reference on this stuff check out Dan Haerle's book "The Jazz Language" available at Amazon.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I have The Jazz Language. I just haven't really gotten into looking at it yet because I have so many books at this point, including The Jazz Theory Book by Levine. I'll take a look at it.

Thanks much for the explanation and for pointing me to the right book.
 

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A different Mode name is required when explaining the difference in sound between a C scale starting on C and the C scale starting on D. They don't sound the same, but they are the same scale (series of notes).

Ionian is the 'collective sound' of all the white notes on a piano when you start and end on C.

Dorian is the 'collective sound' of all the white notes on a piano when you start and end on D.

The reality of the situation is that you're going to rarely start and end your phrases on a single note, so the talk of modes in relation to 'modal jazz' is incorrect use of the term.

When 'modal jazz' was coined it was done so by folks that really didn't understand the usage of the term in pre-existing 'classical' music. Once scholars/musicians thought about it some more, they realized that's not what 'modal jazz' was about at all.

Having said that, simply stated, a musical line is either 'being there' or 'going there'. With 'modal jazz' it's all about playing lines that are 'being there'. Sometimes it uses sounds that had traditionally been used as 'going there' sounds, but now making them sound like 'being there'...

Like making a mixolydian or lydian dominant sound settled -- 'being there.'
 

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NU2SAX said:
I have so many books at this point, including The Jazz Theory Book by Levine. I'll take a look at it.
That one is very comprehensive and easy to read. Modes are covered in the first several chapters.
 

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I try to keep my concept of modes very simple. Instead of thinking about which accidentals are going to change with each mode on which notes etc, I always base them off of their relative major scale. Let's take F Lydian for example.

Lydian is the fourth mode.
F is the fourth note of the C scale.
F Lydian = F to F in the key of C.

Modes as relation to chords can be a road map for improvisation. In jazz and blues, Mixolydian ends up being the most common. Let's take A7:

A7 is the dominant (or 5th) chord in the key of D.
Mixolydian is the 5th mode.
Thus, when confronted with A7, the most consonant scale from which to draw your improv is A Mixolydian (A to A in the key of D).

While most people aren't just going to run up an A Mixo scale on that dominant chord, that chord-scale relationship serves as a basic guide to tonality in the moment.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
thejoyofsax said:
A7 is the dominant (or 5th) chord in the key of D.
Mixolydian is the 5th mode.
Thus, when confronted with A7, the most consonant scale from which to draw your improv is A Mixolydian (A to A in the key of D).

While most people aren't just going to run up an A Mixo scale on that dominant chord, that chord-scale relationship serves as a basic guide to tonality in the moment.
Ok, I think I might see - uh something. Does it have to do with, like in the example here, the fact that you might not want to go to the A scale because then you'd have a G#, whereas in the A Mixo mode/scale, the G is not sharp, as well as in the A7 chord, the 7th is lowered so no G# as well. Basically, A Mixo is more consonant because the share the same key?

Feel free to talk down to me - some of this stuff should be more obvious, but it's making me feel mighty dense at times. :? :!:
 

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NU2SAX said:
Ok, I think I might see - uh something. Does it have to do with, like in the example here, the fact that you might not want to go to the A scale because then you'd have a G#, whereas in the A Mixo mode/scale, the G is not sharp, as well as in the A7 chord, the 7th is lowered so no G# as well. Basically, A Mixo is more consonant because the share the same key?

Feel free to talk down to me - some of this stuff should be more obvious, but it's making me feel mighty dense at times. :? :!:
See page 16 of The Jazz Theory Book. It's all right there.
 

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I found the C scale, D dorian thing too clumsy to remember. Here's how I do it, YMMV.

from a major scale:

Dorian-b3, b7
mixolydian-b7
lydian-#4
locrian-the major scale 1/2 step down (B locrian=c major)

David Baker recommends that after you have your major scales down cold is to practice all your scales starting from the lowest note on the horn, to the top of the 'regular' range. So saxes would start on low B or Bb for all major scales. Practicing this way disconnects the 'root' from the scale.

Get these down, then work on the modes derived from ascending melodic minor.:)
 

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We all have our respective ways of keeping track of how to play the right notes to these modes, nu2sax and IMO the only right way is the one that works for you, so I don't want you to get mixed up with some of our comments. Most of them don't contradict each other, but rather are different ways of conceptualising the same thing. Personally, I keep track of the modes by relating them to a major scale, like my Haoli Brother (Hakukani) does although in reality, it would be more accurate to think of them as entities unto themselves with certain characteristic intervals and not related to a major scale construction.

But you need to keep in mind, these shortcuts to remembering which is which, do not define what a particular mode is. A mode, like a scale, is the relationship of intervals as they ascend or descend. In other words, as you know, a major scale is a series of successive tones, which ascend with the following intervals (W=whole step, h=half step):
WWHWWWH.
Likewise a dorian mode is one which ascends:
WHWWWHWW. You can visualise that with the piano like Haywood has described. Do not be confused though. The D to D on the piano is not the only dorian mode. It is one that is easy to visualise. A dorian mode (like all the other modes and scales) can begin on any tone.

Also, FWIW, I don't agree that "...talk of modes in relation to 'modal jazz' is incorrect use of the term" nor that the jazz musicians were mainly illiterates regarding music theory. One of the major scholars of modal jazz is Dave Baker who is a PhD and a leading expert on the Lydian Chromatic concept of music. He and many others in the modal movement are formally educated musicians who know very well what they are doing.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Thanks for the additional explanation. In fact, the more I read, I do see them as separate entities, beyond the major key from which they're derived. I see them as related to other keys (e.g. F Lydian is the basis for F Maj 7). And I guess that's where the confusion comes in. Because I can see where you would want to choose, as discussed above, the A Mixolydian mode rather than the A Scale in improvisation, where the sharps found in the A scale would be too dissonant. But, it's like a maze really. Once you start to really get the major and minor scales down, and a lot of the chords, that's not even the beginning! Then there's what resolves to what, and "avoid" notes, and other modes, and it's not just about the chord in lead sheets, it about picking tones from scales or modes.

It's really a bit overwhelming. I'm having fun, don't get me wrong, but it's really hard to just improvise over the changes choosing good tones and rhythm. I'm not good at just playing by ear, so it's really important for me to understand methods behind choosing tones from the scales and modes while improvising.

Anyway, I hope that some of my questions help other beginners and intermediates like me who want to have fun, but want to learn and sound good too.

I'm starting to think that learning music rivals learning rocket science! And that I ain't doin'
 

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Sounds like you're in the same place I was when I took Calculus. I went to class, the prof introduced himself, and then started speaking in tongues. He continued to do that for a couple of days, and then suddenly, one day, he started speaking English again. He would then speak English until after the first exam, and then he was back into speaking in tongues!

It went that way the whole semester. I got my grade at the end of class, then later saw him at a pub. He actually told me that he spoke English the WHOLE TIME!;););)
 

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Nu2sax, as gary says, there is more than one way to visualize modes. I'll give my standard advice about learning all 12 major scales COLD. If you do that, it will be much easier to derive all the other possible scales and chords, because you can relate them to the major scales. By learning them cold, I mean both get them under your fingers on the horn, and also be able to instantly name each scale degree. Here are some examples of the latter skill:

In the key of E major (Emaj scale): The 3rd is G#, the 7th is D#, the 2nd is F#, the 4th is A, etc.

Fmaj: the 5th is C, the sixth is D, the third is A, etc.

Cmaj: 3rd is E, 7th is B, 2nd is D, etc.

Amaj: 3rd is C#, 6th is F#, 4th is D, etc.

And so on. You want to get where you can instantly name each note on each scale degree in any key. You don't necessarily have to learn it all at once. Start with C major since it's the easiest with no flats or sharps. Then go from there. Now here's the point of all that:

Once you know the major scale degrees in a specific key, you can derive other modes or scales by altering certain scale degrees. So, for example, in the key of C:

To derive a mixolydian scale (or dom 7th "chord scale"), simply flat the 7th. You know the 7th is B, so the flat 7th is Bb. Bingo, you're there.

To derive dorian minor, flat the 3rd & 7th (Eb, Bb).

Aeolian minor, flat the 3rd, 6th, & 7th (Eb, Ab, Bb).

These are just a few examples, but by knowing the major scales, you can derive everything else. When someone starts talking about major or minor, or augmented intervals, you can immediately figure these out in comparison to the major scale.

This is not the only approach, but I think it's a good one to start with.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
hakukani said:
Sounds like you're in the same place I was when I took Calculus. I went to class, the prof introduced himself, and then started speaking in tongues. He continued to do that for a couple of days, and then suddenly, one day, he started speaking English again. He would then speak English until after the first exam, and then he was back into speaking in tongues!

It went that way the whole semester. I got my grade at the end of class, then later saw him at a pub. He actually told me that he spoke English the WHOLE TIME!;););)

OUCH! That must be how MY students feel about me! Now I have much more sympathy for them! Yeah! English please! Stop speaking in - un - modes. A should ALWAYS come before B not after G.


JL, well, I am memorizing my major and minor scales and the tone positions (i ii iii, etc), so I guess I'm on the right track. I realized that if I didn't know those and have them "under my fingers" I was going nowhere.

I'll use the suggestions you all have made. And beat my own students up less for the humbling experience. I can hear their sighs of relief already.

Thanks all, as always.
 

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This is most of what I was taught about using modes for jazz improvisation.

1st-Ionian
~Played over Major 7 chords, Major 9 chords, Major 11 chords, or Major 13 chords
~WWHWWWH
2nd-Dorian
~Can be Played over minor 7 chords, minor 9 chords, minor 11 Chords, or minor 13 Chords
~WHWWWHW

~Flat 3rd, Flat 7th (If compared to roots Major scale)
3rd-Phrygian
~Played over suspended 7th chords, flat 9 chords, sharp 9 chords, or flat 13 chords
~HWWWHWW
~Flat 2nd, Flat 3rd, Flat 6th, Flat 7th (If compared to roots Major scale)
4th-Lydian
~Played over Major 7, Major 9, sharp 11, or Major 13 chords
~WWWHWWH
~Sharp 4th (If compared to roots Major scale)
5th-MixoLydian
~Played over Dominant 7, Dominant 9, Dominant 11, or Dominant 13 chords
~WWHWWHW

~Flat 7th (If compared to roots Major scale)
6th-Aeolian a.k.a. Natural Minor
~Can be Played over minor 7, minor 9, minor 11, or minor 13 chords
~WHWWHWW
~Flat 3rd, Flat 6th, Flat 7th (If compared to roots Major scale)
7th-Locrian
~Can be Played over minor 7, flat 5, flat 9, minor 11, or flat 13 chords
~HWWHWWW
~Flat 2nd, Flat 3rd, Flat 4th, Flat 5th, Flat 6th, Flat 7th (If compared to roots Major scale)


I put the Dorian and Mixolydian scales in Italics because those are (correct me if I'm wrong) the scales used most in improvisation. Guys, add on if I left anything out.
 
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