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I've been working on trying to understand how modes work, and I'm close to cracking the code, but still a little confused. Let me use the example of an E Dorian mode. My understanding is that all scales in the Dorian mode follow the formula of:

Dorian R 2 b3 4 5 6 b7 R

Using an E Dorian means that it is a D major scale (I think) with E in the 2nd position. So that would be written out as D E F# G A B C# D. This format does not fit into the formula above where there is a flat 3 and 7. Can someone help me crack the code on this topic. Thanks.

Ed
 

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Using an E Dorian means that it is a D major scale (I think) with E in the 2nd position. So that would be written out as D E F# G A B C# D. This format does not fit into the formula above where there is a flat 3 and 7.
Start from E instead of D for E dorian.

ie

E F# G A B C# D
 

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Modes reflect the root scale starting on that mode's position, so D Dorian is the C scale from D to D: D E F G A B C D - You'll notice the effect is a flatted 3rd and 7th of the D scale.

A good example of how it's used is a standard ii-V-I pattern: Dm7 - G7 - C which is D Dorian, G Myxolidian, to the tonic C, so basically this pattern is nothing but the C scale, but with different starting positions to give the jazz feel of minor to major following the Cycle of Fourths.

Hope this helps :)
 

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If you practice your major scales beginning on each of the 7 tones in the scale, you will learn the 7 modes of the major scale (root=ionian, 2=dorian, 3=phrygian, 4=lydian, 5=mixolydian, 6=aeolian or relative minor, 7=locrian).

Each of these modes has a function. You can determine that function by constructing a 7th arpeggio based on the 1,3,5,& 7th tones of each mode. For example, the 7th arpeggio of a dorian scale includes the basic tones from a minor 7th chord. A mixolydian arpeggio includes the tones from a dominant 7th chord. Phrygian=susb9, lydian=major 7(#11), locrian=minor7(b5). Some of these are more common than others.

You'll learn the function of the modes better if you go through the steps of figuring the mode to chord relationship out according to the arpeggio than if you just try to memorize the relationships by rote. Of course, you need to learn the intervalic components of each chord also- for example, a minor 7 chord has a minor 3, perfect 5, and minor 7th. And this, of course, means that you need to know the different types of intervals.

Randy
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I've been working on trying to understand how modes work, and I'm close to cracking the code, but still a little confused. Let me use the example of an E Dorian mode. My understanding is that all scales in the Dorian mode follow the formula of:

Dorian R 2 b3 4 5 6 b7 R
Correct

Using an E Dorian means that it is a D major scale (I think) with E in the 2nd position.
THis is where thinking about modes fall down.

People often say things like "D Dorian is a C major starting on D", or (as above re: E dorian) "it is a D major scale (I think) with E in the 2nd position"

The problem is that little word "is".

It would be more correct to say instead:

"D Dorian has the same notes as a C major starting on D", or (as above re: E dorian) "it has the same notes as a D major scale"

The Dorian is not a major scale starting on the second degree, it just happens to have the same notes as that "relative " major scale.

It can be a shortcut to learning the odes if you think of the relative majors, but sooner or later (sooner hopefully) you just need to know them each as a scale in their own right without reference to the major that happens to have the same notes.

I always suggest people, look at some actual traditional modal tunes, e.g. the sea shanty What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor?



It has its own harmonic and melodic structure (Randy mentioned this above), which has absolutely nothing to do with the relative major.

I have a couple of articles which discuss the difference between thinking about modes as relative and parallel, along with some drawbacks of thinking about modes as an aid to improvising on chord changes:

http://tamingthesaxophone.com/jazz-modes.html

http://mediamusicforum.com/composition-modes.html
 

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"This format does not fit into the formula.."

E major is E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#-E
E Dorian is E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D-E

So, yes, flatting the 3rd and 7th fits the formula
 

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"This format does not fit into the formula.."

E major is E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#-E
E Dorian is E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D-E

So, yes, flatting the 3rd and 7th fits the formula
This is very good.

Relating to the major scale with the same root (a "parallel" scale) is better for really getting inside modes than is relating to the major scale with the same notes.

The sooner you can think of D Dorian as being a D scale rather than having anything to do with a C scale, the better. IMO.
 

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Very good question!

One thing I find very interesting is how the guitar players I know, when they talk about sequences of notes (melodic), almost always talk in terms of modes, but almost never in terms of major and minor scales.

It almost seems like modes and their related chords are much more fundamental to "real" music than the conservatory-based stuff I learned from books when I first started? A catch to this, I guess, is that the nomenclature for the chords still uses major/minor scales. What I hear, however, is guitar players saying things like "That's a G mixolydian chord." Very interesting!

With respect to "cracking the code," what I am getting from these comments, Pete's especially, is that we need to just practice the modes in all keys, and with varying intervals, and just really try to get the sound of each one down, just like we are taught to sing Do-Re-Me and play major/minor scales.


There's another year gone :)
 

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Speaking as a guitarist, modern guitarists tend to think in modes a fair bit and I do the same.

Maybe it's because a lot of rock songs are written around modes.

Like "Smoke On The Water" to me is a G minor dorian mode tonality with the main riff coming from the G minor pentatonic Blues scale with a b5th, played with parallel fourths and the verse is G minor and then F and then C for the chorus followed by a Ab heading back to Gm.

All of those chords are G minor dorian mode chords except for the Ab which is a common passing chord back to Gm.

The solo is G minor dorian with a few other things thrown in from the blues scale and there is the G minor pentatonic Blues scale/G minor dorian scale contrast combo that I also tend to use a lot on the sax even when playing Jazz standards as I'm never far from the blues scale for too long as that's how I prefer to play.

I don't think of F major anything when I used to play "Smoke On The Water" even though all the chords are basically from the harmonized F major scale (except the passing Ab) I think of G minor and use the G minor dorian scale as a guide for soloing.

Other songs are the same deal with mixolydian modes or whatever.

Seeing that the sax is not a harmony instrument then modes might tend to be learnt in a different way.
 

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Relating to the major scale with the same root (a "parallel" scale) is better for really getting inside modes than is relating to the major scale with the same notes.

The sooner you can think of D Dorian as being a D scale rather than having anything to do with a C scale, the better. IMO.
This is the key to "cracking the code." Every mode has a formula that you can apply to a major scale with the same root. For dorian, as stated several times in this thread, it is 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7.

Here's an important point that is sometimes missed. You can't apply this formula to every key unless you know all 12 major scales cold! Once you do know those major scales, you can immediately "know" that E dorian is E F# G A B C# D. The notes in italics are the b3 & b7 of E major. Now you have a minor scale of course. Note you never have to consider D major in this, although it is good to know that the 2nd mode of D major is E dorian.

Here are some more formulae (in no particular order) you can apply, once you know all your major scales:

mixolydian is 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7
lydian is 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7
aeolian is 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

etc.

To take it a step further (using the same principle), by applying certain formulae you can derive other types of scales, that are not part of a major scale, by altering a major scale:

harmonic minor: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7
melodic minor (as used in jazz): 1 2 b3 4 5 6 7

And every other type of scale has a formula for derivation from a major scale.

Note: The harmonic & melodic minor scales are NOT modes of the major scale. And they have a whole series of modes contained within them (don't get confused by this, though, just be aware of it).
 

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The great thing is you don't need to learn as many modes as you might think.

The Ionian and Aeolian you should already know as the major scale and minor scale (natural)

Which leaves only Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian and Locrian

I can honestly say that in all my years as a saxophone player and as a commercial composer, I have never once needed or wanted to use or know the Locrian.

So really only four to bother about IMO.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
There's been some excellent responses to my question, and I think I'm much closer to understanding it now. However, I must say that I'll need a new code to crack the response by saxpiece. Just kidding! I greatly appreciate everyone's input.

Ed
 

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However, I must say that I'll need a new code to crack the response by saxpiece. Just kidding! I greatly appreciate everyone's input.

Ed
LOL, Hey Ed here's a couple more formulae for you that you probably already know, but if not, they'll help you interpret saxpiece's response.

Once again, using a major scale based on any given tonic, alter it as follows to get the these scales:

Minor Pentatonic: 1 b3 4 5 b7 (example: C min pent = C Eb F G Bb)

Major Pentatonic: 1 2 3 5 6

Minor Blues scale: 1 b3 4 b5 5 b7 (min pentatonic with the b5 added)

Major Blues scale: 1 2 b3 b 5 6 (maj pentatonic with b3 added)
 

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Thanks JL. I'm a late bloomer, at it for just over a year now and I think I'm making reasonable progress. The info I pick up off of this forum has greatly enhanced my understanding of music theory. I like to understand why I'm doing something, as opposed to just doing it.

Ed
 

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The great thing is you don't need to learn as many modes as you might think.

The Ionian and Aeolian you should already know as the major scale and minor scale (natural)

Which leaves only Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian and Locrian

I can honestly say that in all my years as a saxophone player and as a commercial composer, I have never once needed or wanted to use or know the Locrian.So really only four to bother about IMO.
Hi Pete!

This one really jumped off the page at me, so let me ask you something. Are you talking only about the Major Scale Locrian? The reason I ask is I was starting to look at the Ascending Melodic Minor modes, and I am starting to see where folks use the Super Locrian in jazz (7th mode). Just want to make sure I am clear on your statement! I have not read the entire thread please forgive me if you are talking only major mode - (found your quote doing a search on something else).
 

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You'll learn the function of the modes better if you go through the steps of figuring the mode to chord relationship out according to the arpeggio than if you just try to memorize the relationships by rote.
I have never seen a book, or been in a class, that explained the mode-chord relationship anywhere near adequately. Maybe it's my abstract learning disability at work, but no one ever started in the right place for me or made the concept come alive. I always leave confused.

I suspect the idea these days is to start from the scales, then add the chords - scales being the correct way to learn improvising today. This never worked for me. I can hear the tonality of a chord or interval because it's played as a unit. The relationship between the notes is audible. But I hear little or no tonality in scales. The relationship between the notes is inaudible - abstract.

Is there any advantage, in teaching theory, in starting from the abstract and going to the audible? Is it merely accepted tradition?
 

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Hi Pete!

This one really jumped off the page at me, so let me ask you something. Are you talking only about the Major Scale Locrian?
I only know of one Locrian mode and it's definitely not major
 

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I suspect the idea these days is to start from the scales, then add the chords - scales being the correct way to learn improvising today.
Maybe, but of course they (chords and scales) are different things. I think a lot of this can be over-analyzed. My understanding of the modes of the major scale is they are just that: They are scales 'contained within' the major scale, with each mode starting on a different 'root' or note from the major scale. When that root becomes the tonal center (even temporarily), you have a given mode, and at that point if it's a minor mode, it's no longer major. No more, no less.

Here's where I think they relate to chords. In a major scale, you can take each note, assign it as the root of a 7th chord and you get a series of chords. So to use C maj scale for example, you have the following chords:

C maj7
D min7
E min7
F maj7
G7
A min7
B min7b5

Note that there are only 4 different chord types here: maj7, min7, dominant, and min7b5. But if you want to play diatonically, that is stay entirely within the major key (no alterations or accidentals), then playing over the Dmin7 chord in the key of C major, you'll be playing within the dorian mode. Playing Amin7, you'll be playing aeolian mode, etc. If you play the Dmin7 chord in the key of F major, it will still be the same Dmin7 chord as in C major, but it will be D aeolian if you want to play diatonic to F major.

It's a matter of relating the chord to the tonal center. I'm not sure it's necessary or even desireable to relate each and every chord to a given mode or scale. Far better to understand the chord function and how it relates to the key center, imo.

And now this all sounds really confusing when I read it over, but it's quite simple in reality.
 
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