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> Modes 101, Part 1 - Introduction
Andrew Cockburn
post Jul 4 2007, 09:50 PM
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Modes - Introduction


Introduction

Modes are a subject that come up a lot on the forums, and in various lessons. The first question most people ask is "What is a mode?" followed by, "What are they good for?" We'll take a look at both questions in some detail in this multi part lesson. In this series of lessons lesson we'll take a look at modes at a high level before diving into detail on each mode (there are 7 of them!)

A Little Bit of History

You can skip this section if you want, but I thought it might be interesting to give you a little bit of history around modes.

Modes were first referred to by the Greeks. Each mode was named after groups of people such as the Ionians, Dorians and Aeolians, or places around Greece such as Locris, Lydia and Phrygia. Greek philosophers believed that not only was the music characteristic of the people or region, but in fact, the very nature of the music affected peoples outlook in those regions. They ascribed emotions such as Sadness to particular modes such as the Mixolydian. The Greek modes and the modes we use today are not comparable. Over thousands of years musical theory and translation errors have shifted meanings such that even comparably named modes are now completely different.

Modes were used a lot in church music in the middle ages, although they were by then already very different from the modes the Greeks used. In particular, the Church modes developed along with Gregorian chants, which use 8 different modes. The modes used in this way work well to give the chants an ethereal quality to our ears as they are different from the major and minor scales we are so used to. In church modes as well, the actual root scale notes in use were restricted, unlike in modern usage.

So What Are they?

I'll put you out of your misery now - a mode is a variation of a scale. As we have learned, each scale be it major, or minor, is characterised by a particular pattern of tones and semi-tones. For instance, our old friend the major scale is built from the formula 2 2 1 2 2 2 1, which describes the gaps between each of the 8 notes (if you are unfamiliar with this formula, check out my Major Scale lesson here before you go any further). A mode of a scale is simply a variation of that scale in which the pattern of Tones and Semitones in its formula is changed. For instance, we might construct a scale like this : 2 1 2 2 2 1 2 (this actually gives us the Dorian Mode of which more later). There are specific rules used to generate the modes of a scale which we'll look at later, but the description above is the essence of what modes are.

What Use Are they?

Just as we use the major and minor scales to create different effects within a song, we can also use modes to change the entire feel of a song. Some modes are very slightly different to scales we are already familiar with, others are quite strange sounding, but all can be used to great effect to alter the underlying way a song sounds, just by using notes from a particular mode to compose your melody from. A song composed using the Dorian, or Phrygian modes will sound very different. Each mode has a characteristic feel and lends a different character to the song.

Now, the good news is that you have definitely used a couple of modes already, and there is a very good chance that you have used a couple of others without really thinking about it. That's the thing about musical theory - a good percentage of it is devoted to describing stuff that you actually do already smile.gif

What are they really?

In this lesson we are going to describe modes as variations of the Major and Minor scales, and understand that the minor scale is itself a mode of a major scale and can be described as a variation of it. Using this approach, we can group Modes into two main families and think about them in a more practical and accessible way than in the purely theoretical approach presented in the next lesson.

As we know, all scales can be described by a formula - for instance 2 2 1 2 2 2 1 for the major scale. To get the modes of a scale we simply alter the formula in a predefined way to generate a different sounding scale, whilst keeping the root notes the same. Each mode has its own distinctive sound and feel, because of the different selection of notes.

In order to understand this approach you will need to be familiar with how the major scale is put together(here), and also with how we name intervals, described here.

There are seven modes of the major scale, and they are called:
  • Ionian
  • Dorian
  • Phrygian
  • Lydian
  • Mixolydian
  • Aeolian
  • Locrian
Since we are talking about the Major modes in this lesson, we will first focus on the Major scale which is the foundation of the family of scales that we are talking about. Since you all know the Major scale by now, this one is easy, and is in fact our first mode, and is called the 'Ionian' mode (they are the same thing).

Ionian Mode

What we are going to do for each mode is look at how it varies from the Major scale it is derived from. In interval terms, the Major scale or Ionan mode is:

Root
Major 2nd
Major 3rd
Perfect 4th
Perfect 5th
Major 6th
Major 7th
Octave

Or more simply:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

The formula for a Major scale as you should know is 2 2 1 2 2 2 1

For each mode we will give an example scale in the key of C. So for Ionian, the scale of C Major, or C Ionian is:

C D E F G A B C

Aeolian Mode

The Aeolian mode is also known as the Natural minor scale and has the following intervals:

1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7

As you can see, there are 3 notes different between the major and minor scale - the b3, b6 and b7.

Formula for the Aeolian Mode is 2 1 2 2 1 2 2

Our C Minor or Aeolian scale is:

C D Eb F G Ab Bb C

The Families

Now we have 2 modes, Ionian and Aeolian. Otherwise known as the Major and Minor scales. The defining feature of Major vs Minor scales is the 3rd note of the scale. The other notes are important but not as important as the 3rd. This means that we can characterize the rest of the modes as being Major or minor in character, based on whether they have a regular 3rd or a flat 3rd. This is extremely useful - moving from a Major or Minor mode to a mode in the same family is not such a big leap in musical terms and can add interest to a composition.

Now we are in a position to look at the rest of the modes, and we will describe them in terms of how they vary from either the minor or the Major scale using those scales as a basis.

The Majors

Lets take a look at the Major family first.

Lydian

The Lydian mode is a Major scale with a sharpened 4th. In interval terms it is:

1 2 3 #4 5 6 7

Formula for the Lydian mode is 2 2 2 1 2 2 1

Our C Lydian scale is:

C D E F# G A B C

Mixolydian

The Mixolydian mode is a Major scale with a flattened or dominant 7th. In interval terms it is:

1 2 3 4 5 6 b7

Formula for the Mixolydian Mode is 2 2 1 2 2 1 2

Our C Mixolydian scale is:

C D E F G A Bb C

The Minors

Next, lets look at the minor family.

Dorian


Dorian mode is a minor scale with a major 6th instead of a minor 6th. In interval terms it is:

1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7

Formula for the Dorian Mode is 2 1 2 2 2 1 2

Our C Dorian scale is:

C D Eb F G A Bb C

Phrygian


Phrygian mode is a minor scale with a flattened 2nd. In interval terms it is:

1, b2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7

Formula for the Phrygian Mode is 1 2 2 2 1 2 2

Our C Phrygian scale is:

C Db Eb F G Ab Bb C

Locrian

Finally we have Locrian. Although the Locrian has a minor 3rd, it also has a flattened 5th, which makes it a diminished scale. So although we will put it in with the minors, it isn't a perfect fit. It is a Minor scale with a flat 2nd and a flat 5th. In interval terms it is:

1, b2, b3, 4, b5, b6, b7

Formula for the Locrian Mode is 1 2 2 1 2 2 2

Our C Locrian scale is:

C Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C

Mode Comparison

Now that we have listed all of the modes and seen how we can get to them from a closely related Major or Minor scale, it should become obvious how they compare. To make the point clearer, lets look at our example scale all the modes together in one place:

Attached Image

The reason I have laid all the scales out in this way is to illustrate how the modes compare. As you can see, they all Have the same root notes, but differ in the intervening notes. It is a source of confusion to many people how the modes are actually different, and this is usually down to the fact that when learning modes in the first place they were introduced to relative modes before they fully understood what modes are. Relative modes do in fact share the same notes, but this is a realization that is best left until after modes are fully understood. As you can see in the table above, there is no mistaking the fact that modes that share the same root notes are very different scales.

It is a feature of the way that modes are constructed that if you start your scale a note higher, and at the same time shift along one in the list of modes, you will end up with an identical list of notes. For instance, C Major has the same notes as D Dorian. However, C Major and C Dorian are very different as can be seen. Comparison of modes to understand their musical properties and flavour should always be done with identical root notes to avoid confusion. The concept of relative modes whilst extremely important is very often misunderstood and should be put to one side until you fully understand modes.

Oh, and just for fun, since this came up on the forum one time., the Spanish names for the modes are as follows:

In spanish the name of the modes are:

Modos:
1 Jonico (mayor)
2 Dorico
3 Frigio
4 Lidio
5 Mixolidio
6 Eólico (menor)
7 Locrio

In the next modes lesson we will look into the theory of this a little more deeply.

I hope you found this introduction to modes useful, comments on the forum as usual!

This post has been edited by Andrew Cockburn: Apr 6 2009, 01:58 PM


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Muris Varajic
post Jul 4 2007, 10:52 PM
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Yeah,we DID have great conversation last night!!:)

Great job Andrew,hope this lesson is going to solve mystery after all!


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Andrew Cockburn
post Jul 4 2007, 11:08 PM
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QUOTE (muris @ Jul 4 2007, 05:52 PM) *
Yeah,we DID have great conversation last night!!:)

Great job Andrew,hope this lesson is going to solve mystery after all!


Yes, for those wondering, Muris was the inspiration for this lesson - thanks Muris!


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radarlove1984
post Jul 5 2007, 12:43 AM
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I haven't been posting that much lately, but I've been reading up on your theory lessons constantly. I'm dealing with tendinitis, so this is the perfect time to force myself to learn even more theory.

Great job, overall, on all the lessons you've been putting out. They REALLY help.
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Andrew Cockburn
post Jul 5 2007, 12:50 AM
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QUOTE (radarlove1984 @ Jul 4 2007, 07:43 PM) *
I haven't been posting that much lately, but I've been reading up on your theory lessons constantly. I'm dealing with tendinitis, so this is the perfect time to force myself to learn even more theory.

Great job, overall, on all the lessons you've been putting out. They REALLY help.


Thanks ! Glad to hear you are still out there learning theory - hope the tendonitis improves soon!


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kjutte
post Jul 18 2007, 06:13 PM
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Say a song goes in Emajor, can I play E dorian then, or do I have to stick to the major modes like E lydian and E mixolydian?

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Andrew Cockburn
post Jul 18 2007, 06:20 PM
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QUOTE (kjutte @ Jul 18 2007, 01:13 PM) *
Say a song goes in Emajor, can I play E dorian then, or do I have to stick to the major modes like E lydian and E mixolydian?


E major and E dorian would have different characteristic chords (e.g. E vs Em would be the tomic), so swapping from E major to E dorian is pretty much a key change.

If you picked another Major mode such as Lydian you would likely get away with it because the only note that would clash would be the 4th which isn't too important for chord constructiuon.


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kjutte
post Jul 18 2007, 06:30 PM
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QUOTE (Andrew Cockburn @ Jul 18 2007, 07:20 PM) *
E major and E dorian would have different characteristic chords (e.g. E vs Em would be the tomic), so swapping from E major to E dorian is pretty much a key change.

If you picked another Major mode such as Lydian you would likely get away with it because the only note that would clash would be the 4th which isn't too important for chord constructiuon.


How do I know what modes will work with what I am playing to? when I hear a song, I just find the Aeolian mode of it, and play relative modes from there. I want to start using real modes, but that also means I have to know which chords are being played, correct?

Anyway, how do I know, from hearing a jamming track, what modes will work with it?
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Andrew Cockburn
post Jul 18 2007, 06:43 PM
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QUOTE (kjutte @ Jul 18 2007, 01:30 PM) *
How do I know what modes will work with what I am playing to? when I hear a song, I just find the Aeolian mode of it, and play relative modes from there. I want to start using real modes, but that also means I have to know which chords are being played, correct?

Anyway, how do I know, from hearing a jamming track, what modes will work with it?


First you need to identify the chords, which will give you the scale if there are enough of them. Once ou have the base scale you can then figure out which modes will work with it by looking at the notes you have in the chords and considering if any of the notes in the mode you want to play will conflict.

E.g. a song has chords C, F G.

Notes in those chords are:

C E G
F A C
G B D

Giving you:

C D E F G A B

Looks like a major scale to me smile.gif

Straight away that opens up all of the relative modes :

D dorian
E Phrygian
F Lydain
G Mixolydian
A Aeolian
B Locrian

But what else could you do?

An obvious one is Mixolydian over the C and F (but not over the G as the b and Bb would conflict).

You could use Lydian ofver the C and the G but not the F (F and F# would conflict).

So, one way to approach this is to figure out which modes fir the notes in your chords.

This post has been edited by Andrew Cockburn: Jul 18 2007, 06:44 PM


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kjutte
post Jul 18 2007, 06:51 PM
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QUOTE (Andrew Cockburn @ Jul 18 2007, 07:43 PM) *
First you need to identify the chords, which will give you the scale if there are enough of them. Once ou have the base scale you can then figure out which modes will work with it by looking at the notes you have in the chords and considering if any of the notes in the mode you want to play will conflict.

E.g. a song has chords C, F G.

Notes in those chords are:

C E G
F A C
G B D

Giving you:

C D E F G A B

Looks like a major scale to me smile.gif

Straight away that opens up all of the relative modes :

D dorian
E Phrygian
F Lydain
G Mixolydian
A Aeolian
B Locrian

But what else could you do?

An obvious one is Mixolydian over the C and F (but not over the G as the b and Bb would conflict).

You could use Lydian ofver the C and the G but not the F (F and F# would conflict).

So, one way to approach this is to figure out which modes fir the notes in your chords.


Aren't the relative modes always available? I mean, it's the same scale, isn't it?

I want to know how to use real modes, to get the characteristic sounds.

And can you please explain further how "An obvious one is Mixolydian over the C and F (but not over the G as the b and Bb would conflict).

You could use Lydian ofver the C and the G but not the F (F and F# would conflict).

So, one way to approach this is to figure out which modes fir the notes in your chords." is obvious? I didn't get that at all!

Thanks in advance! smile.gif
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Muris Varajic
post Jul 18 2007, 06:56 PM
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You must follow chord progression to get a proper real mode.
Andrew gave you a great explanation above.
And playing relative modes will not give you a "mode" sound.
You'll still play same scale,with different starting points,but still in same scale.


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Andrew Cockburn
post Jul 18 2007, 07:03 PM
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QUOTE (kjutte @ Jul 18 2007, 01:51 PM) *
Aren't the relative modes always available? I mean, it's the same scale, isn't it?

I want to know how to use real modes, to get the characteristic sounds.

And can you please explain further how "An obvious one is Mixolydian over the C and F (but not over the G as the b and Bb would conflict).

You could use Lydian ofver the C and the G but not the F (F and F# would conflict).

So, one way to approach this is to figure out which modes fir the notes in your chords." is obvious? I didn't get that at all!

Thanks in advance! smile.gif


Ok, well a lot of this revolves around chord consrtuction - and how you match chords to a scale - there is a lesson on that here.

Once you are confidant with that, and the formulae for modes you will see that each mode has characteristic chords that are distinct from the major and minor scales with the same root note.

For instance:

C Major - C, Dm7, Em7, Fmaj7, G, Am, Bdim
C Dorian - Cm7, Dm7, Ebmaj7, F, Gm, Adim, Bb

The chords to a large degree control what scale you would use. So to play something that is truly Dorian, not only do you need to use the Dorian scale but you also need to use the characteristuc Dorian chords - for C dorian you could use for instance Cm7, F and Gm.

Edit: Muris, just saw your post above mine - as we both agree, the chord progression is very important here smile.gif

This post has been edited by Andrew Cockburn: Jul 18 2007, 07:06 PM


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kjutte
post Jul 18 2007, 09:14 PM
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QUOTE (Andrew Cockburn @ Jul 18 2007, 08:03 PM) *
Ok, well a lot of this revolves around chord consrtuction - and how you match chords to a scale - there is a lesson on that here.

Once you are confidant with that, and the formulae for modes you will see that each mode has characteristic chords that are distinct from the major and minor scales with the same root note.

For instance:

C Major - C, Dm7, Em7, Fmaj7, G, Am, Bdim
C Dorian - Cm7, Dm7, Ebmaj7, F, Gm, Adim, Bb

The chords to a large degree control what scale you would use. So to play something that is truly Dorian, not only do you need to use the Dorian scale but you also need to use the characteristuc Dorian chords - for C dorian you could use for instance Cm7, F and Gm.

Edit: Muris, just saw your post above mine - as we both agree, the chord progression is very important here smile.gif



Hmm, ok. So the reason I can jam decently in minor\major to pretty much everything is because very many chords revolve around minor\major?

And a quick question: do I have to have a chord vocabulary to be able to use modes correctly? I barely know what the basic chords are. I never play chords.

Edit: Ok, I read the chord lesson. This basically means I have to change mode all the time, when the chords change, correct? so if I want to play E phrygian through a whole song, I need chords that have... some/all/which - of E phrygian's notes?

This post has been edited by kjutte: Jul 18 2007, 09:28 PM
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Muris Varajic
post Jul 18 2007, 09:33 PM
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Yes,you got it.
But you don't need to change scale every time when chord is changed.
If chords are E minor,C major and D major ,you can play E minor scale all the time cause all three chords are inside of it.


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kjutte
post Jul 18 2007, 09:41 PM
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Yes, but say I want to switch between harmonic minor mode 5, phrygian and maybe some major\minor, then I'd have to get one chord for each yes? since they are all unique..?


And a question for you, muris: the "improvisation" video on your myspace, what style etc is used there? it is very cool!

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Andrew Cockburn
post Jul 18 2007, 10:03 PM
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QUOTE (kjutte @ Jul 18 2007, 04:41 PM) *
Yes, but say I want to switch between harmonic minor mode 5, phrygian and maybe some major\minor, then I'd have to get one chord for each yes? since they are all unique..?
And a question for you, muris: the "improvisation" video on your myspace, what style etc is used there? it is very cool!


Not necessarily - the main thing is that you don't have any (or too many) conflicting notes.

E.g. the chord of A minor works with A Aeolian, A Harmonic Minor, A Dorian, A Phrygian, A melodic minor, A Pemtatonic Minor, A Blues ..... simply because A minor only has 3 notes none of which conflict with those scales.

Now, of there are conflicts, yes you should probably change the chord, however in my experience you more often work the other way around - get a chord progression and then fit a scale or sclaes to it. You would likely say "C Ab - nice chord sequence, what scales fit that" than "A bar of locrian, a bar of melodic minor a bar of phrygian - what chords fit with that?".

If you want to write a piece using multiple sclaes, treat each scale as a sedtion, and pick chords to suit because you are in effect modulating (changing key) when you switch between the scales, unlerss you switch back very quickly.


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kjutte
post Jul 18 2007, 10:35 PM
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A Aeolian, A Harmonic Minor, A Dorian, A Phrygian, A melodic minor, A Pemtatonic Minor, A Blues


same in Em?

and how do I know if I am playing a relative minor or a relative major when I am jamming? :S
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Andrew Cockburn
post Jul 18 2007, 10:54 PM
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QUOTE (kjutte @ Jul 18 2007, 05:35 PM) *
A Aeolian, A Harmonic Minor, A Dorian, A Phrygian, A melodic minor, A Pemtatonic Minor, A Blues
same in Em?

and how do I know if I am playing a relative minor or a relative major when I am jamming? :S


Sure - that was just an example, and works for any key, the point is how I worked it out (by analysing the notes in the chord vs the notes in the scale) not the actual scales - I just piked a few at random.

Ok, lets ignore the term 'relative' for now, it can be confusing, lets just talk about major and minor.

You can tell the difference because they have different formulae and different characteristic chords. Cmajor and C minor are very different for instance - even though they share a root note. The chord that we keep returning to will be C in the first place, C minor in the second. ANd with experience you should be able to spot the difference between a major and minor scale.

To tell the differnce between C an Am is harder (A is the relative minor of C and they share the same notes), well that is a different key and the Tonic in each case again would be different (the tonic is the home chord, or chord that you keep returning to). In the case of the key of C its C major, and inthe case of the key of A minor, its Am.

There is also a lesson on this here.


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kjutte
post Jul 18 2007, 11:01 PM
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QUOTE (Andrew Cockburn @ Jul 18 2007, 11:54 PM) *
Sure - that was just an example, and works for any key, the point is how I worked it out (by analysing the notes in the chord vs the notes in the scale) not the actual scales - I just piked a few at random.

Ok, lets ignore the term 'relative' for now, it can be confusing, lets just talk about major and minor.

You can tell the difference because they have different formulae and different characteristic chords. Cmajor and C minor are very different for instance - even though they share a root note. The chord that we keep returning to will be C in the first place, C minor in the second. ANd with experience you should be able to spot the difference between a major and minor scale.

To tell the differnce between C an Am is harder (A is the relative minor of C and they share the same notes), well that is a different key and the Tonic in each case again would be different (the tonic is the home chord, or chord that you keep returning to). In the case of the key of C its C major, and inthe case of the key of A minor, its Am.

There is also a lesson on this here.


I mean, when I jam, I just play the aeolian box all over the neck, until I find the sweet spot. but still, that can be a relative minor of the major scale, OR it can really be the root minor scale. should I just listen for minor/major characteristic sounds in the song?
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Andrew Cockburn
post Jul 19 2007, 12:05 AM
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QUOTE (kjutte @ Jul 18 2007, 06:01 PM) *
I mean, when I jam, I just play the aeolian box all over the neck, until I find the sweet spot. but still, that can be a relative minor of the major scale, OR it can really be the root minor scale. should I just listen for minor/major characteristic sounds in the song?


Yes, you should be able to spot major vs minor by listening to the song, and the chord progression.


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