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> Modes 101, Part 2 - The Theory
Andrew Cockburn
post Apr 6 2007, 10:43 PM
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Modes - The Theory


Introduction

In the previous modes lesson we described what modes are, and a practical way of diving into them. However, modes are a complex subject, and the theoretical underpinnings are fascinating. Once you thoroughly understand the previous lesson, spending some time here can really help you with concepts all across music. So now we know what modes are, lets see what they mean in theory terms and how they were generated in the first place.

How Do We Generate Modes?

We're going to start out by listing all of the modes of the Major scale, along with their formulae - look closely, there may be questions ...

Attached Image


I have also included a column called "scale degree" - this will become clear soon.

The first thing I hope you spotted was that the Ionian mode has an identical formula to the Major scale. (See, I told you you were already using modes!). Yes, that's right, the Ionian mode is another name for the Major scale.

Next, although we haven't had a lesson on minor scales yet, you may have spotted that the Aeolian mode has the same formula as the Natural minor scale ... yes, that's right, you already know the Aeolian mode because it is identical to the Natural minor scale! So we've learnt 2 modes already without trying.

Interesting though that is, the real lesson here is that there is a pattern in each of the successive modes (I have listed them in this order deliberately). With a little more examination you will see that for each successive mode's formula, we take off the first letter, move the rest of the letters along and put the first letter on the end.

This gives us a practical way to generate the modes of a scale, based on a techniques of moving through the notes of a scale. The rule is this:

Pick a major scale. To generate each mode, you move through the notes of the scale, up to the degree listed above for that mode, then play through the scale, starting on that note, but playing notes from the original scale. What this does is two things. First, it shifts the root note from the Major scale root note, to the note that is the degree of the scale to which we have moved. Secondly, since we are starting some of the way through the scale it also shifts the spacing of tones and semi-tones (T & S) into a different relationship, as reflected by the formulae for each mode that I gave you above.

That's a bit of a mouthful, so lets look at an example - the modes of the C Major scale. Notes in C major are C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C - here is one of the CAGED shapes for C Major:

Attached Image

Our first mode is the Ionian, which is the Major scale itself, lets ignore that for now, no explanations should be necessary. Instead, lets look at the Dorian mode. The Dorian mode is mode 2, so we generate the unique formula for Dorian by moving up a degree to D, and playing the notes out of the C Major scale, which would be D,E,F,G,A,B,C,D - it would look like this:

Attached Image

Since we started on D, we would call this "D Dorian", and you'll notice that although we are using the scale of C Major to select our notes, we have ended up with a scale with a root note of D, which you should take into account when writing songs around this mode.

If you want to turn this around and for instance find the notes in a specific key such as "C Dorian" you need to work backwards. What scale has the note C as its second degree? The answer is Bb, here:

Attached Image

So to figure out a C Dorian scale you would look at the notes in the key of Bb, which are Bb,C,D,Eb,F,G,A,Bb. Applying our rule and starting on the second degree ( C ) we get our C Dorian scale as C,D,Eb,F,G,A,Bb,C

Attached Image

When doing it this way around, you must also take account of the fact that different modes have different characteristic chords that fit with them. So for instance, Dorian mode has a Minor 7th feel to it - if you move from C Major to C Dorian, you are also moving from Major to Minor. Modes are characterised ad Major or Minor based on the interval between the 1st and 3rd notes. Not surprisingly, if the interval is a minor 3rd, the mode is characterised as minor, if its a major 3rd, it is characterised as major.

So you see we can work it both ways, going from a scale to a mode, or from a mode to a scale, and of course with practice you won't need to figure the notes out at all, you will just think "Dorian" and your fingers will play it - but that's a LOT of practice by the way!

You can use the same principle above to figure out the notes for any of the modes listed. Its also important to point out that for every mode, we are using the notes out of a major scale, just with a displaced root note, so learning modes is simply a case of re-using the major scale shapes you already know, and altering where you place the root note of that scale in the pattern. This means that you from the CAGED system you have 5 options for playing each of the modes.

Again, What exactly is a Mode?

So when all is said and done, is a Mode a specific pattern of notes, or just a scale played up a few notes?

People disagree on this - my answer to that question is that they are both. The essence of what a mode is, is the Tone/Semi-tone formula you use to construct it - Dorian is Dorian no matter what key it is played in, its the relationship of the notes that counts. But the selection and structuring of modes is done by an orderly progression through the scale you are generating the modes from. You'll notice that we have picked only 7 of the possible combinations of tones and semi-tones - others are possible, but that moves us into the realms of new scales. Modes of scales are strictly generated in the way I have described using movement through the degrees of the scale to generate the formulae for each.

Is That All There is to Modes?

Well we have really just scratched the surface of modes here, but by the time we have covered all of the modes listed above in more detail you will have learnt pretty much everything that most people mean when they talk about modes.

To be accurate, what we have discussed here are the Major Modes, meaning the modes generated from a Major scale. It is actually possible to generate modes from any scale at all though. So for instance, there are modes of the Pentatonic scale, Harmonic Minor scale, Melodic Minor scale and so on. Notice I didn't mention the Natural Minor scale here - although we use it a lot and call it a scale, a more accurate way of looking at the natural minor scale is as a mode of the Major scale (the Aeolian).

If you want to look at other modes (and there are some pretty obscure ones!) I suggest you buy a reference book such as The Guitar Grimoire: A compendium of Formulas for Guitar Scales and Modes. The techniques for mode construction remain the same no matter what scale you use, but sometimes its easier to look them up than to figure them out yourself.

That's it for this lesson. In the following lessons we are going to take a tour through the modes, look at example scales and discus chord voicings.

If you have any questions you know where I am!

Once again, thanks to Tank for proofreading!

This post has been edited by Andrew Cockburn: Jan 2 2008, 03:07 PM


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radarlove1984
post Apr 7 2007, 02:47 AM
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Great lesson. I knew a little about modes already, but I've been generating them from the 3 note per string major scale, and it never really "clicked" until I saw your scale diagrams.

The pattern's pretty obvious now. Thanks.
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Andrew Cockburn
post Apr 7 2007, 03:43 PM
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QUOTE (radarlove1984 @ Apr 6 2007, 09:47 PM) *
Great lesson. I knew a little about modes already, but I've been generating them from the 3 note per string major scale, and it never really "clicked" until I saw your scale diagrams.

The pattern's pretty obvious now. Thanks.


Hi Radarlove - I can always count on you to read these things - glad it helped some.

Eventually I want to write a lesson on 3 note per string scales, including all of the modes.


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Tank
post Apr 8 2007, 10:40 AM
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QUOTE (Andrew Cockburn @ Apr 7 2007, 03:43 PM) *
Hi Radarlove - I can always count on you to read these things - glad it helped some.

Eventually I want to write a lesson on 3 note per string scales, including all of the modes.


Hiya andrew, I've got one of those somewhere. I'm pretty sure I posted it on the old forum. PM me, and I'll try and find the topic, you can scavenge what you need from it.
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Andrew Cockburn
post Apr 8 2007, 03:06 PM
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QUOTE (Tank @ Apr 8 2007, 05:40 AM) *
Hiya andrew, I've got one of those somewhere. I'm pretty sure I posted it on the old forum. PM me, and I'll try and find the topic, you can scavenge what you need from it.


Thanks again Tank, I'll drop you a line when I'm ready!


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crabman
post Apr 10 2007, 08:13 AM
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Thanks Andrew. Good stuff, keep it coming

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Anastasio123
post Apr 15 2007, 04:12 AM
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Wow its amazing how easy modes really are to understand if you just read a nice clear description like this. Beforehand, they made my head hurt and I thought they were so intimidating. Thanks Andrew, this lesson really made me see the light...


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Melinda
post Apr 15 2007, 06:38 PM
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wink.gif awsome Andrew, this makes sense
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Andrew Cockburn
post Apr 15 2007, 09:32 PM
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Thanks all of you - glad you find it helpful, I'll keep 'em coming I promise.


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Pavel
post May 11 2007, 02:26 PM
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Ok i just found some time to sit and read this - this explanation is as easy as possible! Awesome work Andrew!


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Andrew Cockburn
post May 11 2007, 02:33 PM
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QUOTE (Pavel @ May 11 2007, 09:26 AM) *
Ok i just found some time to sit and read this - this explanation is as easy as possible! Awesome work Andrew!


Thanks Pavel - that means a lot coming from you!


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Rockwouldbe
post May 11 2007, 03:08 PM
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hey andrew do you think

you can add all the chords you use

for example

mixloydien-----7'th chords (the first chord)


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Andrew Cockburn
post May 11 2007, 04:17 PM
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QUOTE (Rockwouldbe @ May 11 2007, 10:08 AM) *
hey andrew do you think

you can add all the chords you use

for example

mixloydien-----7'th chords (the first chord)


Hi Rockwouldbe - that's a great suggestion - I'll be sure to discuss the chords in detail when I go through each of the modes in parts 2 and 3 smile.gif


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Bitey
post May 15 2007, 05:10 PM
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So Semi tones or S are like A# or Bb and T are whole notes like C D E G A B? Am I getting this right that to do a dorian pattern you just make a pattern with the S and T's? If this makes any sense.

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Kaneda
post May 15 2007, 07:45 PM
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QUOTE (Bitey @ May 15 2007, 06:10 PM) *
So Semi tones or S are like A# or Bb and T are whole notes like C D E G A B? Am I getting this right that to do a dorian pattern you just make a pattern with the S and T's? If this makes any sense.


No, Andrew's formulae don't tell you (directly) what notes to pick. Rather, they tell you, for each of the modes, if you pick a starting note, how big is the gap before the next note? I'll try to explain it in different words. This illustration may (or may not) help:



Look at the list of note names in the middle (ignore the blue/black colors for now). That's all 12 notes in the western music system listed in ascending order (there's 13 names in the list, because I repeated the "C" at the end).

To the left, I wrote the size of the gap between each of those notes. Notice that the gap between two adjacent notes is always a semitone - between C and C#, but also between E and F (there's no E# - not for our purposes here, at least).

So, the gap between D and G is 5 semitones (count them). The gap between F# and G# is 2 semitones. 2 Semitones = a Tone ("semi" means "half").

So, when Andrew writes S, he means "a gap of 1 Semitone". When he writes T, he means "a gap of 2 Semitones" (or put differently, "a gap of 1 Tone").

Now, let's find the notes of the C dorian scale. A dorian scale, as Andrew's formulae shows, is made up by the following gaps between notes: T S T T T S T.

If we want to make C dorian, we start on C.

Now, look at the image again. On the right, I've written in the gaps - Tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone, tone. So, we start from C, go up a tone to D, then a semitone to D#/Eb, then a tone to F etc. The blue note names show what we end up with for the C dorian scale:

C D Eb F G A Bb C

(Side note: We could write it C D D# F G A A# C, but a basic rule of diatonic scales ("diatonic scales" is basically a fancy name for all the scales you can create this way - musicians love code) is that the note names should be picked in a way so that no letter appears twice - in our case, "D" appears again in D#, and "A" appears again in A#, so we pick the "alternate names" (the flats), so each letter appears only once).

That's how you make C dorian. To make D dorian, you just start out from D instead of C, but use the same gaps. That should give you:
D E F G A B C D

By "coincidence" this one has no sharps or flats - it's the same notes as C major, only starting from D, as Andrew explained.

To make C major (Ionian is the major scale), you start out from C, then use the gaps (from Andrew's formulae) for the Ionian mode: T T S T T T S. That yields:

C D E F G A B C

To make C natural minor (also known as Aeolian mode), we use the gaps for Aeolian mode, and start from C: T S T T S T T

C D Eb F G Ab Bb C

etc.

Hope that helped. Otherwise, ask again wink.gif

And maybe try to pick a mode and a starting note, and see if you can build the mode, then post it here smile.gif

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sillyman
post May 27 2007, 09:37 PM
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I understand the theory behind the modes but i don't see the point because you're still playing the same notes, how much of a difference do these modes actually make


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Pavel
post May 27 2007, 10:13 PM
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To be honest - that's a very good question Sillyman because i have always been asking same thing!! Andrew - any help here?


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Andrew Cockburn
post May 27 2007, 10:57 PM
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QUOTE (Pavel @ May 27 2007, 05:13 PM) *
To be honest - that's a very good question Sillyman because i have always been asking same thing!! Andrew - any help here?


Well you aren't really playing the same notes ...

If you look at C major, then D dorian, well yes they DO share the same notes, but you are comparing apples with oranges because they should be treated as different keys.

You should be comparing for instance C Major with C dorian to really get the feel of how modes change the flavour of what you are playing. Look at the modes for the key of C:

C Major : C,D,E,F,G,A,B
C Dorian : C,D,Eb,F,G,A,Bb
C Phrygian : C,Db,Eb,F,G,Ab,Bb
C Lydian : C,D,E,F#,G,A,B
C Mixolydian : C,D,E,F,G,A,Bb
C Aelian : C,D,Eb,F,G,Ab,Bb
C Lcrian : C,Db,Eb,F,Gb,Ab,Bb

If you switch between those scales you will get a very different feel ... some are major some are minor, they all have additional quirky notes that give them character.

The trick here is to not focus on how the modes are generated (by stepping up through the scale and playing each mode starting on a new note), you should focus on how the modes of a given key (in this case C) relate to each other, then you will start to understand the differences.

Does that help?


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Pavel
post May 27 2007, 11:14 PM
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oh ok i got it now! So it's actually like - C-Dorian over a C-Major chord would be like playing Bb-Major scale notes over C-Major chord but starting with C, right?

Starting to have sense now.... that scale than has different position of halfsteps... ok, thanks a lot!

This post has been edited by Pavel: May 27 2007, 11:16 PM


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Andrew Cockburn
post May 28 2007, 12:34 AM
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QUOTE (Pavel @ May 27 2007, 06:14 PM) *
oh ok i got it now! So it's actually like - C-Dorian over a C-Major chord would be like playing Bb-Major scale notes over C-Major chord but starting with C, right?

Starting to have sense now.... that scale than has different position of halfsteps... ok, thanks a lot!


Exactly smile.gif


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