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The Modes of a Scale...

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The Modes of a Scale...

Post by jwburks on Sat Sep 06, 2008 1:50 am

I'm still rather not-so-good at the piano. I'm not awful, but I'm not *great*, but I am pretty good at guitar, and what I've learned about music theory has helped me quite a bit, as far as composing music goes. And I don't even completely understand it, so feel free to throw in some extra info here. My teacher wasn't exactly drilling this into my head, and was bent more on getting me to play "clean" as he called it, so I did a lot of learning on my own, as he also encouraged (maybe he was just lazy :-P ). So here is my breakdown of a scale, as far as I understand it...

In the key of C, the only diatonic scale that has no sharps or flats (that I am aware of!).

C D E F G A B C
R 2 3 4 5 6 7 R(octave)

But, let's break it down. Oh, uh... you may already know this. I've looked around and haven't seen any discussion on this, but for all I know I missed it because I'm dumb... but anyway, here's a closer look at each of these notes.

C -- Ionian (natural major) - C Major
D -- Dorian - D Minor
E -- Phrygian - E Minor
F -- Lydian - F Major
G -- Mixolydian - G Major
A -- Aeolian (natural minor) - A Minor
B -- Locrian - B Diminished

What am I getting at anyway? I asked myself that question when my teacher told me this but didn't explain it. Not for 6 months anyway, and I still didn't get a full explanation :-P

Well, there are 7 notes in the major scale, and each of these notes can change the way a song sounds almost completely. I think this is more concerned with rhythm. For example, playing a C Major chord while playing the C Major scale over it will give you a "yay, I feel good" sound. You are in the Ionian mode... but now play the C Major scale over an A Minor chord and now it sounds rather sad, because you're in natural minor, and minor scales generally sound rather teary. Now let me move on before I get lost in my own words...

You probably know that chords are built on stacks of 3rds. Every other note, like this:
C D E F G A B C
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

Here are the chord formulas for triads (3-note chords):
Major: Root, 3rd 5th
Minor: Root, b3rd, 5th
Diminished: Root, b3rd, b5th

So looking at the scale, you can figure that a C Major chord would be C E G (1, 3, 5). It doesn't have to be that complicated, since you can start with each note and skip every other note... D F A would be D Minor, for instance, and E G B would be E Minor; F A C would be F Major, etc. You could get the chords of the scale out that way if you want to, assuming you don't know them all by heart (I still don't, and probably should).

When it comes to modes, all you are really doing is "re-ordering" the notes. Like this...
C D E F G A B C - This is C Ionian (Natural Major). The root note is C + the 3rd (E) + the 5th (G) = C Major Chord
D E F G A B C D - This is D Dorian (Minor). The root note is D + the 3rd (F) + the 5th (A) = D Minor
E F G A B C D E - This is E Phrygian (Minor). The root note is E + the 3rd (G) + the 5th (B) = E Minor Chord
F G A B C D E F - This is F Lydian (Major). The root note is F + the 3rd (A) + the 5th (C) = F Major Chord
G A B C D E F G - This is G Mixolydian (Major). The root note is G + the 3rd (B) + the 5th (D) = G Major Chord
A B C D E F G A - This is A Aeolian (Natural Minor). The root note is A + the 3rd (C) + the 5th (E) = A Minor Chord
B C D E F G A B - This is B Locrian (Diminished). The root note is B + the 3rd (D) + the 5th (F) = B Diminished Chord

The point is you play any of those chords over the corresponding scale and you get a different "mood". The major chords will give you a happy sound, the minor chords will give you a sad sound, and the diminished chord sounds creepy. But most modes are used in a particular genre, too. Locrian is used in Latin music a lot, for instance. Try playing only the minor chords with the scale and you get one of the saddest things you've ever heard, and try using only the major chords and it's too upbeat for my emo tastes... just kidding...

From what I've read, what mode you're in depends on what note you start with. If you start with C, you're in C Ionian. I could be wrong, and maybe the mode is always changing with the chords. Heck, it doesn't even have to be a chord. Just use a single note, the root note, and it *still* changes the mood of the song. A melody all by itself can be turned into something completely different with the addition of just a single note on the bass clef.

Well I blabbed enough. If I am wrong about anything, someone please slap me and re-teach me. I am here to learn! With tough love, if need be...

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Re: The Modes of a Scale...

Post by Christian on Sat Sep 06, 2008 2:22 am

First I was going to say - this does not look useful.

Then I googled 'piano modes' and with a click I found a textbox that says it is infact very important.

My tough love would be that I think this is to advanced for some people to understand. And Im not sure how appliable it is anymore. And by that I mean - there are easier ways to rember/do this.

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Re: The Modes of a Scale...

Post by jwburks on Sat Sep 06, 2008 4:10 am

The first time I was handed this, I also raised an eyebrow and thought to myself, "Uh... okay, if you say so..." But I also trusted in my teacher's greater wisdom, as it were. Then I experimented with it myself and saw how it worked first hand, and that's probably the best way. It's not necessary to remember the names of the modes (like Ionian, etc., people just look at you funny when you say it), and for guitar it's as simple as knowing "Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Major, Minor, Diminished", although to be honest, in guitar I hardly ever use a diminished chord. But if you want to know for sure what chords go with what scale, this is a decent way of figuring it out, especially when writing music. I don't think it's too useful for learning how to play a song that's already been written, unless you really want to dissect it, but it's very good for making up chord progressions to improvise to, and it's not too bad once you get the hang of it. You can also stack an extra 3rd to all the chords to get 7th chords, but again, I rarely use those, even for the guitar. I think they're more suited to jazz or somesuch. Oh, I forgot that a power chord is just the 1st and 5th... technically an interval, not a chord, but rock and metal use this a whole lot.

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Re: The Modes of a Scale...

Post by VictorCS on Sat Sep 06, 2008 10:31 am

I've always wondered what the modes are, untill now. Ofcourse, I still dont really know what those are good for, and as you think, maybe mode is changing with the chords, or note.

So after what I read modes are moods? If I play the c major scale, and hits the D minor it pulls to the sad side?
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Re: The Modes of a Scale...

Post by jwburks on Sat Sep 06, 2008 1:25 pm

That's pretty much the idea of it, I believe, but it's probably more complicated than that, and has more to do with rhythm (what chord you are playing a scale over). Here's exactly what my teacher wrote down for me:

Modes - Re-distribrution of the root

Name, acc., style
Ionian - major scale - pop, jazz
Dorian - b3 b7 - rock, blues
Phrygian - b2 b3 b6 b7 - latin, spanish
Lydian - #4 - pop, jazz
Mixolydian - b7 - blues, country
Aeolian (a.k.a. nat. minor) - b3 b6 b7 - rock, fusion
Locrian - b2 b3 b5 b6 b7 - latin, spanish

He then later told me about "diatonic harmony" which is the whole "Major, minor, minor, major, major, minor, diminished" deal... that actually looked like this, with roman numerals...

I. Do. Major
II. Re. Minor
III. Mi. Minor
IV. Fa. Major
V. So. Major
VI. La. Minor
VII. Ti. Diminished

If you're in the key of C and you play an Em chord over the scale, it does sort of sound Spanish-y. Switch between Em and Bdim chords and it sounds even more Latin-ish. Play a "Torro!" rhythm with Em to Fmaj and try it, also. Sounds like you're fighting bulls. So there's obviously more to this mode business than I was ever told, and it still seems rather ambiguous. I'm hoping Andrew comes in here and explains it all :-P He probably knows how to explain it better. But for the most part, I look at it like I have 7 flavors to choose from at any time, and when I'm writing a song I try out all the chords in the scale to see which flavor I need next. I'm my last song, in the key of A, the chord progression is Amaj., Bmin., G#dim., C#min., F#min., Bmin. G#dim., Emaj. Try that progression (I. II. VII. III. VI. II. VII. V.) in 4/4, four quarter notes per bar, and improvise in A major... each time you change chords, you are changing the entire mood and feel of the melody. This must be one use of modes, but it's probably more complicated than that, and I'm still looking for answers myself, to be honest. You can also use 7th chords, and since you build chords by skipping every other note (for triads and 7ths, at least), you could add an extra note to all the triads and end up with:

Maj --> maj7
Min --> min7
Min --> min7
Maj --> maj7
Maj --> 7
Min --> min7
Dim --> min7b5

Same modes, yet a different sound. Mostly jazz I think.

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Re: The Modes of a Scale...

Post by VictorCS on Sat Sep 06, 2008 4:49 pm

It's pretty weird how chords and stuff change the mood of a song, I'm usually writing the melody,
then add chords etc to get more depth in it.
And the wild thing is that chords affect the way you recieve the melody.
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