Core Principles of Modes

Modes are as easy to play as the major scale, but you need to know how they work to play them correctly. Once you have the ability to control their sound, and where they can fit, you'll have an brand new range of sound at your fingertips...

Using the Modes is all about note selection and how those notes are tied to the chords that are being played in a progression. Since the Modes are derived from the major scale (and contain the same exact notes), musicians need to take stock in why and where a mode might be more valuable to play rather than the basic major or natural minor scale.

Why learn new names for the same set of notes? 
One of the most common questions from music students is, "why should I bother learning about modes since they're the same notes as the major scale?"

The main reason that modes can be helpful is that sometimes the effects that a chord progression might produce will not make it very easy to play basic major or natural minor scale sounds. The player will be left with only one solution to cover the harmony, and that will generally fall back on the use of the Pentatonic scale.

Being able to make the shift in thinking (over to a mode) will help a musician unlock new sounds directly related to the chords in use. having control over modes will also help musicians when they are playing over unique chords, especially those obscure ones that pop up, (i.e., extended chords, triad over bass-note chords and altered chords).

Modal Purpose: 
All of us want to be able to improvise over any chord. and, we want it to sound good. However, when new chords are introduced, they will often cause musicians harmonic problems with trying to align the best scale sounds over the chord harmonies.

Improvisational ideas over new /unique chord progressions can often start to sound the same with players taking the easy road of performing their old "standby pentatonic scales" in order to be able to cover new harmonic situations.

Learning to apply modes becomes an excellent way for musicians to better connect into chords and they help musicians break out of the, "Pentatonic Rut."

The best thing about learning how to use modes, is that the modes are as easy to play as the major scale, (in fact; they are the major scale). Plus, learning modes also helps the musician with gaining a better understanding of chord harmony.

This carries over to helping musicians develop a better grasp over the use of arpeggios. So, when you stop and think about it, learning modes helps with improvising, with learning new chords and with developing arpeggios. That's a "Win - Win - Win" situation.

There are a number of ways that musicians set out to learn the modes. However, learning their application from the perspective of arpeggios and how the arpeggio relationship relates to the chords being used in a progression is still the best way.

Before learning each mode, the musician needs to comprehend basic major and minor key chord harmony.

Study the example below:

Example 1). "C Major Scale" harmonized into diatonic chords

The chart above demonstrates the chords found in the major key /scale. These chords can be expanded to larger intervals. Their degrees will play a role in helping us determine when specific modes can be applied in music.

Expanded Harmony:
Make a study of the chart below. Take note of how our diatonic chords can become further expanded through 9th's, 11th, 13ths and altered tones.

Listen and Learn:
Modes are able to cover a "sound" that ties into a specific harmony. Usually modes are applied when the sound (through the use of unique intervals) of a chord progression will require modes to cover a unique group of chords - not normally performed together. Often the chord types will contain extensions, such as; 6th's or 9th intervals.

Other times, modes will be required when chords appear that are considered "triad over bass-note." These situations present very different tonal characteristics that will have us leaving the standard diatonic chord harmonies, (shown above in example one).

Due to these factors, we need to be able to closely listen to how new chords interact in progressions. If the chords are unique, we will need to decide what makes them unique. What tones are new and how might those new tones be affecting the other surrounding chords. Everything in a harmony is colored by what happens ahead and after the chords in a progression.

Even though this sounds complex, it can be made a lot easier by learning a handful of common modal situations that occur over and over again in music. Once those situations are able to be recognized, musicians can start to notice them and react to them easier.

- The keys, major scales, degrees, chords, and modes are all related
- Diatonic chord progressions, within a key, gravitate toward specific chords
- Notes in a chord play an important role in determining scale coverage
- Modes highlight a chord’s harmony and relationship to surrounding chords
- Scale tones tie into the chord tones and the arpeggios are the link between them

Modal Table:

Basic modal theory revolves around the degrees of the major scale that create each mode. In the modal table above, the degrees are related to each step of a "C major" scale. However, this principle applies to all of the musical keys.

Once you know the degree that creates the mode, and the chord that relates to that degree, you have the basic foundation for using the major scale modes.

Learn more about modes by studying my modal video series and take your understanding of the modes up to the next level with my eBook "Using the Major Scale Modes."



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