Modes: Musical Mystery or Musical Blessing...

Modes can be used in a number of different ways. As the tonal center for an entire piece, or within a song's section, (i.e., Chorus, Verse, etc.). Or, any major scale mode can be used as a way to cover a single specific chord. 

With all of these possible applications, it's no wonder that guitar students find the modes are more of a "musical mystery" rather than a "musical blessing."

A mode is created by simply starting a major scale from off of a tone "other than" the major key tonic note. For example; if we performed a "C Major" scale from off of the note of "G" we would produce a new scale that still uses all of the notes of "C Major." This new scale would be called, "G Mixolydian." It would be considered the "5th" mode of the major scale.

Example 1a). "C Major Scale" [IONIAN]

Example 1b). "G Mixolydian"

*Notice how the geometrical layout for each of the scales shown above is identical, but the location of the "Tonic" notes, (naming notes - shown as circled dots) is different.

You can build other modal scales from each of the scale degrees of the major scale and each scale would support a different type of sound musically, yet the shapes would remain the same.

Each scale would allow for a different type of chord influence due to the new Tonic Note location, and each mode would generate a different type of character that would function to really lock into the music that you're composing.

Modes achieve this because they are closely tied to the chords being performed at the moment.

Modes are very important. In fact, I'd have to say that they are really, REALLY important to the creation of melody and harmony. So, if you compose music on guitar, ("the" pattern based instrument), you would greatly benefit from fully understanding how the modes function.

NOTE: If you want to learn exactly how to use the modes in kinds of different situations, consider purchasing a copy of my eBook, "Using the Major Scale Modes."

One of the truly fantastic sounds that can be generated from the use of modes is the sound of them being used across, "Parallel Tonic Notes."

The use of Parallel tonic notes means that the modes we use will be applied off of the same tonic. For example; having a "C major" scale melody line (Ionian) flow into a "C Mixolydian" melody line. And, if we as musicians /composers can have this occur seamless - all flowing in a very smooth and connected manner - we will achieve a really amazing musical effect.

Example 2a).  "C Major Scale" [IONIAN] (same as ex. 1a).

Example 2b).  "C Mixolydian" (notice the same tonic location)

When a mode has corresponding tonic notes, the sound associated with that tonic can be manipulated in a very subtle way.. Below is a melody that shifts from the sound of "C major" scale over to the "C Mixolydian mode."

Example 3). Modal Parallel Melodic / Harmonic Shift...

(click image to enlarge full-screen)

The example 3, melody shift between Ionian and Mixolydian can be done with any mode. However, it would require an understanding of how tones between each mode interact and when the best times would be for making the shift across the melodic flow.

This is where skill and awareness of the musician come into play. The more skills that you're able to build into your playing for this work, the easier it will be to perform these "cross modal" ideas.

The modes in simplest terms, are the basic major and minor scales. And, once you fully comprehend the basic Major (IONIAN) and the Natural Minor (AEOLIAN) you'll be able to do a lot more with how they relate to other more advanced modal work.

Begin by organizing a study plan for the modes. Work on their relationship to keys, how they relate to underlying chords, and each of the key's associated arpeggios. Comprehend their relationship to melody and harmony and if you do not know which intervals create each modal sound, learn that as soon as possible.

If you still feel lost, order my Modes eBook, or schedule a Skype Lesson with me to start getting a better idea of where your knowledge is at and what you'll need to do next with improving your playing skills.

- Andrew


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