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stewblack

Modes and chords question

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When jamming to backing tracks on YouTube, some videos tell you the chord progression. Others also suggest which mode you might use.

I would like to learn how to know the appropriate mode by analysing the chords rather that being told.

Can someone point me to a resource which might help me to learn how to do this?

I have found an online tool (enter the chords, it tells me the mode) but that does it for me, and I'd like to learn to do it myself.

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Modes are scale sequences built on each degree of a scale. So you take the major scale and build scales on each note. 1st degree is Ionian, then Dorian on 2nd degree, etc. This can also inform an appropriate group of notes to play on a chord progression, depending on where a chord sits. Each one conveys a particular sound:

E.g. A VI-III-II-V-I progression in C

VI = Am7, use Aeolian mode

III = Em7, use Phrygian mode

II = Dm7, use Dorian mode

V = G7, use Mixolydian mode

I = Cmaj7, use Ionian mode

Minor keys are different. You tend to use modes from different melodic minor scales within the same chord sequence.

Example II-V-I in C minor

II = Dm7b5, use D Locrian #2 mode from F melodic minor scale

V = G7alt, use G Superlocrian mode from Ab melodic minor scale

I = Cminmaj7 (often substituted as its  written as a plain Cmin or Cmin7 in jazz charts), use C melodic minor scale

Fun fact: in a minor II-V, anything you ply over the II chord using F melodic minor sounds will work shifted up a minor third over the V)

It became more interesting when modes started to be used for their sound in their own right, being held for longer, rather than as part of a standard cycle of fourths chord progression (as above). “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis is basically a study in major modes, and “Maiden Voyage” by Herbie Hancock also contains lots of so-called “Modal” jazz sounds.

In terms of interesting, most pop/rock music tends to stick to the more prosaic-sounding (major) modes, but when it comes to jazz you can stretch out and substitute a straightforward-sounding mode for a more interesting and exotic sound - which is the basis for reharmonisation.

There really isn’t much more to it than that (well, about 50 years of practice!)

To start off with, all you need is a Major scale and a melodic minor scale. Build a scale off of each scale tone and listen to the sounds.

Edit. This one-page resource is fairly helpful as a start point for melodic minor harmony: https://www.jazzguitar.be/blog/melodic-minor-modes/

 

Edited by FDC484950

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10 minutes ago, FDC484950 said:

E.g. A VI-III-II-V-I progression in C

VI = Am7, use Aeolian mode

III = Em7, use Phrygian mode

II = Dm7, use Dorian mode

V = G7, use Mixolydian mode

I = Cmaj7, use Ionian mode

You're expressing quite a simple concept but in a very complicated way. Why not just say:
vi = Am7 = use notes from the C major scale
iii = Em7 = use notes from the C major scale
ii = Dm7 = use notes from the C major scale
V = G7 = use notes from the C major scale
I = Cmaj = use notes from the C major scale
?
 

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2 minutes ago, jrixn1 said:

You're expressing quite a simple concept but in a very complicated way. Why not just say:
vi = Am7 = use notes from the C major scale
iii = Em7 = use notes from the C major scale
ii = Dm7 = use notes from the C major scale
V = G7 = use notes from the C major scale
I = Cmaj = use notes from the C major scale
?
 


What is complicated about it? Each mode has its own sound, and works over a different flavour of chord. It’s related to the harmony, which is why you don’t just play C Major all the way through. If you know where you are and what the harmony is, it also sounds better and more complete when improvising. Beginner improvisers fall into this trap and play C major all the way through a tune. It lacks direction and forward motion because your not paying attention to the harmony, plus you end up with awkward moments like hanging on a C all the way through a G7 chord (not wrong, but doesn’t usually sound great).

As mentioned, things are different in minor keys as the modes don’t all come from the same key.

Another way to look at them is to take each mode’s pattern and start them on the same note, so C Ionian, C Dorian, C Phrygian etc. This highlights the way each one sounds. In the end they’re just different scales, so different options over a given chord - but it helps to know how they’re derived.

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Hi guys. I know what the modes are, I also understand why they're what they are. What I'm asking is when confronted with a chord chart, if I want to noodle over it, how do I know which mode/s is appropriate.

As I said there is a simple shortcut someone kindly created, but short of writing down the notes from every chord then seeing which modes these notes fit into, I wondered if there was another way.

For example. One jam I used has 3 chord progressions, with suggestions for which mode fits each progression. Even though the first chord of the first two progressions is actually the same, different modes applied. I played along using the suggested modes and they fitted beautifully. I want to be able to do that without being told which modes to use. It must be possible or the guy who made the video couldn't have put them up!

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15 minutes ago, stewblack said:

It must be possible or the guy who made the video couldn't have put them up!

I’d be interested to know what  video  it was stew , because I play over backing tracks and chord progressions sometimes using the modes or parts of the modes 🙂

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8 minutes ago, Reggaebass said:

I’d be interested to know what  video  it was stew , because I play over backing tracks and chord progressions sometimes using the modes or parts of the modes 🙂

I'll find it. The guy recommended by @nige1968 kind of answered my question in this video right near the end. He explained how modes and scales and chord tones offer many, many varied possibiliteis (he's talking about squeaky little toy instrument soloing - but it all applies to real instruments too) and IF YOU HAVE TIME (my emphasis) you can explore as many as you want, if the chords are thrown at you however, you have to think on your feet.

In other words, no one can glance at a complex chord sequence and instantly know all the modes and scales and their application, but take your time, work stuff out, and you'll start recognising patterns. I was asking for a quick fix to something for which there is no quick fix.

@Reggaebass here's an example of the kind of video I mean (can't find the specific one I referred to - I'll keep looking)

 

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1 minute ago, stewblack said:

here's an example of the kind of video I mean (can't find the specific one I referred to - I'll keep looking)

 

Thanks stew 👍

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IIRC Scott Devine has a really well presented video on his site.

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52 minutes ago, stewblack said:

Hi guys. I know what the modes are, I also understand why they're what they are. What I'm asking is when confronted with a chord chart, if I want to noodle over it, how do I know which mode/s is appropriate.

As I said there is a simple shortcut someone kindly created, but short of writing down the notes from every chord then seeing which modes these notes fit into, I wondered if there was another way.

For example. One jam I used has 3 chord progressions, with suggestions for which mode fits each progression. Even though the first chord of the first two progressions is actually the same, different modes applied. I played along using the suggested modes and they fitted beautifully.

Ok...

Maj7: major scale, Lydian mode, major pentatonic

Min7: Dorian mode, aeolian mode, minor pentatonic

Min7b5: Lorain mode or Locrian #2 mode

Dominant 7: mixolydian mode, Lydian b7 mode, altered scale, diminished scale starting which half step, harmonic minor scale (start a 5th below the chords root, e.g. on C7 try F harmonic minor)

+7: augmented scale (there’s only 2 as they repeat every whole tone)

dim7: diminished scale (usually starting with whole step but possible starting with half step)

On each of the chords above, any of the scales mentioned might work. The “quick fix” is to understand the underlying harmony, and if there is a melody that will give you a clue as to what might fit. Use your ears - the mode that “fits” might not be the most interesting sound. Also note that the dominant 7th is the most tense chord so has the widest range of choices.

Thats why I started off with an example chord sequence, and what the harmony means, so which mode might be appropriate.

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The Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine has a very detailed explanation of the relationship between modes and chords. One thing he covers is why you can't just play a C major scale over all the chords derived from C major.

The general idea that I got from his book (and other people) is that you don't want to be too "prescriptive" about the relationship between a chord and modes, but that knowing the relationship(s) gives you an available pool of notes that you can use when you're playing over the chord.

What's nice is to internalise how the different modes sound over the chords. For example, as others have said, over a Dm7 chord a D dorian will probably sound good, but it's worth understanding how C ionian and G mixolydian sound over the same chord (you hear this a lot with jazz walking bass lines - I've heard both the examples I just gave on versions of So What, which is all dorian, but rather than just walking up and down dorian modes, bass players will emphasise other modes to add interest).

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15 hours ago, FDC484950 said:

Thats why I started off with an example chord sequence, and what the harmony means, so which mode might be appropriate.

Thank you. In my ignorance I thought I knew more than I did. What's it they say? A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

I really appreciate the help and guidance I receive here.

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Here’s a cool exercise I took and slightly modified from a very old edition of Guitar Player. It was a tiny side column item from Scott Henderson...

Take any bass note, for example, G.

Now build a triad on that note. Work out both the arpeggio and from the chord tones, the possible modes and scales (to make life easier just focus on scales that start and end on the same note as the root note of the chord, not necessarily the bass note).

Repeat, but shifting the chord up a semitone each time. For example you could have:

Gmin - blues scale, Dorian mode, aeolian mode, minor pentatonic

Ab/G - Ionian mode, Lydian mode, major pentatonic

A/G - mixolydian mode, Lydian dominant mode, altered scale, blues scale, major and minor pentatonics, diminished scale starting with a half step

Bbmin/G - (usually written Gmin7b5) - locrian mode, locrian #2 mode, blues scale

B/G (usually written Gmaj7#5) - Lydian #5 mode

C/G - any scales you’d use over a Cmaj. You could also think of this as some kind of G suspended chord with an added 6th (so G is root, C is perfect 4th, E is 6th).

Db/G - now it gets more tricky as more than one chord could fit - you now have Db/F/Ab and G. By arranging the notes from the root you get G, Ab (b9), Db (b5 or if written C# would be the #11) and F (b7). This could be G7b9 (with or without #11), Gmin7b5 etc. Notice that you don’t get all of the notes of a chord, so it’s open to “fill in the blanks”. However the presence of the b7 and b9 points to some kind of dominant 7th sound.

Feel free to work out the rest. I love this kind of exercise as it covers several different ideas at once (harmony, scale and chord relationships, triads over alternate bass notes, pedal tones), whilst being a very simple concept (just shifting triads up a semitone each time and working out which chords, and therefore scales would work). 

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On 13/10/2020 at 10:28, tinyd said:

What's nice is to internalise how the different modes sound over the chords. For example, as others have said, over a Dm7 chord a D dorian will probably sound good, but it's worth understanding how C ionian and G mixolydian sound over the same chord (you hear this a lot with jazz walking bass lines - I've heard both the examples I just gave on versions of So What, which is all dorian, but rather than just walking up and down dorian modes, bass players will emphasise other modes to add interest).

I read this a couple of times and might be misinterpreting it, but...

Since D dorian, C ionian and G mixolydian are all the same scale, how is this playing different modes over Dm7?

Agreed, thinking about playing C major over Dm7 will probably result in targeting different notes compared to thinking about D dorian, but you'd still be choosing from the same 'pool' of pitches regardless of which of those perspectives you choose, so the resulting sound is still D dorian in every case.

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The way I see this is that we do this anyway ... imagine bass playing by root and fifth 

in a ii v i progression based around c, you’d play D and A, G and D followed by C and G. To make it more interesting you’d throw in some chord notes such as F from the Dm, the A as a passing note in the G and do on 

that’s a mode, isn’t it ? D Dorian right there..then G mixolydian 

Edited by Geek99

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On 14/10/2020 at 21:49, TKenrick said:

I read this a couple of times and might be misinterpreting it, but...

Since D dorian, C ionian and G mixolydian are all the same scale, how is this playing different modes over Dm7?

Agreed, thinking about playing C major over Dm7 will probably result in targeting different notes compared to thinking about D dorian, but you'd still be choosing from the same 'pool' of pitches regardless of which of those perspectives you choose, so the resulting sound is still D dorian in every case.

Yep, agreed, the notes are all the same, but when you play lines and melodies you're not just plucking notes out and playing them in any order - like you say, you're targeting different notes and where you start and end gives the tune a certain sound, especially when you consider that some notes will end up on strong vs weak beats. If you play Paul Chambers's bass line to So What without a piano, it will still sound (mostly) like D Dorian, not C major, even though the notes are all the same. So it's a bit too simple just to treat every diatonic mode (and chord) in a given key as completely interchangable, even if they share notes - like most things in music, a lot depends on context.

That's my understanding from reading stuff over the years - it's interesting stuff and as with everything that people call "music theory", it's all just a way of helping explain why some things sound good

 

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My learning experience always follows the same pattern.

I stare in baffled incomprehension from a distance at a seemingly impenetrable forest of new knowledge. Then I realise that those who've spent years in there don't always agree on why the trees are where they are or the best paths to take. 

I want to run away but I gather my courage, come closer, and peer into the trees. 

Eventually I see one tiny bit of  what might be a path. So I take a couple of steps and if it goes nowhere I take a step back and look around then try another way. Slowly, one small corner becomes familiar. It's a start. 

This is where I am with scales and modes and applying them to my playing. It ain't much, but it's a start. I played over an Am groove. I played within the Am scale (or one of them - the one I know - aeolian I think you call it) and then played within the C major scale over the same Am groove. I listened. If I play the C major scale over a C it sounds different. More twee. 

I am standing these two tiny steps inside this forest. But I am inside. Thank you all for helping me start to see the wood from the trees. 

 

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Your ears will tell you if it’s wrong. There’re are no rules as far as I can tell besides if it sounds right then go with it, if it doesn’t it’s probably jazz 

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On 18/10/2020 at 23:18, stewblack said:

This is where I am with scales and modes and applying them to my playing. It ain't much, but it's a start. I played over an Am groove. I played within the Am scale (or one of them - the one I know - aeolian I think you call it) and then played within the C major scale over the same Am groove. I listened. If I play the C major scale over a C it sounds different. More twee. 

The advantage that I see with learning more about "theory" is that it provides some shortcuts towards being able to play things that sound good, rather than just trying things out more-or-less at random until something sounds pleasant. But however you get there, it still all comes down to listening to the overall music and playing what sounds good to you.

One other note: Full scales often sound a bit artificial if you're playing along, especially as many of the scale tones end up on weak beats. For jamming, the major/minor pentatonics, the blues scale, and the "bebop" scales are a more musical way to explore these relationships.

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1 hour ago, tinyd said:

The advantage that I see with learning more about "theory" is that it provides some shortcuts towards being able to play things that sound good,

This is exactly it. I have spent a lifetime following the chord tones and using trial and error to join them with notes in between. Sometimes certain notes fitted other times they didn't. 

I want to learn to understand which notes work and why, rather than throwing darts blindfold and hoping to hit the right number. 

In the past if jamming with folk I would just play incredibly quickly when moving from one chord to another.It hid the bum notes and impressed the muggles. Had a happy career for decades doing this, but now I want to learn differently. 

Also its wonderfully rewarding and fascinating. 

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On 14/10/2020 at 21:49, TKenrick said:

Since D dorian, C ionian and G mixolydian are all the same scale

But they're not. They have all the same notes, just not necessarily in the same order ;)

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On 20/10/2020 at 11:19, stewblack said:

I want to learn to understand which notes work and why, rather than throwing darts blindfold and hoping to hit the right number. 

Scott Devine, Rick Beato and a European guitarist whose name escapes me have all got great videos covering this. I'll try and find the guitarist's name and send it to you.

The most useful thing I found was in finding out that chords are based upon taking a scale or mode and starting at the root note and going up in thirds. This was a HUGE revelation. I'll explain:

In a C major scale, the root is C, a third up is E, a third up from that is G. There's your basic C major triad (3 note chord). If you go up another third from there, you get the Cmaj7. An even simpler way is by saying take the major scale, and play the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th notes. Boom, Cmaj7. 

All this means, if someone is playing a Cmaj7 chord, you can play the Cmajor scale (Which if you've been practising modes, is also called C Ionian) and this will sound "Homely" because you're playing the thing that chord comes from! But every mode has a corresponding chord. 

If you understand how modes are constructed, you'll know the next mode in the key center of C is D dorian. Taking the root (D), a third up (F), a third up/5th note in the scale (A) and a third up/7th note in the scale (c) makes the chord Dm7. This means playing D dorian will have the appropriate sound over Dm7 because it gave birth to it. 

This goes on all the way up with:

C Maj7 - C ionian
D min7 - D Dorian
E min7 - E Phrygian
F Maj7 - F Lydian
G7        - G Mixolydian
Amin7 - A Aeolian
Bmin7b5 - B Locrian

So start by finding backing tracks based around Cmaj7, and these are the chords that it will HAVE to use if it's a regular, diatonic song. Then work on changing from mode to mode when the chord changes and have some fun. If you're a bass player, the easiest place to start is by learning the arpeggios of each of those chords, and playing those, instead of just noodling and hoping for the best. Those tend to give the "Right" feel for a bassline, and it's also easier to choose between 4 notes rather than 7 ;)

Word of warning, there are hundreds of songs which start with a Cmaj7 tonality, and will throw up bizarre chords not covered above which you're not ready for. That's ok, those are just lessons for another day. Don't let that fool you into thinking that you havn't learned everything properly, those songs might be interesting to the ear BECAUSE they're breaking "The rules" of theory. 

All of this means, technically, there IS a type of mode which works best with a type of chord, but the best place to determine that TO BEGIN WITH is knowing which key you're in (I and most of the internet use C major as the example), and working off the modes of that accordingly, not simply trying to pair up ALL minor chords to one type of mode, and ALL major chords to another. Can this be done? Yes, and it's what your website will have been doing for you, but that's sprinting before walking when it comes to modes. They can seem daunting, and with all the maths flying around it can seem insurmountable, but trust me, it REALLY isn't, and there are lots of great resources out there, just make sure you fully understand one thing before moving onto the next. 

 

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