Saturday, January 03, 2009

Learning Modes - The Relative Major Way

Ok so I did not invent this, but I did come up with it out of my own studies (as my college theory prof told me...the hard way). But I like many others learned early on 3 things about modes
  1. The seven modes were just "starting" on the 7 notes of the scale. So If you were playing a C major scale and went from D to D it was D dorian, E to E was E Phrygian, etc.
  2. Modes could sound really cool.
  3. Modes were hard to apply in real life.
So I have had an idea to make a play-along CD/MP3 set for my guitar students where they would get simple to progressively more intricate chord progressions to try to improvise over and give them advice on trying different modes with them. The problem was trying to find a quick way to determine what mode went with what scale.  I did not want C major, D Dorian, E Phrygian, etc. I wanted C Major, C Dorian, C Phrygian, etc. So what was a quick way to find this. Well, I started by writing them out.

C PhrygianCDbEbFGAbBb
C MixolydianCDEFGABb
C AeolianCDEbFGAbBb
C LocrianCDbEbFGbAbBb

Then of course since modes were just scales starting on different notes of a certain key then each of these should be enharmonic to a major scale. So I wrote those out

C Major (Ionian)C Major
C DorianBb Major
C PhrygianAb Major
C LydianG Major
C MixolydianF Major
C AeolianEb Major
C LocrianDb Major

Well that was all helpful and all but I wanted a pattern to follow. How could this list of keys be related? Well Somehow I noticed a pattern

Bb is a whole step below C, Ab is a whole step below Bb and G is a halfstep below Ab. Whole, Whole Half. Well if you are familiar with how a major scale is built, it Goes

Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Whole, Half 

in the forward direction (C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C)

When you look at the relative major keys that make up the modes of a given key. They use the same pattern going backwards.


So if you are in C and want to play C Lydian, since lydian is the 4th mode. You can go down Whole (to dorian), Whole (to Phrygian) , Half (to Lydian) which is the Key of G Major. So if you play G Major over a C major that is C Lydian. Which works since Lydian is the same as a raised 4th. F is the 4th note of the C scale and in the key of G it is sharped.

Now should you ignore how to spell your modes without this method? Certainly not! but this can give you a "cheat sheet" way of getting into a given mode.

Next time we will talk about applying this to the guitar.
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