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Composition: Modes, Suspended & Dominant Chords etc.
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Author Composition: Modes, Suspended & Dominant Chords etc.
radiokoala
Yo pals This is fun!

I've been busy lately with my guitar that's found its way to my hands all the way from half a decade time spent in a dusty corner, and I decided to get all-scientific with the process by printing 100's & 100's of chords that I meticulously inspect and mark with a ! in order to have a DATABASE OF MY FAVORITE CHORDS.

What I can say about this pursuit is I'm really enjoying it this far and contemplate releasing a free-download pdf chordbook with all of the gems I've found (dunno how many; 100? 150?). The point is, I went through all of them and pick only those which are kinda unique sounding, I pay attention to things like interesting harmonic structure / resonance / sustain / mood — well everything, you name it... It would NOT contain single Am / Dm / 5-7-7 — only interesting enough variations of the chords, such as 7ths, Csus4, Emadd11 or what have you; the end goal is to make it some kind of source of inspiration for musicians, you can just try things, play around etc — and, since these are not your ‘everyday’ chords, you can see what works for you or gives you new ideas.

Anyway... while working on this, I also stumbled on some reading on modes (Dorian, Mixolydian, & other Five) — super interesting stuff, well, really, — but I'm only making my way through it, so wanted to ask a couple of questions...

1) What is the core principle of using modes over the chords?

Say, my song has three chords: C, F, G. (I'm in C Major). Am I right saying I could jam in ANY C mode (C Dorian, C Lydian) over C chord, but as soon as chord is changing to F, I gotta switch to say, F Mixolydian (random choice), then to G Aeolian for example? What is the common rule: can I jump between various modes like that, or should I stick to one: e.g I choose "Dorian" and play in C Dorian, F Dorian, and G Dorian over that progression?

So far my understanding has been I can choose any mode of the scale to play over chords, because they are "equal in rights" so to speak. So, depending on the mood I want to achieve, I can play in C Lydian or C Phrygian, or C Dorian, over C major chord.

I hope you understand where I'm getting at? smokin' Sorry, may have described it not the best way possible.

2) Can you "invert" the principle of playing modal scales on top of major scale chords and use a modal scale as a base (e.g my bassline is in B Aeolian or C Phrygian) and then play "regular" chords on top?

3) In two words... How would you normally use chords such as Sus & Dom9 in chord progressions? Where would you put them, what other type of chords would complement them? 7th, Sus, & Dominant 9 chords are probably the ones I like most, is there any kind of "template" I can remember that makes use of (some) of these chords together?

Also, feel free to point me to some good online resources which have chords grouped on one page so you can print them easily. Something like this, http://www.guitarchords247.com/roots/c/ — but whenever possible, grouped not by the key but the type (I'd like a chart with something lil' bit more esoteric a-la Dom9, majorminor...)

Thanks!

nanners
Sinamsis
Mainly commenting to subscribe. I took at least a ten year hiatus from seriously playing guitar, and the past 5 years I’ve only played infrequently. About 6 months ago I sold most of my guitar gear and basically rebuilt my entire guitar set up as I dove back into playing guitar. After spending the past 6 years or so getting into synthesis and writing electronic music, I find the way I approach guitar has completely changed. I was trained in classical guitar when I was younger, and I took some theory classes in college. But that was 15 years ago and I’ve forgotten quite a bit. I do things mainly by ear but of course keep the key signature in mind. I don’t play chords often and really think about root note and then added harmonic content over that. Also progression has become a big thing for me and I try to avoid starting with the root of the scale and wandering around only to return. I’ve found Andy Othling’s videos pretty helpful and he does get into this sort of stuff. Mostly from a post rock stand point, but I still find it helpful. I’m still finding my way but I put together a few tracks for a post rock EP. I have some of the unmixed material on my soundcloud.

As an aside, you may want to explore alternate tuning a bit. It really can be a source of inspiration. I just find guitar unique and at times so frustrating because of the physical aspect of fretting chords and certain things that are so simple on a piano keyboard are not possible on guitar. The same could be said in the opposite direction too I guess. But I do think that alternate tunings can help creativity. Personally one of my guitar heroes these days is John Cummings formerly of Mogwai. Was a big fan of Sonic Youth when I was younger too.
shreddoggie
1) What is the core principle of using modes over the chords?

The basic idea is that the modes are versions of the same scale starting on each step. So; C Ionian uses the same notes as D dorian except the D dorian starts on D instead of C - they key signature is the same. To follow your question exactly, the 'correct' approach would be to use C Ionian over the C maj chord, F lydian over the F major chord, and G mixolydian over the G major chord. All 3 scales use the same notes / key signature yet each one starts and ends on the root of the chord being played at the time.

As far as 'supposed' it ends here rather quickly. Modes have numerous fascinating uses and each has a flavor. Using them as above is quite academic since the soloist is sticking to the same selection of notes while emphasizing the root of each passing chord.

2) Can you "invert" the principle of playing modal scales on top of major scale chords and use a modal scale as a base (e.g my bassline is in B Aeolian or C Phrygian) and then play "regular" chords on top?

Yes - the chords then follow the mode just as in the example above but opposite. A lot of great jazz works on this principle - a classic is Impressions by Coltrane. If I remember correctly it is aeolian mode switching between D and Eb with the accompanying -7 chords

3) In two words... How would you normally use chords such as Sus & Dom9 in chord progressions? Where would you put them, what other type of chords would complement them? 7th, Sus, & Dominant 9 chords are probably the ones I like most, is there any kind of "template" I can remember that makes use of (some) of these chords together?

Chords generally (at a very basic level) posses 2 aspects: function and color. A dom9 chord is a dominant function and it contains the color of the 9th. A suspended chord reflects the fact that a note from a previous chord has been held over (suspended) into it, this note doesn't 'belong' and should be resolved. This does not mean that this function (suspension) is always respected - sometimes the color of suspension is used for its own merits. Same with the 9th in the previous example.

The template you ask about is the key to understanding styles of which there are basically 2 at the common practice / rudimentary level. 1 is classical and it has to do with counterpoint and conventions for how the voices which stack up to form chords move against one another. The second is jazz and this is much more complex. The conventions are virtually endless and they have to do with ways musicians have discovered to string together complex harmonies for different effects.

2 other points: This is extremely basic, any know-it-all could jump in and point out all sorts of exceptions and omissions to what I've written. It is meant to be basic in service of giving a not-too-complex answer to your areas of interest.

also: Guitar chords are a wonderful special breed since the guitar has so many limitations that are also its strengths. Certain chords simply sound lovely because of resonances and open / vs fretted notes. Such chords often have a purpose all their own and are mostly about color, any function being defined by the movement of the bass. The 70s prog bands loved this effect of the jangly guitar full of mystery. Choosing chords you like on this basis is a wonderful way to approach the guitar but eschews traditional notions of function re: your question about templates.

Lastly - use youtube - I know I've seen videos demonstrating what the modes sound like with a small jazz combo running through each. You can also find jazz soloing tutorials for modes over chords, and there should be plenty of cool-ass guitar voicings that are special because of the uniqueness of the guitar.

I hope this helps.
radiokoala
Sinamsis
Yeah, I like all sorts of music, and post-rock is one of the key genres I'd mention when speaking of interesting guitarwork. But also likes of Steve Vai – who, at first, I didn't pay attention to (as wrongly assumed he would be the kind of guy to play pointless hemisemidemiquavers like many of the so-called guitar virtuosos do), — but then I came across his Passion & Warfare album last year, and it's kind of blown my mind with its lead lines & arrangements that sounded very colorful & unique, and I wasn't able to tell as to why.

Later on, though, I came across this short-read on modes, where they said that the likes of him or Satriani, or other accomplished guitar players, utilize modal scales etc, and this is what creates this sort of ‘ vibe’.

Speaking of guitar heroes... well I was listening to SY - Dirty tape literally two days ago :-) And then some previously played albums would include Jesus & Mary Chain, Cocteau Twins, RATM — who all have a very distinct style, and I'd probably add some My Bloody Valentine to the list, too (but I don't have any cassettes of theirs).

All in all, though, why I'm diving into this is not because I want to make complex jazzy arrangements, or play shoegaze, I don't know; I just wanted to have a couple dozen of interesting chords at my disposal to write this kind of singer-songwriter stuff, like Elliott Smith or Destroyer. I have written some lyrics already, one of which has chorus going like “Let's adopt a bear / Our dog must have a friend” — (because I'm stupid like that w00t), — but I have to make arrangements for these still.

shreddoggie
The basic idea is that the modes are versions of the same scale starting on each step. So; C Ionian uses the same notes as D dorian ... All 3 scales use the same notes / key signature yet each one starts and ends on the root of the chord being played at the time. As far as 'supposed' it ends here rather quickly. Modes have numerous fascinating uses and each has a flavor.
Thanks, I know that, but I'm not interesting in playing the same key signature notes, I'd like to do something like explained below:

Quote:
It may now have become a little bit clear to you that modes are used to add emotions into your musical pieces, let us now get a deeper understanding of what modes are actually capable of doing. This is best illustrated by an example, if you are playing a piece in C major chord progression and keep playing C major scale over it, this will sound okay unless you start playing a mode based on the C major scale. If you play E Phrygian or F Lydian (these two modes are based on the C major scale) over this progression, you will not feel a significant difference in the resulting sound but if you play C Phrygian or C Lydian over this progression, you will immediately notice a shift in the overall mood created by these modes.

The above illustration lets us understand that playing modes from outside the key does nothing to the overall mood but playing modes of the same key adds flavor to the musical piece being played. It is obvious from this example that all famous guitar players such as Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, John Petrucci and Eric Johnson use modes to add flavor in their musical pieces and create a mood with their music.

-via http://www.guitarchords247.com/introduction-to-modes

So I wanted to ask the general rules as far as this is concerned. For a piece to remain ‘ relatively’ tonal, how many times can I change modal scales I play over chord progression usually? If I play sth like D G A (chord duration = two bars), would I be better off playing sth like D Phrygian then G Lydian and finally, A Dorian — switching between scales every two bars, — or if I stick to something like D Phrygian (because I'm in D) and solo in this mode exclusively?

Another question is, if I have to change mode every chord, is it OK to break the convention like this: D G A D G A = D Phrygian G Lydian A Dorian D Lydian G Mixolydian A Locrian? Meaning that I play modes of a certain key, but swap between them freely as I feel?

I also wanted to ask about the classical music: does any of it have stuff like this, e.g C Phrygian over C major, or is it considered to be breaking the convention (diatonic music and all)? Of course, you understand that I'm talking ‘ classical’ not in a broadest sense possible, as in: including neoclassical, modernist music etc; no, just plain vanilla classical, something pre XX century or early 1900's.

Certain chords simply sound lovely because of resonances and open / vs fretted notes.
This I very much agree with, and also the subtleties of some chords are better heard on clean sound, so I try them on unplugged guitar usually.

Thanks!
Clacky
Obviously jazz oriented, but useful in a more general way: Mark Levine's The Jazz Theory Book really helped me get a sense of how to apply scales (modes) to chords in the course of changes. Relevant to a huge range of types of harmony found in various sub-genres of jazz, rock, and pop. I had to work through it pretty slowly, but it was totally worth it. Unsurprisingly increased my appreciation for jazz, even though I'm not a big jazz listener. Great book.
nuromantix
The most important thing to say in reply is YOU CAN DO WHATEVER YOU WANT. It's 2018, not 1718 and you can do what you like, Bach is not going to slam the harpsichord lid on your fingers. 9 times out of 10 the most interesting sounds and voicings come from ignoring rules and using your ears.

Here are my stabs at your questions though:

1. Yes you can play whatever mode you like over whatever chord but it will sound VERY WEIRD if you play locrian or aeolian over a major chord (for example) because you will be playing the minor 3rd in your lead voice and never resolving it. Generally people tend to play in a mode that contains the notes of the chord, whilst adding other chromatic notes as they see fit, but generally then resolving to a note from the original mode.

Eg. if someone plays a Db note over a C major chord it will pretty quickly be followed by a C or a D rather than be left hanging. If you just stick to the notes of a mode that is dissonant with the chord that another instrument is playing then it will sound rather odd to most ears.

A more "normal" approach is to use a chord made up of notes from the mode you intend to play in. Of course you can play notes outside this mode but they usually get resolved, and similarly you can use chords outside the mode as well but they too usually resolve. The obvious example of that is "secondary dominant" chords.

2. Same as 1 really... you CAN do it but it'll sound weird! See above.
If you want a simple example, play a B Major chord and start soloing in B locrian (ie the white keys on a piano) and listen. Not to most peoples' tastes.

3. Dominant 9th is commonly used in jazz / blues / pop as the I or IV chord in songs in a major key, and can be a secondary dominant on any other degree, commonly II, III or VI. You also hear it on bVII chord sometimes (ie Bb9 when in the key of C major). Of course you can play it on the V chord too but if you are already using extended voicings in the song then you might want to play something more funky on the V chord like a dom 13, often with a flat or sharp 9.

Sus chords normally resolve to the normal major or minor but you could really go to any other chord. Sequences of all sus chords can sound nice.
There are not really basic "accepted" roles for them in jazz & pop in the way that there are for dominants etc.

In all these cases, try it yourself and listen and see if you like the effect!
THERE ARE NO RULES.
radiokoala
(Belated) thanks a lot, nuromantix, one of the most helpful posts! Broken it down the way that meets all of my expectations of the imaginary reply to my questions. w00t

I see what you mean, all my friends kept saying this (even well-wersed in theory) — "go ahead and try", they all said if one wants to experiment with modes (or scales), they should just go pick up their guitar and see what sounds good to their ears. And this makes a lot of sense, I agree. Asking this kind of questions doesn't imply I am going to change the way I'm making music — well nope! I just felt like studying some theory: thought it could be INTERESTING... heh. smokin'

And... in fact I wasn't mistaken here much, this book I came across, Music Theory for Musicians and Normal People is stupid fun, I printed all of the pages for reference and much recommend it to the type of folk that skipped or never attended music classes.... Contains some interesting bits and trivia as well. thumbs up

http://tobyrush.com›theorypages

I'll check that Jazz book, too, when I have some more time. Cheers guys!
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