FAQ & Terms of UseFAQ & Terms Of Use   Wiggler RadioMW Radio   Muff Wiggler TwitterTwitter   Support the site @ PatreonPatreon 
 SearchSearch   RegisterSign up   Log inLog in 

Modal Scales and How You Use Them
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Guitars, Basses, Amps & FX  
Author Modal Scales and How You Use Them
Hey there guitar people! smokin'

[How] do you use modal scales... if you do? It is something I've been wondering about for the last couple of weeks, but I can't really come across info / basic rules on how you'd incorporate them in your playing.

All in all, my idea was to play modes of a same scale over X major chord progressions, where X is anything from C to B. In simpler words, something like C Mixolydian over C G F C or C Aeolian over C Dm G — you see, modes of a 'C' major scale over C major chords.

My main question is, can I go between various modes as I do that, and which modes are better suited to this kind of alternation? I think what I ask for is some super layman-terms explanation over modulation of the modes while the key remains unchanged. E.g, I play C G F C over and over, at which point of time can I change my modal scale?

I hope I'm making sense?

Also, feel free to post your tracks where you use modal scales both as the main Key or for soloing, I'm interested to hear where this has led you! (In fact, this could be electronic / modular synth music, not necessarily guitar-based).

Thanks a lot, I tried to clarify some of this earlier, but to not much success. Have a look:


Enjoy the show!
Not a guitar person . . . . but . . . .

I find this book helpful regarding modal relationships:

Jeff Brent & Schell Berkley
Publisher: Hal Leonard Corp

ISBN 978-1-4584-1397-0

Hope this helps thumbs up
Thanks for sharing!

Interesting book for sure, but seems a tad rocket-scientifc for the kind of audience to include me among other guys lol. No doubt some of it could be useful though: — this chapter with chord progression examples is worth exploring I'd think!

In general, I would not mind some similar reading but that has this postfix after the title, something like "Modalogy for Dummies", or something.

thumbs up
Dr. Sketch-n-Etch
The Modal Jazz Harmony and Composition books by Ron Miller are also very useful, but probably more for piano than guitar. The Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine is also really good. There's another book called "The Jazz Harmony Book by David Berkman which I haven't checked out yet, but it looks really interesting.

My own approach to modes is this: I learned a bunch of chords, and how to string them together, and when I riff over them, I just play. Get the modes really firmly engrained into your head and your ears, and they will just come out naturally. I never really learned finger patterns on the guitar (except for some that are so common that one can't help but get them "in the fingers") but I just play the notes that seem to need to be played. Most of these notes fall into a mode.

Also, I never actually think of modes. As far as I am concerned, there are really only three really useful scales: major (7 modes), melodic minor (7 modes), and octatonic (2 modes). From major and melodic minor, one can derive 14 modes, but they're all the same scale that just starts from different notes, so why bother thinking about them at all? Once you get the sound of melodic minor in your head, you'll be playing it naturally. I don't believe that most "real" jazz musicians think in terms of different modes. They just have a collection of notes in their head which sound good over certain chords and progressions. It's far better to strive for good melodies, and to view the modes (or their parent scales) as source material for those melodies. Maybe at the very beginning, when you are trying to learn how to solo over progressions, you can purposefully play certain modes over certain chords to get the sound in your head, but actual soloing like that sounds pretty stilted. It's easier to play chord tones (what jazz musicians call "guide tones") and fill in the spaces between those tones with appropriate non-chord tones. This will end up being modal anyway, if it's done correctly.
I just know the most basic - too much music theory makes me dizzy....know the Major/Minor scales, noodling around the Circle of Fourths, the chords that go with them, and that's about it.

And for the weird modal jazz stuff, I just hear a good deal of Marc Ribot and John Zorn......
Consider modes just another scale. Each scale will have its particular flavor due to the relationships between the notes and intervals in the scale.

A particular mode may be better suited to a particular chord based on what notes in the scale are also found in the chord (and what sonic effect you're trying to achieve), but with a simple triad there are lots of options for the other notes, so there are lots of scales that will "work".

Over C Dm G for instance you can think C Ionian, D Dorian, G Mixolydian. But these all happen to contain the same notes since they're all modes of C Ionian. It's a nice shortcut to realize you can just play C Ionian over the whole thing but usually will sound more vague in relation to the chord changes. You could also use C Ionian, D Dorian / D mixolydian, G Ionian, where changing to the mixolydian mode sets up a V-I resolution.

Learning the modes and other scales are like expanding your vocabulary, but if you're trying to speak you need to learn also how to put the words together, so learning to transition between scales is also very important. Common tones and step wise motion are some typical ways.

And lastly, don't get stuck in the scale. Consider them a guide not a rule.
Well — LOL! — I didn't really expect it to happen, but at the end of the day I stumbled upon the dummies music theory book indeed, where (just as you would expect it!) a hand-drawn dog is guiding you through all the important concepts:

I like the title of the book a lot as well, Music Theory for Musicians and Normal People. we're not worthy twisted Mr. Green

arrow (Here You Go!)

And, in regard to modal scales, I found this OUTSTANDING document, which guides you through all of that in just 14 pages, so roughly half an hour of your time:

exclamation idea Music Theory Unplugged: Scales idea exclamation

I advice just entering "music theory unplugged david salisbury pdf" in Google, and there will be a couple more pdf’s on functional harmony, voice leading, extended chord structures — 40 pages in total, but I applaud this guy so much, he seems to have included all the most important things into a short-read like this, you just read through and know all your tonic resolutions, intervallic inversions, second-order chords, and everything!!!
Thanks for replies, by the way: gonna make myself more clear, in that I don't really want to utilize modes based on the way they suit the chords (let's call it approach A), what I want to try is something completely different: why I said “playing C Mixolydian” over C G F is not because I'm not familiar with concept A (C Ionian over C; D Dorian / Dm etc), but because my end goal is different.

What I want to try is this kind of polytonality if you like — juxtaposition of scales — where by playing in one of the other C modes over C maj, my song’d be kind of at the crossroads of C major & F Major or C major & Abmaj... etc.

The idea behind this (for those who ask “what’s the use”) is that by doing this I can expand the number of tones I can work with, imagine I have a chord that contains C E G A C — it is easy to notice that I’ve only got B, D, & F left, any other note I play would be octave of one of the chord steps! And — since I want to write this kind of arrangements for guitar/guitar (or guitar/keys), — I would always have these 4-to-5 note chords, so would like some more freedom when playing melody. E.g if I pick a mode with 2 b, I would have 9 notes (serialist much? razz) in total in my “scale”, let’s call it so.

And, it’s not just something that I invented or came up myself — in fact, I would not have thought about using this method, I read about it in this article, Introduction to Modes which seems to explicitly state that people like Steve Vai would often play in e.g C Phrygian / C Lydian over C major chord progression. I like the mood of Vai’s music, so I thought: hell, he must be on to something... worth trying, ain’t it? (clearly he wouldn’t use this method, if it didn’t give interesting enough results).

I must say I am NOT really that familiar with their (Vai, Satriani etc.) compositional techniques to give a 100% guarantee they play their solos like that (harmony in one key; melody in another), so if it is factually incorrect, let me know. But I just kinda thought there are some fascinating prospects to this technique if used smart. Lemme know what you think about it.

All good info here.
If you’re looking to solo over changes then knowing the arpeggios and how the chords are built will get you very far.
Even a simple three chord tune will have you playing every note note in the scale just by covering the arpeggios, and yup, these scales may just as easily be modes.
But an almost better way to think of it is Tetrachords; these are basically half-scales, two of em strung together make a scale.
There’s fewer Tetrachords to learn (only four successive notes) but combining two will cover all scales.
Once you see the patterns it’s easy to hear what Tetrachord will sound good with what chord.
And once you’ve gotten that far it’s easy to see that what Doc Sketchy says is true; there’s really only a few scales to think about for most repertoire (but I’d also add the harmonic minor, it has some great modes!)
Of course for soloing purposes, this can becoming tricky as not all music is completely diatonic, ie it isn’t always in the same scale, so sometimes you need to figure out your own scales to get through key changes.
Here’s a great trick to remember though; audiences hear horizontally more than vertically. If your jazzin out to an uptempo tune, you can play any notes you like as long as you mostly land on chord tones (arpeggios!) on the strong beats... I should know, I’m a jazz vibraharp player (vibraphone) and we are the champions of chromatic runs culminating in a clatterphonic milk-bottles-fallin-off-the-truck-fiasco w00t
Dr. Sketch-n-Etch
Actually, the Ron Miller books get very jiggy with tetrachords. For example, the seventh mode of melodic minor, the "altered" mode, consists of the following two tetrachords: "spanish" and "wholetone". The "spanish" tetrachord is halftone-wholetone-halftone, and the "wholetone" tetrachord is wholetone-wholetone-wholetone. Or, H-W-H-W-W-W-W. In the key of C, that would give:

C Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb C

This is probably the jazziest mode of all, because it contains all of the "tension" notes relative to the C major scale (the b9, the #9, the #11 (or b5), and the b13). It also contains the "shell" notes of the dominant C7 chord (C E Bb). Hence, this one mode contains all the notes of every funked up C7 chord you've ever heard. It is therefore a good choice for riffing over altered seventh chords.

(Note that Fb is actually E but in order to make a diatonic mode, it must be written as Fb here or there would be no F in the scale -- Gb cannot be written F# here or there would be two Fs in the scale (another no-no)).

Another good one is the octatonic scale: H-W-H-W-H-W-H-W. In C:

C Db Eb E F# G A Bb C

(This one has two Es but that's OK because this mode has 8 notes.) This scale also has b9, #9 and #11, but it also has the natural 5 and 13, as well as the dominant shell 1-3-b7. It's an excellent choice for riffing over bluesy 7th chords.

I know all of this stuff, but I never think about it while playing. I've tried to internalize these sounds into my mind and my hands, but it's a lifelong process, and I don't practice enough.
Interesting stuff, I’ll have to give these two a try! To expand the number of tones, octatonic may just be the perfect solution. Have any pre XXth century composers ever use it? Drums!
radiokoala wrote:
Hey there guitar people! smokin'

[How] do you use modal scales... if you do?

I use them on modal jazz tunes. For example, the song "So What" is built entirely on the Dorian mode - just D Dorian and Eb Dorian. "Maiden Voyage" is a simple progression of 4 modes:

D Mixolydian
F Mixolydian
Eb Mixolydian
C Dorian

I've seen folks overthink what chords to play on "Maiden Voyage" but basically you can take any 3-5 notes or whatever of each mode and it'll sound good over the root note - doesn't matter which notes you pick exactly.

On the iconic recording of this tune (title track to Herbie Hancock's album), all the soloists venture outside the mode in their playing, but it's just little chromatic bits that they add to spice up their lines - for the most part, they stick to each mode as it comes along.

If I'm not playing specifically modal music, I don't really think of modes per se. Ok, maybe on something rock-oriented - as you've noticed, rock guitarists have been using modes for decades - the melodic minor modes not so much, but definitely the major scale modes. Mixolydian is well-known and used for blues progressions for example, and Santana leaned heavily on Dorian for his minor key stuff.

I recommend this course - Haque uses Maiden Voyage to introduce and teach modal playing: atch/v11338
Dr. Sketch-n-Etch
radiokoala wrote:
Interesting stuff, I’ll have to give these two a try! To expand the number of tones, octatonic may just be the perfect solution. Have any pre XXth century composers ever use it? Drums!

I don't know... maybe Wagner? Debussy used the whole-tone scale a lot, but I'm not sure he used the octatonic. Of course, the main modal composer is my man Messiaen, but he's 20th century. If you really want to see how creative one can get with modes, listen to some of Vingt Regards sur l'enfant-Jesus. Many of his chord progressions are strictly modal, just "chord scales" in his modes of limited transposition. I recorded one of these on Soundcloud a while back:


(Messiaen made up his own modes -- like the octatonic scale, they are of "limited transposition" in the sense that if you transpose them more than a few semitones you end up with exactly the same notes.)
radiokoala wrote:

The idea behind this (for those who ask “what’s the use”) is that by doing this I can expand the number of tones I can work with, imagine I have a chord that contains C E G A C — it is easy to notice that I’ve only got B, D, & F left, any other note I play would be octave of one of the chord steps! And — since I want to write this kind of arrangements for guitar/guitar (or guitar/keys), — I would always have these 4-to-5 note chords, so would like some more freedom when playing melody. E.g if I pick a mode with 2 b, I would have 9 notes (serialist much? razz) in total in my “scale”, let’s call it so.

The options for composing or playing a melody line over your Cmaj6 (C E G A) chord are wide for sure. Superimposing various scale or modes is a good way to start.

You could also start with a simpler approach and just superimpose various triad arpeggios over a plain C major triad - like F major, G major, G minor, A augmented, D diminished, whatever. Take note of which sound more dissonant, more consonant, what "mood"/"feel" they evoke,etc. It's best to try and hear these things yourself, and not rely on descriptions written by others.
OP - the answer to your question is: Ears. I don't mean to be smug - its true. You can learn as much theory about which mode goes where and why as you like but until you can play them while listening its pretty much meaningless. You want to know if you can play C phyrgian over ii V I in C? There is one sure fire easy way to find out. Learn to play this while listening, take note of your impressions and add to what you've learned by learning something else.
Dr. Sketch-n-Etch
I think that, perhaps, a more fruitful question than "what do I play over the chord C E G A D" is the question "where did I come from to get to C E G A D, and where do I go from there?" On guitar, a much more accessible inversion of this chord is C E A D G. Let's just look at the E A D G part (a stack of 4ths). That's a very very useful guitar chord just on its own. Here are a couple of my favorite progressions which resolve to this stack of fourths (not necessarily in the key of C, of course, but in any key.)

The first one is one of my go-tos, so much so that it has become a major cliche in my playing. It's a minor 2-5-1 (written here in the key of C). The key element is the 7b5 form which is simply slid down 3 frets to give the V chord. The final chord is a simple stack of fourths, which is functioning here as a minor chord with an added fourth (the fifth could also be played on the fourth string to give the very common min7 chord and this also sounds good but isn't as jazzy):

The second one doesn't involve a stack of fourths, but I include it here because it also uses the exact same chord form for the first two chords (the ii and the V) but this time they are slid up 3 frets. While these three chords are very close to the chords in the first example, the actual harmonic function is much more "altered" and jazzy -- this is in fact a very classic example of a 2-5-1 jazz minor progression:

Finally, here is a progression which I just discovered a couple of days ago, and I am very happy about it. This is basically just a V-I progression, and the second chord can be analyzed as a second V chord, or as a bII chord (in which case the implied root motion is chromatic to the tonic -- bII 7th chords are harmonically equivalent to V 7th chords due to the principle of "tritone substitution" -- both the V and the bII share the same notes as their 3 and b7 (their dominant shells) -- for example, G7 is G-B-F, and Db7 is Db-F-Cb (which is B)). Try this progression -- I think you will like it:

I'm always looking for jazzy progressions which can be played very easily and quickly without a lot of finger twisting, and which have "passing chords" that add a lot of interest to the basic progression -- case in point, the second chord of that last progression, which is in fact the very easiest chord to play on the middle four strings of the guitar, but which sounds incredibly jazzy in the context of this particular progression. I'm also really attracted to chords that can be strummed (picked across all the notes) in a very controlled manner without having to skip or mute strings -- I'm actually starting to get into the sort of sweep picking territory associated with guys like Frank Gambale -- I don't have the right-hand chops to pull it off yet, but I'm making a solid start. I sweep-pick, but not fast like FG -- I like to strum in a way that sounds like melodic picking, and incorporate the controlled strum or sweep into other picked scalar runs. These sorts of 4-string chords lend themselves very nicely to these sorts of playing.

To solo over these sorts of chords, I might start by strumming/plucking the chord tones and then maybe descending from the top note in a scalar way, just using my intuition. I personally like to avoid too much "scalar" playing because it can start to sound quite "exercise booky." I prefer now to try to play what I call "melodic gestures" which I try to listen to in my mind as I'm playing -- rhythmic gestures being perhaps more important than the actual notes played. Also, don't forget about dynamics and tone -- I will actually play different stuff depending on which pick I use. In any case, once you get these sorts of sounds in your inner ear, the actual notes to play over them becomes somewhat "second nature."
Funny you mention the Music Theory for Dummies book... I actually picked up the Guitar Theory for Dummies a while back and it's been immensely helpful, despite the of course ridiculous name. The author does a nice job of putting things in perspective in an accessible way.
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Guitars, Basses, Amps & FX  
Page 1 of 1
Powered by phpBB © phpBB Group