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Jul 2, 2014 - 4:57:01 PM
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4937 posts since 6/23/2009

The purpose of this writing is to clear up common misconceptions regarding "modes."

When people are learning about Old Time and Bluegrass music they hear the term "modes" and of course they want to understand what they are.

Modes are simply scales.  And up to about the year 1800 most musicians did not think in terms of major or minor scales.  They thought in terms of the modes. 

The trouble begins when we in the modern world try to walk backwards and understand the modes relative to our major and minor scales.  My advice to you is "Don't go there."  Rather just understand the modes unto themselves with no comparison to major or minor scales or modern key signatures.

So, in Western Music a scale is simply a pattern of 8 pitches that take us from a starting pitch to one octave higher. But, there are an assortment of patterns using 8 pitches that would get us from the starting pitch to one octave higher. 

These patterns consist of Whole Tones (which is the distance of two frets on a banjo) and Semi Tones (which is a distance of just one fret).

Here are the Modes.  The symbol "T" represents a Whole Tone.  The symbol "s" represents a Semi Tone.

Ionian

T-T-s-T-T-T-s

Dorian

T-s-T-T-T-s-T

Phrygian

s-T-T-T-s-T-T

Lydian

T-T-T-s-T-T-s

Mixolydian

T-T-s-T-T-s-T

Aeolian

T-s-T-T-s-T-T

Locrian

s-T-T-s-T-T-T

 

So, when we encounter a tune that uses one of the above patterns, we say that it is in that particular mode.

Now, you will hear people say things like "Well C-Major is the same thing as G-Mixolydian."  Ah, but it is NOT!  You see Ionian and Mixolydian are NOT the same pattern!  Don't start counting sharps and flats.  That way leads to madness.

Just accept the patterns of the modes as they are.  Don't compare them to anything! 

It does not matter which note the mode starts on . . . it is the pattern that matters.

Accept that and you will be miles ahead!

Edited by - Bill Rogers on 07/03/2014 09:25:24

Jul 2, 2014 - 5:24:27 PM
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dlew919

Australia

21 posts since 3/6/2013

Excellent post. Given that most 'modes' are just what note the melody starts on, it makes little sense to continually analyse what and how and where and who... and it gets extremely confusing. As you said, work on the relationships to the notes.

Theory is really important, so learn those intervals. Most of all though, play.

Jul 2, 2014 - 5:44:01 PM

7100 posts since 6/27/2009

Nice and simple and clear, Tom. What if there's a "passing note" that's not in the scale, i.e. a note that sounds good but isn't a needed part of the melody?  Would that change the entire pattern and therefore the mode?


Jul 2, 2014 - 5:52:49 PM

jeremyg

Canada

152 posts since 3/20/2011

Modes are a tricky thing to comprehend thats for sure..I don t really think there is one exact way for everyone to understand them..there are many. An easy way to think of them (instead of memorizing a bunch of patterns) is to just remember the order of names,and lets say your playing in C..play in the key of C but start on the fifth degree (G to G). Mixolydian, which yes..is the same as C. Don t worry I guarantee you only have to remember a few, some modes are not that pleasing to the ear..
Jul 2, 2014 - 5:57:23 PM
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jeremyg

Canada

152 posts since 3/20/2011

Forget patterns, there is one pattern, Ionian. Everything else just shifts up one starting point. Don t overthink it. This is banjo music, not Frank Zappa. You probably will only ever use two or three modes, ever.
Jul 2, 2014 - 6:06:41 PM
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8952 posts since 3/24/2006

quote:
Originally posted by JanetB

Nice and simple and clear, Tom. What if there's a "passing note" that's not in the scale, i.e. a note that sounds good but isn't a needed part of the melody?  Would that change the entire pattern and therefore the mode?

 

Passing notes are notes in the scale  but not in the chord of the moment. That is, they "Pass "from one chord to the next. For example, going from Chords  D to G  , you may have a descending melody line that runs D-C-B. That C would be a passing tone. between the chords.

 

BUT then, at some point composers liked the sound of that C with the D major chord and so we have D7.

 

If you played a scale, and didn't re-chord for every note of the scale, the ones not belonging to the chord would be passing tones.

Now what about notes outside of the scale , such as a G# in an A minor tune?  They are borrowed from a related scale., most often to produce a more satisfying resolution from a V chord. In a minor key 9 or mode), a minor v to i resolution is, well, meh.frown, so many musicians had taken to using a major V or V7 to i resolution to give a stronger feeling of ending, or at least "coming home"

That borrowing is more commonly found in  tonal music (Major/minor)  than in Modal music, probably because the V7-i ending is not a feature of modality, really, and it doesn'ttake much of that to change the whoie modal feeling of a tune.

Jul 2, 2014 - 6:21:11 PM
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8952 posts since 3/24/2006

quote:
Originally posted by jeremyg
Forget patterns, there is one pattern, Ionian. Everything else just shifts up one starting point. Don t overthink it. This is banjo music, not Frank Zappa. You probably will only ever use two or three modes, ever.

This is lie the 7 Blind men of Hindustan and the elephant.  Jeremy is right and Tom is right, they're just looking at the same object from opposite directions.

7-note Scales as we know them developed from modes, historically.  There are certainly other ways to look at modes, such as: Mixolydian is just like major, except the 7th is minor.   Lydian has  a leading leading tone from 7 to 1 and from (#)4 to 5.   Dorian has a weak v-i resolution...  

Traditional tunes in modes generally harmonize differently from Major /minor tunes- for example, a dorian or n mixolydian tune may use a VII chord rather than a V or V7 as the "dominant" chord, and may not even touch the 4 chord along the way. 

Eventually all the charts, scale step memorization, or whatever system one uses gets one to the point where one hears the character of each mode and can anticpate which way the tune might be going next.wink

Jul 2, 2014 - 6:38:51 PM
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jeremyg

Canada

152 posts since 3/20/2011

Bottom line..you can play any note you want..just not the wrong one!...music is fun. Have fun with it.
Jul 2, 2014 - 6:43:45 PM
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4937 posts since 6/23/2009

quote:
Originally posted by JanetB

Nice and simple and clear, Tom. What if there's a "passing note" that's not in the scale, i.e. a note that sounds good but isn't a needed part of the melody?  Would that change the entire pattern and therefore the mode?

 

I don't want to muddy the water . . . but yes, a somewhat common occurrence is the use of accidentals to modulate temporarily from one mode to another.  For example a common modulation is to move from the the "home" mode to a mode one fifth higher.  (Note that I do not mix the terms Key and Key-Signatures when I speak of modes)

But even though a modulation may occur we still think of the tune as being in a particular mode . . . the dominant mode of the tune if you will.  Like I say, I do not want to go into the deep end on this question because I fear it can add to people's confusion.  

The main point I wish to make is that we should understand the modes as patterns and not try to understand them by comparing them to our modern concepts of major and minor scales.  It really in not very useful.  We should simply accept the modes as the patterns that they are just like musicians used to do a few centuries ago . . . that was what they knew!  And of course they were the source of all of these old "modal" tunes.  So if we want to understand how the tunes work, then we would be well advised to think as they did and not try to cram their logic into our modern concepts of "keys."

Jul 2, 2014 - 6:52:31 PM

13420 posts since 3/6/2006

And its also common to think of modes as being keys, unto themselves...

Jul 2, 2014 - 7:15:36 PM
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3419 posts since 4/19/2008
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Ionian

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Dorian

1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7

Phrygian

1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

Lydian

1 2 3 #4 5 6 7 

Mixolydian

1 2 3 4 5 6 b7

Aeolian

1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

Locrian

1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7

 

Personally I don't ever think in whole or half steps because of location problems.If someone said start at a certain string and fret there is no way to know how to proceed up or down the neck using the W H jargon because you really don't know where you are in the sequence. Whereas If you know what number you are on it is easy to go anywhere on the neck as long as you keep in mind that the 3 and 4's and the 7 and 8's are one fret apart and the rest two frets.

 

 

 

Jul 2, 2014 - 7:38:11 PM

7100 posts since 6/27/2009

All this is very good explanation and food for thought, though Klondike Waldo's is going to take the rest of my summer to digest and internalize, if I'm lucky.

And so, Tom, when I played Darling Corey with a couple of slides (Bb to B and Bb to A), could I still be in a mixolydian mode, or, if not, what mode is that?  In both cases I could have done without the slides, but they do add what I called a "bluesy" sound.  My use of the term "passing note" probably needs edification, too.  Thanks.

Jul 2, 2014 - 8:47:52 PM
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3383 posts since 10/10/2008

the only problem with the OP post is that it comes from a classical academic POV (even if not intended😊).

seeing "modes" as belonging to a parent ionian scale is fine, AND seeing them as each to it's own regardless of parent scale\key is fine as well.

I see them both ways.

If you are using understanding of modes for jazz improv, it helps to see all musical concepts from as many POVs as possible.


Jul 2, 2014 - 8:57:31 PM
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4937 posts since 6/23/2009

quote:
Originally posted by JanetB

And so, Tom, when I played Darling Corey with a couple of slides (Bb to B and Bb to A), could I still be in a mixolydian mode, or, if not, what mode is that?  In both cases I could have done without the slides, but they do add what I called a "bluesy" sound.  My use of the term "passing note" probably needs edification, too.  Thanks.


Yes, you are still in mixolydian. 

Bending notes, sliding into notes (from below or from above), choking notes, playing blue notes . . . whatever . . . (all the same) . . . it is "cleaner" in my opinion to think of these musical devices as simply ornaments.  For instance, if I am playing some old tune in mixolydian, and I take a solo, and in that solo I play a "blue note" . . . let's say a flat three . . . I have not really switched to dorian . . . I'm just playing a blue note (like an ornament).  That's how I think of it.  The guitarist and the mando player might be playing a major triad and in my solo I am bending the b'jeegers out of a flat three . . . so, we have me playing a flat three at the same time as they are playing the (ahem) major three . . . and we all LOVE that sound!   We have for centuries!  But I would not suggest that when that happens I am switching to dorian.  I guess you could think of it that way . . . but I don't think of it that way.

I don't agree with all of the above posts . . . but I do agree that it would tend to clutter the mind to try and memorize all of these patterns . . . although that is EXACTLY what jazz musicians do.  But for us . . . for Old Time and Bluegrass musicians . . . we "mainly" just use Ionian, Dorian and Mixolydian.  And yes, for Dorian that simply means that the third and seventh degrees are lower by one half step (compared to Ionian).  And for Mixolydian just the seventh degree is lower by one half step, 

And, a tell tale sign that we are "modal" is when, for instance, we are playing in G Major and then we play an F Major chord (like Red Haired Boy, Cuckoo's Nest, etc.).  The majority of tunes that have come down to us in America, from Ireland and Scotland are "modal."  Then, you mix that with the music than came to America from West Africa and wham bam, "American Music."  And the old modes have always been and continue to be a significant characteristic of American Music, be it Old Time, Bluegrass, Jazz, or Rock n' Roll (and so on).

OK . .. I'm going to check out . . . I think this topic has been beat to death now.  Thanks everyone!  Best Wishes, Tom

Jul 2, 2014 - 9:11:56 PM
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4937 posts since 6/23/2009

quote:
Originally posted by pearcemusic

the only problem with the OP post is that it comes from a classical academic POV (even if not intended).


Hi Doub!  Great to hear from you.

Well . . . yes . . . busted . . . I confess I am a "classical" musician.  Although I don't like that term, because I actually play baroque music, not classical . . . but yes, my concept of the modes is grounded in the 17th century.

Here are some of my recordings of baroque music.  http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/berghan

Jul 2, 2014 - 11:12:37 PM
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janolov

Sweden

42669 posts since 3/7/2006

I think this is a very interesting thread! Thanks, Tom.

There is another misconception about modes that I want to bring to discussion. It is that there are chords to the modes. Historically there are no chords to modal music. The music were performed with melody, rhythms and drones. However, I think modal tunes often sound good with chord accompaniment so it can be discussed if it is a progress or regress.

Jul 3, 2014 - 7:25:04 AM

3383 posts since 10/10/2008

Yeah Tom ... I love your stuff. I learned "classical" trad harmony in college ... Lots of baroque analysis. 


The whole reason for learning a more modern method of looking at modes is actually to SIMPLIFY the way you see music from a harmonic standpoint. It's a little foreign at first, but once you get the hang of it the world opens up quite a bit. 


Certainly NOT required study, but helpful if one sees the need to expand horizons. 


 


quote:


Originally posted by tomberghan

 






Hi Doub!  Great to hear from you.




Well . . . yes . . . busted . . . I confess I am a "classical" musician.  Although I don't like that term, because I actually play baroque music, not classical . . . but yes, my concept of the modes is grounded in the 17th century.




Here are some of my recordings of baroque music.  http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/berghan







 


Jul 3, 2014 - 7:32:14 AM
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3383 posts since 10/10/2008

And a more modern approach to modes includes scale and chord relationships. 



Often times the interesting sound comes from overlaying a chord with a seemingly unrelated modal scale. 



FWIW


Jul 3, 2014 - 8:34 AM
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308 posts since 2/2/2006

quote
Originally posted by tomberghan

 

Ionian

T-T-s-T-T-T-s

Dorian

T-s-T-T-T-s-T

Phrygian

s-T-T-T-s-T-T

Lydian

T-T-T-s-T-T-s

Mixolydian

T-T-s-T-T-s-T

Aeolian

T-s-T-T-s-T-T

Locrian

s-T-T-s-T-T-T

 


 

This is the only way to look at modes. I know there is a lot of people who say just play and scale and then if you start at the second degree then it will be a Dorian and ect. but I think that is confusing. It is totally backwards to try and understand modes in the context of scales. If one follows the simple "map" of counting whole tones and semitones you arrive at the mode without thinking about it in the context of a scale.

And I think it as said that people generally end up using around 3 modes in this type of music and for the most part that is right. But it is still very helpful to understand the basic concept of modes and how it fits into everything as a whole. Anyways with knowing modes it opens up all types of chords and scales. It's fun just to fool around. 

Jul 3, 2014 - 8:34:12 AM
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5954 posts since 3/6/2006

quote:
Originally posted by tomberghan
~

OK . .. I'm going to check out . . . I think this topic has been beat to death now.  Thanks everyone!  Best Wishes, Tom


Tom, you are obviously a stranger to this forum - it's not beat to death until at least page 10! smiley

But I found your post very useful, and an interesting perspective on modes that I had not considered before. I am either too short of time or too lazy to pursue the study of modes to the extent that Doub has, and I think that many who are overwhelmed by the whole concept might well be more encouraged to look at it from this point of view first. Nice post!

Jul 3, 2014 - 9:16:40 AM
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2153 posts since 2/10/2003

I usually think of modes as they relate to their relative Ionian (major scale) mode and key signature.  

In other words if the root of the mode (tonal center) is G but there are no sharps and flats is is G mixloydian.  Mixolydian is the 5th mode and G is the 5th degree of C (Ionian mode with no sharps or flats).  Conversely if the tonal center is C and there is one sharp (which would be F#),  then it is C Lydian mode.  Lydian is the 4th mode and C is the 4th degree of G (Ionian mode with one sharp). 

Jul 3, 2014 - 9:24:22 AM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

27770 posts since 6/25/2005

At this point I'm making this a sticky and lockng it.  Of course you're always free to start a new thread.

An alternative approach from Mark Johnson starts here:  http://www.banjohangout.org/topic/287465

Edited by - Bill Rogers on 07/03/2014 22:54:12

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