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"F%*ing Modes SUCK!!!!" : A Guide To Modes & How To Use Them

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Postby kaiori breathe » Fri May 06, 2011 10:32 pm

EDIT i: This is a long read. If you're interested in modes and REALLY want to understand them and how they work, I suggest not only reading this, but maybe taking the time to read some of the questions and answers that follow this post, and also, take a little time to use your old friend google and dig up some more lessons on modes, sometimes reading the same material written in different ways helps consolidate the information, sometimes getting that input from numerous sources can really help. There's a plethora of great videos on youtube and ultimate-guitar.com has a lot of helpful lessons on them for any guitarists out there (even if you don't play guitar they're usually explained in a way anybody can understand) and of course one of the best ways to get to grips with them is by listening to artists who use them and if you can get your hands on it looking at sheet music by artists who use them.

Modes:

There's been some questions about modes lately on the forum, what they are, how to use them...etc

Modes are kind of nightmare, not because they're hard to use or hard to understand, but because they're always explained in the most appallingly complicated terms that leave people confused and turned off by the idea of going anywhere near them. Which is a pity because if you learn to use them they can be an astonishing powerful compositional tool.

Anyway, I'm going to try and explain them in as clear terms as possible. The best way I can think of doing this is by building from the ground up so everyone understands and doing it by means of examples, so people have something practical to try themselves rather than just a ton of reading. So, some people might know a lot of this already, some people might know none of it, but I'm hoping that most people who read it can take something away from it. If you've any questions, ask. I'll be keeping an eye on this thread, it would be a bit irresponsible to make a thread like this then disappear and not take questions on it.

I'm going to be using 'scale formula's these are basically a simplified way of writing out the template for scales, they look like this KN-T-T-S-T-T-T-KN (Major Scale)

KN = Key note, or root note, basically this is whatever note your scale starts on. So the Key note (KN) of a C Major scale would be C, the Key note of an A minor scale would be A. The two KNs are always the same, if your first KN is C then your last will be C also.

T = Tone, this denotes the movement of 2 notes from the previous. So If you see KN-T in a scale formula and you know the key note is C, then moving a tone up will give you a D note. Pretty simple.

S = Semi-tone, the movement of one note from the previous. So if you see KN-S, and you know the key note is C, then moving a semi-tone up will give you a C# note.

So If I were to say the scale formula for a Major Scale was KN-T-T-S-T-T-T-KN, you' be able to work out that C Major contains the notes C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C using that formula (hopefully).

Before we go on I should say that each note in that scale is known as a 'degree' - don't worry, it's not complicated - C is the first degree of the C Major scale, D is the second degree, E is the third degree, F is the fourth degree, G is the fifth...etc

Now, what is a mode?

A new scale can be extracted from a major scale by taking a different degree of the scale as the key note.

In layman terms, you're playing a major scale but starting on a different note...

The mode extracted from the first degree of the scale is the Ionian, the mode extracted from the second degree is the Dorian, the mode extracted from the third is the Phrygian, the fourth is the Lydian, the fifth is the Mixolydian, the sixth is the Aeolian, the seventh is the Locrian.

So in C Major, you'd Have C Ionian, D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian, A aeolian and B Locrian

Here's a list of the modes & their formula.

Ionian KN-T-T-S-T-T-T-KN

So, C Ionian is C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C

Dorian KN-T-S-T-T-T-S-KN

D Dorian is D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D

Phrygian KN-S-T-T-T-S-T-KN

E Phrygian is E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E

Lydian KN-T-T-T-S-T-T-KN

F Lydian is F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F

Mixolydian KN-T-T-S-T-T-S-KN

G Mixolydian is G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G

Aeolian KN-T-S-T-T-S-T-KN

A Aeolian is A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A

Locrian
KN-S-T-T-S-T-T-KN

B Locrian B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B

How to use them:

The easiest way to explain this is through example.

Let's say we're writing a song in C Major.

We know the scale formula for a major scale is KN-T-T-S-T-T-T-KN, so let's move one forward from that, we want some chords for our imaginary song. How do we work out which chords are in C Major?

This too is pretty simple.

Each note of the scale of C Major, has it's own chord within the context of C Major that 'makes sense'. To work out what that chord is, we go through a pretty simple process. Let's say we want to work out the chord for C. We would take the first, third, and fifth notes starting on C and play them together.

KN-T-T-S-T-T-T-KN
C---D-E-F-G-A-B-C

We get C,E & G, play them together and that's a C Major chord.

If we want to work out what the chord is behind D we go through the same process again, this time starting on D, we take the first, third, and fifth notes, starting on D, and play them together.

KN-T-T-S-T-T-T-KN
C---D-E-F-G-A-B-C

We get D,F & A, play them together, and that's a D minor chord.

If we repeat that process for all the notes in the scale of C Major we'll eventually get a list of our chords that looks like this:

C Major (CEG)
D minor (DEF)
E minor (EGB)
F Major (FAC)
G Major (GBD)
A minor (ACE)
B diminished (BDF)
C Major (CEG)

Let's imagine we have a chord sequence that progresses like this:

C Major for 2 bars || F Major for 2 bars || G Major for 2 bars || F Major for 2 bars ||

... and we want to write some melody lines over it.

Remember back at the start of this incredibly long and boring post when I said a mode is just a major scale except you start and end on a different note? Yea, well, that's where this comes in useful.

F Lydian starts and ends on F and uses all the same notes as C Major which makes it far more practical to write with over an F Major chord. Make sense? I hope so. You're still in the key of C Major, nothing's changed there, you're just using a different mode to solo/write some melody lines.

So here's how it would look over all if you wanted to use the modes to write some melody lines or solo over that chord sequence:

Chords used: C Major for 2 bars || F Major for 2 bars || G Major for 2 bars || F Major for 2 bars ||
Modes used: C Ionian---------------|| F Lydian---------------|| G Mixolydian---------|| F Lydian -------------||

There's another really important reason why we use modes here, let's look at what happens if we don't use them.

If we don't use them then it would seem logical to use the C Major scale for melodies under the C Major chord, it would seem logical to use the F Major scale under the F Major chord and the G Major scale under the G Major chord. If we don't use modes it'd look like this:

Chords used: C Major for 2 bars || F Major for 2 bars || G Major for 2 bars || F Major for 2 bars ||
Modes used: C Major scale--------|| F Major scale-------|| G Major scale--------|| F Major scale------||

This is problematic. Try it out to see why. Sounds jarring and dysfunctional, right?

You should be able to hear that every chord, when played with those scales above it, is somewhat jarring now, it doesn't feel like you're playing 3 chords in the one key anymore, it feels like you're playing 3 chords in their own separate keys. That's because you are.

The F Major scale contains: F-G-A-Bb-C-D-E.
The G Major scale contains: G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G

That Bb included in the F Major scale isn't anywhere in the scale of C Major. So playing it over your F Major chord would denote that you've changed key. Since our F Major chord comes in on the 3rd bar, this will sound jarring and strange, as a key change this early in a piece usually won't fit in, especcially if right after it we move to a G Major chord and start writing a melody above it with the G Major scale.

The F# in the G Major scale also isn't anywhere in the scale of C Major. You get the same problem. If you play that F# you'll essentially be signaling a key change which, again, will sound jarring.

Using F lydian and G mixolydian avoids this problem as the F lydian has, instead of the Bb, a B which is included in the key of C, so no key change is implied. The G mixolydian scale has, rather than an F#, an F which is included in the key of C, so again no key change is implied.

On a short side note:

You can also increase the effectiveness of the modal sound by embellishing your chords with extra notes. Here's a chord chart to demonstrate which embellished chords will sound well with your modes.:

http://phillipsguild.org/docs/ChordRelationships.pdf


WTF!? It all just sounds like I'm playing in C Major!?!??!! Everyone told me this would sound awesome!!!?!??!!


Well, that's because you kind of are playing in C Major, when you hear a chord sequence that goes C major F Major G Major F Major, you feel a natural drag to that C note everything pulls towards it.

Here's a little something you can try (I recommend doing it, despite your current disillusionment with modes as it will redeem them)

If you've got a piano/keyboard nearby play the above chord sequence and noodle around with those modes as they're described. Sounds kinda 'meh' almost like it wasn't worth learning all that, yea?

Now. Don't play anything at all for a few moments. Let the whole 'C Major' thing and the C root slip out of your head.

Go back to your keys, now hold down an E note in the bass, if it sounds weird (then stop for a moment, because C Major still isn't out of your head, wait and do it again in a few seconds) and play these notes an octave or two above it: E,F#,G#,A#,B,C#,D#,E, then play them backwards over the E bass again, if that low E drowns out just hit it again.

Sounds different right? Happy but with some strange mysterious feel? That A# sounds weird but wonderful? Yea, you just played E Lydian without the context of it being in a key (it is still technically in context, but it's less recognizable as being so when you don't progress beyond playing that E bass and the E lydian scale over it)

Still not hearing it? Play an E bass, then play E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E (that's E major) and compare it to what you just played (E Lydian)

In case you're STILL not hearing the difference (i.e., there's something wrong with you) I've got some examples for you, sorry, most of them are guitar related, but they demonstrate the different sounds very well regardless of whether you like the style or not:



Predominantly written using the Lydian mode, you can hear the whole thing pivoting on that E bass till he changes it up, really beautiful piece with a very curious sound to it.



This is one of the weirdest things you'll ever hear probably, uses pretty much every mode ever, and tons of chromaticism; sounds very alien, at times brooding at times upbeat, it's strange. This song always makes me think of something underwater for some reason :/ 0:50 is in the locrian for one bar, then into the lydian for a bar, then god I don't know, Steve Vai's nuts.



Joe Satriani's Crystal planets, when the main theme kicks in we're in B aeolian for the most part and at 1:09 he drops into C locrian, then E lydian with some chromaticism after that, really cool sounds. I don't even listen to any of the rest of this song anymore, just that darker section. Anyway, that's the power of the locrian in conjunction with the lydian really, quite dark and alien when you move between the two.



Playing with the Ionian mode then goes to the Aeolian at 1:06ish, sounds interesting because in both cases, he's using B, so he's essentially going from B Major to B Natural Minor. Very classy key change. (Yea, you can do that)

Congratulations, you've just opened up an entire new world of sonic possibilities to yourself.

Here are some more things you can do with modes that'll really accentuate their individual sounds:

Modal Interchange:

First off, if you don't understand modes, then do not read any of this or the next section, because it will just confuse you more, I only recommend reading this and watching the videos I'm going to provide if you know how to use modes as they've been demonstrated above.

This part is really just for people who already knew about modes before my post, or those exceptional beings who despite never having heard of modes understood every convoluted word of my post and have instantly learned how to operate modes.

I was going to write about this and draw up a little example for you all, but instead, I'm going to let you watch this video, because this guy explains it far better and more clearly than I ever could:



The first three videos are utilizing this idea at various points, which is a part of what's really highlighting those modal sounds.

Pitch Axis Technique

Ok, so the final Joe Satriani video above is working off of something called 'pitch axis technique'

Basically it enables stranger key changes, such as moving from B Major to B natural minor, which really, should sound jarring and a bit awkward, but if you listen to that Joe Satriani tune you'll see it's pretty seamless and really effective.

Modes, when used right, have a great unique sound to them that sets them apart from the boring old majors and minors you've been using for years. When combined with Pitch Axis Technique they sound downright alien and pretty much like the music God would write if he filled an elephant with PCP and ate it.

Now, again, I'm not going to try to explain this one, instead, I'm going to let you watch this video of a guy who explains it and demonstrates it more effectively than anybody I've ever seen who's tried to, I highly recommend you watch the whole way through, the solo's at the start demonstrate the sounds you'll get from using this technique and then when he's done playing sick guitahhhhh he explains it brilliantly and in great depth - enjoy:



That's it really, hope this hasn't been too confusing or too long a read. Best of luck with modes.
Last edited by kaiori breathe on Sat May 07, 2011 5:21 pm, edited 6 times in total.
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Postby mks » Sat May 07, 2011 12:00 am

:W:
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Postby oprs » Sat May 07, 2011 12:03 am

kaiori always coming through with fire. skimmed through it gonna have to sit down and read it after i eat.
mucho props bru :W:
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Postby mikeyp » Sat May 07, 2011 12:09 am

thank you so much for this.
I've been trying to search for something to explain this for the past few days and I didn't understand any of it until now
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Postby Johnst » Sat May 07, 2011 6:04 am

you brilliant bastard.

this is how i've always gone about trying to make/play music, but i've never even gotten close to explaining it that simply and clearly. really well done, i'm going to refer all the people i've confused to this.
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Postby sixth sense » Sat May 07, 2011 8:05 am

you are the bomb
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Postby 23seconds » Sat May 07, 2011 8:26 am

what about the tuning? these ancient modes are with different tuning...
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Postby Shum » Sat May 07, 2011 8:30 am

sound advice.
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Postby grooki » Sat May 07, 2011 8:36 am

Thanks Kaoiri, any sort of music theory guides that are nicely explained are awesome. This must have taken you a long time to type up!

One question - I understand that as you change chords in your progression your begins at different points to match. Is this basically what you are saying? Because I get that, but I don't quite get how you get from that to the example where you say

kaiori breathe wrote:
Here's a little something you can try (I recommend doing it, despite your current disillusionment with modes as it will redeem them)

If you've got a piano/keyboard nearby play the above chord sequence and noodle around with those modes as they're described. Sounds kinda 'meh' almost like it wasn't worth learning all that, yea?

Now. Don't play anything at all for a few moments. Let the whole 'C Major' thing and the C root slip out of your head.

Go back to your keys, now hold down an E note in the bass, if it sounds weird (then stop for a moment, because C Major still isn't out of your head, wait and do it again in a few seconds) and play these notes an octave or two above it: E,F#,G#,A#,B,C#,D#,E, then play them backwards over the E bass again, if that low E drowns out just hit it again.

Sounds different right? Happy but with some strange mysterious feel? That A# sounds weird but wonderful? Yea, you just played E Lydian without the context of it being in a key (it is still technically in context, but it's less recognizable as being so when you don't progress beyond playing that E bass and the E lydian scale over it)

Still not hearing it? Play an E bass, then play E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E (that's E major) and compare it to what you just played (E Lydian)


I tried it out and it does sound awesome, but I don't get how that fits into modes. Root note E, so from the explanation above I thought that E lydian would be playing the notes in the E major scale starting from A? Maybe I'm just completely confused!
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Postby Morrello » Sat May 07, 2011 9:07 am

E Lydian is E-E in the key of B major, as E is the 4th degree of B major
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Postby keith_b » Sat May 07, 2011 10:32 am

sixth sense wrote:you are the bomb
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Postby nowaysj » Sat May 07, 2011 10:38 am

Not in the mental state to read this. Will review later. BOOKMARKED. THX1138
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Postby producedbyHANS » Sat May 07, 2011 10:39 am

grooki wrote:Thanks Kaoiri, any sort of music theory guides that are nicely explained are awesome. This must have taken you a long time to type up!

One question - I understand that as you change chords in your progression your begins at different points to match. Is this basically what you are saying? Because I get that, but I don't quite get how you get from that to the example where you say

kaiori breathe wrote:
Here's a little something you can try (I recommend doing it, despite your current disillusionment with modes as it will redeem them)

If you've got a piano/keyboard nearby play the above chord sequence and noodle around with those modes as they're described. Sounds kinda 'meh' almost like it wasn't worth learning all that, yea?

Now. Don't play anything at all for a few moments. Let the whole 'C Major' thing and the C root slip out of your head.

Go back to your keys, now hold down an E note in the bass, if it sounds weird (then stop for a moment, because C Major still isn't out of your head, wait and do it again in a few seconds) and play these notes an octave or two above it: E,F#,G#,A#,B,C#,D#,E, then play them backwards over the E bass again, if that low E drowns out just hit it again.

Sounds different right? Happy but with some strange mysterious feel? That A# sounds weird but wonderful? Yea, you just played E Lydian without the context of it being in a key (it is still technically in context, but it's less recognizable as being so when you don't progress beyond playing that E bass and the E lydian scale over it)

Still not hearing it? Play an E bass, then play E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E (that's E major) and compare it to what you just played (E Lydian)


I tried it out and it does sound awesome, but I don't get how that fits into modes. Root note E, so from the explanation above I thought that E lydian would be playing the notes in the E major scale starting from A? Maybe I'm just completely confused!

Ok Im going to explain this in C, to avoid confusion.

To get C lydian............. just take C major (Ionian) and sharpen the 4th. So instead of F natural, you play F#. MUCH simpler, and much more intuitive than this "built off of the 4th degree of this major scale" crap.

First we have:
C-D-E-F-G-A-B - C Major/Ionian

Then we turn it into C Lydian Mode by sharpening the 4th:

C-D-E-F#-G-A-B - C Lydian (Major, with Sharpened 4th)
*------------->

----->*--------
G-A-B-C-D-E-F# - Built off of the 4th degree of the G Major/Ionian, Just to double check. Same notes Right?

To get C Dorian, take C MINOR (Aeolian) and sharpen the 6th. so instead of Ab, play A natural.

First We Have C Minor/Aeolian:
C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb

We then turn it into C Dorian Mode by Sharpening the 6th:
C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb Notice again, that if you double check, the notes you're playing are that of the Bb major/Ionian scale
*-------------->

-->*-----------
Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-A but built off the second degree of that scale, C (C Dorian Mode).

By thinking of it this way, you're avoiding all the confusing crap that comes with "hmm what degree of what major scale is this built off of?".

Basically think of it like Major Modes: Ionian (Most Commonly Used), Lydian (Major with a Sharpened 4th Degree. A lot of Steven Spielberg Films Use This), and Mixolydian (Major with a flattened 7th, closely related to Dominant Harmony)

Then you have your Minor-Esque Modes: Aeolian (Most Commonly Used), Dorian (Minor with a Sharpened 6th Degree. The Least "Dark" of the minor modes), Phrygian (Minor with a Flattened 2nd. Used in dubstep ALOT, darkest Minor Mode)

Then theres Locrian, which is kind of in its own little world. (Minor with a Flatted 2nd and 5th. Probably the least used mode)

Hope that helps.
Last edited by producedbyHANS on Sat May 07, 2011 1:12 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Filthzilla » Sat May 07, 2011 10:53 am

Awww yeah!! This kinda music theory makes you go mainstream in the blink of an eye! :h:

It worked so well for Modestep. :n:










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Postby Debaser1 » Sat May 07, 2011 10:59 am

BIG UP Kaiori! Excellent stuff.

Love jamming with modes, find myself slipping back into the easyness of pentatonicness though :/

You watch some modes starting to slip into my music now... haha ;)
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kaiori breathe wrote:Congratulations, you've discovered how to move from one chord to another...
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Postby paravrais » Sat May 07, 2011 12:43 pm

Great post, been trying to brush up on modes recently and this has finally helped me get my head around them. Up until about a week ago I had no idea what they were and just thought things like Phrygian and Lydian were other scales. I still used modes in songs but I just didn't know that was what I was doing and probably wasn't nearly as effective as I'll be able to use them now.
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Postby kaiori breathe » Sat May 07, 2011 2:31 pm

23seconds wrote:what about the tuning? these ancient modes are with different tuning...

Can't tell if you're joking or not sure what's going on, so just to clarify: I'm not talking about ancient modes here.

grooki wrote:I tried it out and it does sound awesome, but I don't get how that fits into modes. Root note E, so from the explanation above I thought that E lydian would be playing the notes in the E major scale starting from A? Maybe I'm just completely confused!


To answer your question in short:

Morrello wrote:E Lydian is E-E in the key of B major, as E is the 4th degree of B major


/\ This is spot on.

In a bit more detail:

I see what you're thinking there, you're taking E Major and going to the 4th degree of the scale, A, and extracting a mode from that. You've just given it the wrong name, you're pretty close to what's going on though.

When you do that, and extract a mode from the 4th degree of E Major's scale, what you would get is A lydian. If you look back at the start of my post, you'll see I use C Major as an example, and I show what all the degrees of the scale give, C (the first degree of the scale) gives the ionian, D (the second degree) gives the dorian, E (the third degree) gives the phrygian, F (4th degree) gives the lydian, G (5th degree) gives the mixolydian, A (6th degree) gives the aeolian, B (7th degree) gives the locrian. This formula is transferable, we don't take an E major and start on the 4th degree of the scale and call it E lydian, we take an E Major, start on the 4th degree of the scale and call it A lydian.

Make sense?

In the example I gave I just jumped straight to E lydian, to try to get people to hear it out of context, maybe i should have explained that E lydian would be the 4th degree of the B Major scale. I was trying to get people to just play it without context to get a feel for its sound.

B Major: B-C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A#-B

I've taken the 4th degree of the scale, which is E, and as I said in the start of the post, extracting a mode from the 4th degree of the scale gives us the lydian, so from B Major, I've taken E lydian, which looks like

E-F#-G#-A#B-C#-D#-E

Hope that helps clear that up for you.

producedbyHANS wrote:
To get C lydian............. just take C major (Ionian) and sharpen the 4th. So instead of F natural, you play F#. MUCH simpler, and much more intuitive than this "built off of the 4th degree of this major scale" crap.


Just because you don't like the way I've described this doesn't really give you remit to stroll in and declare it to be 'crap'; Do you really think the best way to get people to understand modes is by giving them ANOTHER way to understand them on top of the one I just gave them? No, it's not - if you want to lay it out your way make a new thread and do it.

There's a reason people teach using the scale degrees rather than doing it your way.

Filthzilla wrote:Awww yeah!! This kinda music theory makes you go mainstream in the blink of an eye! :h:

It worked so well for Modestep. :n:


I lol'd
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Postby nnny » Sat May 07, 2011 2:36 pm

Thank you so much, been learning theory lately so :)
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Postby grooki » Sat May 07, 2011 2:50 pm

kaiori breathe wrote:
grooki wrote:I tried it out and it does sound awesome, but I don't get how that fits into modes. Root note E, so from the explanation above I thought that E lydian would be playing the notes in the E major scale starting from A? Maybe I'm just completely confused!


To answer your question in short:

Morrello wrote:E Lydian is E-E in the key of B major, as E is the 4th degree of B major


/\ This is spot on.

In a bit more detail:

I see what you're thinking there, you're taking E Major and going to the 4th degree of the scale, A, and extracting a mode from that. You've just given it the wrong name, you're pretty close to what's going on though.

When you do that, and extract a mode from the 4th degree of E Major's scale, what you would get is A lydian. If you look back at the start of my post, you'll see I use C Major as an example, and I show what all the degrees of the scale give, C (the first degree of the scale) gives the ionian, D (the second degree) gives the dorian, E (the third degree) gives the phrygian, F (4th degree) gives the lydian, G (5th degree) gives the mixolydian, A (6th degree) gives the aeolian, B (7th degree) gives the locrian. This formula is transferable, we don't take an E major and start on the 4th degree of the scale and call it E lydian, we take an E Major, start on the 4th degree of the scale and call it A lydian.

Make sense?

In the example I gave I just jumped straight to E lydian, to try to get people to hear it out of context, maybe i should have explained that E lydian would be the 4th degree of the B Major scale. I was trying to get people to just play it without context to get a feel for its sound.

B Major: B-C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A#-B

I've taken the 4th degree of the scale, which is E, and as I said in the start of the post, extracting a mode from the 4th degree of the scale gives us the lydian, so from B Major, I've taken E lydian, which looks like

E-F#-G#-A#B-C#-D#-E

Hope that helps clear that up for you.

I lol'd



OK I think get it now, that makes a lot of sense. But from what you were saying in the first post, these modes can somehow be used while playing in another key and scale? Is it that when you have a chord progression, if you use whatever the current chord is as the root note to an accompanying melody, those melodies will be in whatever mode is designated by the degree of the chord?

:corntard:
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Postby kaiori breathe » Sat May 07, 2011 3:32 pm

grooki wrote:OK I think get it now, that makes a lot of sense. But from what you were saying in the first post, these modes can somehow be used while playing in another key and scale? Is it that when you have a chord progression, if you use whatever the current chord is as the root note to an accompanying melody, those melodies will be in whatever mode is designated by the degree of the chord?


Sorry grooki, I've got to go for a little bit, when I get back I'll help clear this up a bit for you, I know what you're saying and I think I get what's confusing you, so as soon as I get back I'll edit this post for you and explain it. Just thought I'd say so you know I will get back to this.
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