Scales and Modes In the Beginning:
The ideal companion to the playmusicfree mode lessons. Contains music theory and chord/scale
relationships beyond the scope of those expained here. A must for any serious student of scale theory for guitar.
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The system of modes is probably the most misunderstood, mistaught area of practical music theory. To understand the modes, it's important to understand what ther are not. They are not: 1) simply different starting points for a major scale. 2) complicated. Okay, so what are they? Modes are simply names of scales that contain certain intervals (notes) and, as a result, have a certain sound. In common useage, there are seven modes and if you've learned the major and relative minor scales, you already know two of them.
In the lesson discussing major and relative minor scales, we explored how to use one scale pattern to play over both major and minor chords. This pattern, we named "pattern #1." Using the note under your fourth finger as the point of reference, pattern #1 is a Major Scale. This major scale is the Ionian Mode. The name Ionian simply refers to this scale. Using the note under your 1st. finger for refernce, pattern #1 is the relative minor scale. The relative minor scale is the Aeolian Mode. The modes are simply new names for these scales. We can alter these scale slightly to create new scales. There are five of them and each has a unique sound and its own mode name.
So far, we've used major and minor scales to play over major and minor chords. There are also other major and minor scales which, in some instances, might be preferable to the two we've learned already. Now, we'll examine these. We'll start with the major scale. In the lesson discussing chord extensions, when using 11th. in a major chord, we raised it in pitch by a half step (sharped it) in order to relieve the dissonance between the natural 11th. and the major 3rd. Keep in mind that the 11th. and the 4th are the same note. In the major scale we’ve been playing over major chords, there is a natural 4th.. Usually, when soloing, notes go by rather quickly and this dissonance between the 3rd. and 4th. goes unnoticed. It is possible, and sometimes preferable, to raise the 4th. note of the scale when soloing. The resulting scale (major #4) will work well over major 7 chords and is the only scale which will sound good over major 7(#11) chords.
Creating a pattern for this sharp 4 scale is easy. Just count up 4 notes from the root of our existing scale pattern and raise that note by one fret. Continue up the scale and, everywhere there’s a 4th, sharp it. The resulting major scale with a sharped 4th. is called the Lydian Mode. The lydian mode is simply a major scale (Ionian) with one different note (#4th) and as a result, a different major sound. Both scales are major because of the natural 3rd. and natural 7th..
|Using pattern #1, the illustration below takes us through the process. The resulting scale pattern, we'll call scale pattern #2|
Practice Tip: Try both scales over a major 7 chord and listen closely to the 4th. and #4th.. Then play major 7(#11) chords and listen to the #4th. scale over them. Make sure that you are playing the scale in the right position with your 4th. finger on the root. The purpose is to learn to recognize the unique sound of each of these scales (modes) and memorize thier names.
The Minor (Natural 6th.)Scale
Just as there is more than one major scale, there are minor scales other than the relative minor (aeolian) scale. In much the same way as the natural 4th sounds dissonant against the major 3rd, of a major chord, when playing the relative minor scale over a minor 7 chord, the b6th has a tendency to clash with the 5th of the minor 7 chord. The solution is to raise the flat 6th to a natural 6th.
Practice this new, minor (natural 6th.) scale over minor 7 and minor 13 chords. Listen closely to the 6th. and resolve it up a half step to the b7. Now, over a minor 7 chord, compare this scale with the relative minor scale. Play the natural 6th. to the b7, then, the b6 to the b7. Big difference. The mode name for the minor, natural 6th. scale is “Dorian.” Either the dorian or the aeolian scale (mode) may be played over minor 7 chords, but sometimes a chord will dictate a specific minor scale.
If, for example, the chord is minor 6 (minor 13), the dorian scale must be used because there is a natural 6th. in the chord. If the chord is minor b13, then the choice has to be aeolian to accommodate the b6th.(remember 6 and 13 are the same note).
So far, we’ve learned the two major modes, ionian and lydian. And, two minor modes, aeolian and dorian. Each has its own, unique sound which works best over certain chords. But, we’ve only used two patterns for all four scales. Take some time and play through all of them over different chords with different roots. Before moving on, make sure you understand these scales completely and how to apply them over different major and minor chords. In order to use these scales in your solos, the sound and the scale’s placement on the fingerboard need to be instant and automatic. Practice the patterns in as many different ways as you can think of, at the same time, thinking about which notes are unique to the scale you are practicing (i.e. 4th. vs. #4, b6 vs. 6).