Improvisation and modes

Guitar Tricks Forum > Music Theory > Improvisation and modes

ethanquar

Full Access

Joined: 05/05/19

Posts: 11

Recently my mom signed up for Masterclass and I decided to check out the Tom Morello course using her account. He goes over the minor scale and the 7 positions found on the fretboard. Are all of those aeolian? Or are they all of different modes? Though they all have the same notes, the note they start with varies, so does this imply different modes? If so which position would I know to use depending on the chord changes? Would it be wrong to play dorian over the ii chord? If I played an A minor scale over an A minor progession it would work anywhere, regardless of what the chord is right?

Also, what makes a mode a mode is the spacing between each note and the texture the intervals provide right? What mode you are playing is most obvious when you play the scale in order; but when we solo, we don't play the notes of the scale in order, we hand select them as we are playing to formulate the desired tone; so, what would be the point of soloing with mixolydian when I could just use ionion (both of which have the same notes). If I were playing them in order up and down it would make sense because you can hear a significant difference between the emotive language, but when improvising we don't play up and down.

#1

Recently my mom signed up for Masterclass and I decided to check out the Tom Morello course using her account. He goes over the minor scale and the 7 positions found on the fretboard. Are all of those aeolian? Or are they all of different modes? Though they all have the same notes, the note they start with varies, so does this imply different modes? If so which position would I know to use depending on the chord changes? Would it be wrong to play dorian over the ii chord? If I played an A minor scale over an A minor progession it would work anywhere, regardless of what the chord is right?

Also, what makes a mode a mode is the spacing between each note and the texture the intervals provide right? What mode you are playing is most obvious when you play the scale in order; but when we solo, we don't play the notes of the scale in order, we hand select them as we are playing to formulate the desired tone; so, what would be the point of soloing with mixolydian when I could just use ionion (both of which have the same notes). If I were playing them in order up and down it would make sense because you can hear a significant difference between the emotive language, but when improvising we don't play up and down.

ChristopherSchlegel

Guitar Tricks Instructor

Joined: 08/09/05

Posts: 6509

You are asking great questions!

There are 2 ways of looking at modes & it's important to know which one you mean.

1. Structural: each mode relates to a parent scale. So you are always in one major scale, G major for example, and the various modes are just ways of playing a G major scale, but starting on each note in turn. Often this is used to stay in one key, but play over the chord changes within the key.

2. Ornamental: You just play whichever mode you like the sound of at the time regardless of the key. This requires that you know & apply the scale or mode interval formula.

I have 2 tutorials on modes that cover both of these approaches in detail.

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=370

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=770

Answering specific questions.

Originally Posted by: ethanquar

He goes over the minor scale and the 7 positions found on the fretboard. Are all of those aeolian? Or are they all of different modes?

I'd have to see it to know for sure, but yes, what you are describing is possibly the diatonic modes. You use or stay in only one scale (major or minor). Since there are 7 notes there are 7 possible notes on which to start playing the scale. If you give each note of the scale a chance to start the sequence, then you are playing the modes of that scale.

That sounds more complicated than it really is once you start playing it. This is the structural point from above.

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
Though they all have the same notes, the note they start with varies, so does this imply different modes?

Exactly.

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
If so which position would I know to use depending on the chord changes?

Using the modes to target chord changes is one way to use them. But in some cases this is just reverse engineering. It's usually better to start by learning to:

1. Play in key (find the scale).

2. Rhythmically target chord tones.

3. Build melodic phrases.

So, you could play ionian when the I chord happens, then dorian when the ii chord happens, phrygian when the iii chord happens, etc. But this is more complicated than it needs to be for most songs & certainly for beginner approaches to improv.

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
Would it be wrong to play dorian over the ii chord?

No, that's essentially correct. But as a beginner it helps to think of the major scale you are using that is the key signature. Then use that one scale to target the chord tones of the ii chord.

Example, you are in the key of C major. The progression is: C (I) - Dm (ii) - G (V).

When the Dmin chord happens just make a melodic phrase that uses notes of the C major scale, but that rhythmically emphasizes the notes d-f-a (the chord tones of the Dmin chord). That's much more conceptually clear & more efficient than trying to think of an entirely different mode for every chord change.

This is the distilled essence of my improv tutorials.

https://www.guitartricks.com/collection/learning-to-improvise

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
If I played an A minor scale over an A minor progession it would work anywhere, regardless of what the chord is right?

Yes, mostly. And that's a great beginner way of looking at it. But the next step to make your playing sound musically integrated is to target chord tones.

The note F is in the A minor scale. So it won't sound terrible to play the note F while the A minor chord is happening. But if you linger on, or rhythmically emphasize it, then it will clash with the note E which is in the A minor chord.

However the F note is in the D minor chord. So lingering on or stressing the F when a D minor (iv) happens will make your playing sound more melodic & integrated with the chords as they change.

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
Also, what makes a mode a mode is the spacing between each note and the texture the intervals provide right?

Yes, great observation. The unique characteristic of any scale or modes is the interval formula (the distances between all the notes). I would say the unique sound, where you said "texture".

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
What mode you are playing is most obvious when you play the scale in order; but when we solo, we don't play the notes of the scale in order, we hand select them as we are playing to formulate the desired tone; so, what would be the point of soloing with mixolydian when I could just use ionion (both of which have the same notes).

Great question. This is what I meant by reverse engineering. Sometimes it's best to use a mode identifier like mixolydian after the fact to identify what someone did. Or to describe a certain part of a solo: "Sounds like he was using mixolydian for that solo or phrase".

Rather than use it as a system to start, "Now, I'm going to play mixolydian". Because often then a beginner will wind up sounding like a robot automatically running through an alphabet of notes rather than trying to play music. Make sense?

Having said that, there is the ornamental approach (point 2 from above). Some songs, and more advanced improv methods, do actually just use a mode without any reference to key or scale. At a certain point all the musicians will know ahead of time, "Now we are using mixloydian".

This approach is especially used in jazz. For a whole song, or a section of the piece everything switches to some non-key signature related mode simply to get that unique sound at that point in the piece.

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
If I were playing them in order up and down it would make sense because you can hear a significant difference between the emotive language, but when improvising we don't play up and down.[/p]

Right. Which is why it's good to think in terms of key, chords & melodies at first.

Hope this helps! Please ask more if necessary!

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

#2

You are asking great questions!

There are 2 ways of looking at modes & it's important to know which one you mean.

1. Structural: each mode relates to a parent scale. So you are always in one major scale, G major for example, and the various modes are just ways of playing a G major scale, but starting on each note in turn. Often this is used to stay in one key, but play over the chord changes within the key.

2. Ornamental: You just play whichever mode you like the sound of at the time regardless of the key. This requires that you know & apply the scale or mode interval formula.

I have 2 tutorials on modes that cover both of these approaches in detail.

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=370

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=770

Answering specific questions.

Originally Posted by: ethanquar

He goes over the minor scale and the 7 positions found on the fretboard. Are all of those aeolian? Or are they all of different modes?

I'd have to see it to know for sure, but yes, what you are describing is possibly the diatonic modes. You use or stay in only one scale (major or minor). Since there are 7 notes there are 7 possible notes on which to start playing the scale. If you give each note of the scale a chance to start the sequence, then you are playing the modes of that scale.

That sounds more complicated than it really is once you start playing it. This is the structural point from above.

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
Though they all have the same notes, the note they start with varies, so does this imply different modes?

Exactly.

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
If so which position would I know to use depending on the chord changes?

Using the modes to target chord changes is one way to use them. But in some cases this is just reverse engineering. It's usually better to start by learning to:

1. Play in key (find the scale).

2. Rhythmically target chord tones.

3. Build melodic phrases.

So, you could play ionian when the I chord happens, then dorian when the ii chord happens, phrygian when the iii chord happens, etc. But this is more complicated than it needs to be for most songs & certainly for beginner approaches to improv.

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
Would it be wrong to play dorian over the ii chord?

No, that's essentially correct. But as a beginner it helps to think of the major scale you are using that is the key signature. Then use that one scale to target the chord tones of the ii chord.

Example, you are in the key of C major. The progression is: C (I) - Dm (ii) - G (V).

When the Dmin chord happens just make a melodic phrase that uses notes of the C major scale, but that rhythmically emphasizes the notes d-f-a (the chord tones of the Dmin chord). That's much more conceptually clear & more efficient than trying to think of an entirely different mode for every chord change.

This is the distilled essence of my improv tutorials.

https://www.guitartricks.com/collection/learning-to-improvise

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
If I played an A minor scale over an A minor progession it would work anywhere, regardless of what the chord is right?

Yes, mostly. And that's a great beginner way of looking at it. But the next step to make your playing sound musically integrated is to target chord tones.

The note F is in the A minor scale. So it won't sound terrible to play the note F while the A minor chord is happening. But if you linger on, or rhythmically emphasize it, then it will clash with the note E which is in the A minor chord.

However the F note is in the D minor chord. So lingering on or stressing the F when a D minor (iv) happens will make your playing sound more melodic & integrated with the chords as they change.

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
Also, what makes a mode a mode is the spacing between each note and the texture the intervals provide right?

Yes, great observation. The unique characteristic of any scale or modes is the interval formula (the distances between all the notes). I would say the unique sound, where you said "texture".

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
What mode you are playing is most obvious when you play the scale in order; but when we solo, we don't play the notes of the scale in order, we hand select them as we are playing to formulate the desired tone; so, what would be the point of soloing with mixolydian when I could just use ionion (both of which have the same notes).

Great question. This is what I meant by reverse engineering. Sometimes it's best to use a mode identifier like mixolydian after the fact to identify what someone did. Or to describe a certain part of a solo: "Sounds like he was using mixolydian for that solo or phrase".

Rather than use it as a system to start, "Now, I'm going to play mixolydian". Because often then a beginner will wind up sounding like a robot automatically running through an alphabet of notes rather than trying to play music. Make sense?

Having said that, there is the ornamental approach (point 2 from above). Some songs, and more advanced improv methods, do actually just use a mode without any reference to key or scale. At a certain point all the musicians will know ahead of time, "Now we are using mixloydian".

This approach is especially used in jazz. For a whole song, or a section of the piece everything switches to some non-key signature related mode simply to get that unique sound at that point in the piece.

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
If I were playing them in order up and down it would make sense because you can hear a significant difference between the emotive language, but when improvising we don't play up and down.[/p]

Right. Which is why it's good to think in terms of key, chords & melodies at first.

Hope this helps! Please ask more if necessary!

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

ethanquar

Full Access

Joined: 05/05/19

Posts: 11

So the take away here is, as a beginner, not to worry so much about the entirety of the mode, but trying to target the chord tones that make the chord you're playing over?

Also when you said, think in terms of key, chords, and melodies, what do you mean when you say chords and keys? The masterclass I watched talked about how different modes kind of are their own key, and have specific chord progressions within the main scale that corrospond with the mode?

There are really clearing things up for me, means the world

#3

So the take away here is, as a beginner, not to worry so much about the entirety of the mode, but trying to target the chord tones that make the chord you're playing over?

Also when you said, think in terms of key, chords, and melodies, what do you mean when you say chords and keys? The masterclass I watched talked about how different modes kind of are their own key, and have specific chord progressions within the main scale that corrospond with the mode?

There are really clearing things up for me, means the world

ChristopherSchlegel

Guitar Tricks Instructor

Joined: 08/09/05

Posts: 6509

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
So the take away here is, as a beginner, not to worry so much about the entirety of the mode, but trying to target the chord tones that make the chord you're playing over?

Yes. And for most music that will result in the modes taking care of themselves.

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
Also when you said, think in terms of key, chords, and melodies, what do you mean when you say chords and keys?

The key signature of a song (song section or piece of music) is the scale that all (or most) of the notes (melody & chords) of the song uses.

The chords used in a progression, the order of the chords, the length of use.

I mean to play melodies that use the notes of the scale that form the key signature ("key" for short) to rhythmically emphasize notes of each chord as it happens.

I cover this in detail in my improvisation tutorials.

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
The masterclass I watched talked about how different modes kind of are their own key, and have specific chord progressions within the main scale that corrospond with the mode?

That's what I meant about 2 ways to use or think about modes & why it can be confusing.

For example, you can say you are playing in the key of C major. You are using the C major scale, the chords it forms when harmonized & it's modes.

That makes this list of chords & modes:

C major (I) - ionian (natural major)

D minor (ii) - dorian

E minor (iii) - phrygian

F major (IV) - lydian

G major (V) - mixolydian

A minor (vi) - aeolian (natural minor)

B diminished (vii dim) - locrian

As long as you are thinking & playing those musical materials with C major as your tonic or (I) chord, then you are using the modes as ways to play in C major.

You could however think of the note D as your root note, but still use a progression using the C major scale as your key. This is where it gets a little tricky! This means that you are simply doing this:

D minor (ii) - dorian

E minor (iii) - phrygian

F major (IV) - lydian

G major (V) - mixolydian

A minor (vi) - aeolian (natural minor)

B diminished (vii dim) - locrian

C major (I) - ionian (natural major)

We've simply shifted the order. But if we are thinking of D as the root then we also need to shift the chord numbers while retaining the chord quality (major, minor or diminished).

D minor (i - still minor) - dorian

E minor (ii - still minor) - phrygian

F major (bIII still major) - lydian

G major (IV still major) - mixolydian

A minor (v still minor) - aeolian (natural minor)

B diminished (vi still dim) - locrian

C major (bVII still major) - ionian (natural major)

So, in a sense you now have a "key signature of D dorian". Notice it's still just the notes & chords of C major. But since we want D dorian as the root, everything shifts over & gets re-labeled.

This approach is done in some music. But it's a more advanced topic. Make sense?

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
There are really clearing things up for me, means the world

Good deal!

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

#4

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
So the take away here is, as a beginner, not to worry so much about the entirety of the mode, but trying to target the chord tones that make the chord you're playing over?

Yes. And for most music that will result in the modes taking care of themselves.

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
Also when you said, think in terms of key, chords, and melodies, what do you mean when you say chords and keys?

The key signature of a song (song section or piece of music) is the scale that all (or most) of the notes (melody & chords) of the song uses.

The chords used in a progression, the order of the chords, the length of use.

I mean to play melodies that use the notes of the scale that form the key signature ("key" for short) to rhythmically emphasize notes of each chord as it happens.

I cover this in detail in my improvisation tutorials.

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
The masterclass I watched talked about how different modes kind of are their own key, and have specific chord progressions within the main scale that corrospond with the mode?

That's what I meant about 2 ways to use or think about modes & why it can be confusing.

For example, you can say you are playing in the key of C major. You are using the C major scale, the chords it forms when harmonized & it's modes.

That makes this list of chords & modes:

C major (I) - ionian (natural major)

D minor (ii) - dorian

E minor (iii) - phrygian

F major (IV) - lydian

G major (V) - mixolydian

A minor (vi) - aeolian (natural minor)

B diminished (vii dim) - locrian

As long as you are thinking & playing those musical materials with C major as your tonic or (I) chord, then you are using the modes as ways to play in C major.

You could however think of the note D as your root note, but still use a progression using the C major scale as your key. This is where it gets a little tricky! This means that you are simply doing this:

D minor (ii) - dorian

E minor (iii) - phrygian

F major (IV) - lydian

G major (V) - mixolydian

A minor (vi) - aeolian (natural minor)

B diminished (vii dim) - locrian

C major (I) - ionian (natural major)

We've simply shifted the order. But if we are thinking of D as the root then we also need to shift the chord numbers while retaining the chord quality (major, minor or diminished).

D minor (i - still minor) - dorian

E minor (ii - still minor) - phrygian

F major (bIII still major) - lydian

G major (IV still major) - mixolydian

A minor (v still minor) - aeolian (natural minor)

B diminished (vi still dim) - locrian

C major (bVII still major) - ionian (natural major)

So, in a sense you now have a "key signature of D dorian". Notice it's still just the notes & chords of C major. But since we want D dorian as the root, everything shifts over & gets re-labeled.

This approach is done in some music. But it's a more advanced topic. Make sense?

Originally Posted by: ethanquar
There are really clearing things up for me, means the world

Good deal!

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

ethanquar

Full Access

Joined: 05/05/19

Posts: 11

Ah alright thanks, I'll just try not to worry about all the modal stuff for now.

#5

Ah alright thanks, I'll just try not to worry about all the modal stuff for now.

tomhunter197023

Registered User

Joined: 10/08/20

Posts: 1

The masterclass I watched talked about how different modes kind of are their own key, and have specific chord progressions within the main scale that corrospond with the mode? UPSers

#6

The masterclass I watched talked about how different modes kind of are their own key, and have specific chord progressions within the main scale that corrospond with the mode? UPSers

ChristopherSchlegel

Guitar Tricks Instructor

Joined: 08/09/05

Posts: 6509

Originally Posted by: tomhunter197023

The masterclass I watched talked about how different modes kind of are their own key, and have specific chord progressions within the main scale that corrospond with the mode?

I have 2 tutorials on modes that covers this in detail.

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=370

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=770

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory

#7

Originally Posted by: tomhunter197023

The masterclass I watched talked about how different modes kind of are their own key, and have specific chord progressions within the main scale that corrospond with the mode?

I have 2 tutorials on modes that covers this in detail.

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=370

https://www.guitartricks.com/tutorial.php?input=770

Christopher Schlegel
Guitar Tricks Instructor

Christopher Schlegel Lesson Directory