- Can you write out all the major scales? If you can, move on to the next question. If you can't, go here >>>
- Do you understand intervals? If you do, go to the next question. If you don't, go here >>>
- Do you understand the harmonized diatonic system? If you do, go on. If you don't, go (half way down the page) here again >>>
- Can you play the major scale and improvise in all keys with little problem? If you can, go on to the rest of this article. If you can't, go here >>>
- Write out your major scales. For example: what are the notes in an E major scale? E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#. What are the notes in a Bb major scale? Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-A. etc.
- Be able to identify intervals. For example: What is a perfect 5th from A? E. What is a major 7th from Eb? D. etc.
- Understand the diatonic system. For example: what is the "V" chord of D major? A or A7. What is the "ii" chord in F major? Gmin or Gmin7. etc.
- And be able to play and use the major scale. Although it may not be completely necessary, I would strongly suggest that you know all five (the conventional) patterns of the major scale. You should be able to play over diatonic progressions using the scales.
Now, let's try to understand modes theoretically first. You have probably already heard this and it is one reason you are confused, but it is important to get this first Make sure you read to the end of this article or you will stay confused.
- B dorian = ?
- E dorian = ?
- F# dorian = ?
- A dorian = ?
- C dorian = ?
- B dorian:B-C#-D-E-F#-G#-A (The major scale down a M2 from B is A and the key signature for A is F#,C#, G#)
- E dorian:
- F# dorian:
- A dorian:
- C dorian:
B dorian: B-C#-D-E-F#-G#-A
- natural minor scale with a major 6th (or)
- major scale with a minor 3rd and minor 7th
Phrygian = major scale down a 3rd. (Ex: C Phrygian = Ab major)
Lydian = major scale up a 5th. (Ex: C lydian = G major)
Mixolydian = major scale up a 4th. (Ex: C mixolydian = F major)
Aolian = major scale up a minor 3rd. (Ex: C aolian = Eb major)
Locrian = major scale up a minor 2nd. (Ex: C locrian = Db major)
G7 = mixolydian, up a 4th from G7 is C, G mixolydian = C major.
It is the same thing in reverse: the 5th degree of C is G mixolydian and a 4th from G7 is C major.
You only get the chord, so thinking about what degree of what scale is a big waste of time. It is much faster thinking: major scale up a 4th.
Parallel is the point to understanding
Using the derivative method might be easier to locate and play the mode, but to really know what is going on with modes, you absolutely have to see things from a parallel viewpoint as well.
You have to think of the mode as a separate scale all together (which in all reality it is). This point of view would say that the dorian mode is, compared to the parallel major scale, a scale with a fixed set of intervals: 1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7. The advantage is simple, it shows you clearly what the scale is, its intervals, its tonality and the harmony born from it. It is clear and direct. The disadvantage is that to play it using this method of classification means that you have to learn a separate scale pattern for every mode. I mean, lets say you are playing a tune and the chart tells you that it is time for you to play a solo and gives you a Cmin7 chord to solo over. You would have to think; "Okay, Cmin7, that means I can use the dorian mode, let me think here, the root is C, a 2nd from that is D, a b3rd from the root is Eb, the 4th is F, the 5th is G, the 6th is A and finally the b7th is Bb." It is a lot of thinking to do if you are not yet familiar with all five of the dorian scale patterns. Using our first method, the derivative approach, you would simply say to yourself in the same situation; "I have to solo over a Cmin7 chord, so I need to play the C dorian mode, let's see, a 2nd down is Bb so if I play a Bb major scale everything will be cool." This approach takes a lot less effort. Regardless it is important to look at the modes from the "parallel" standpoint in order to truly understand the nature of each individual mode. The parallel system works for all the modes:
Phrygian = 1-b2-b3-4-5-b6-b7
Lydian = 1-2-3-#4-5-6-7
Mixolydian = 1-2-3-4-5-6-b7
Aolian = 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7
Locrian = 1-b2-b3-4-b5-b6-b7
Eventually what happens is that both these concepts begin to overlap and you stop thinking about it overly. Especially in regards to modes you play often. For example, in the dorian video above, I'm practically not thinking at all. I have played dorian enough over the last three decades for it to be very natural. But in the second video, I am thinking almost completely using the derivative method. In other words, I am thinking" Ok, I've got to play over this Csus4(b9) chord here, down a major 3rd from C is Ab, so I'll play an Ab major scale making sure to start on some chord tone from the chord (C, F or G). Oh, here comes a Db major chord, let me grab a Db, F or Ab on the first beat." The reason I have to do this for phrygian and not dorian is simply because I don't play phrygian very often, it certainly isn't something I do everyday like I might dorian.