Before I go on, let me just say that this is the method of learning that worked for me. It's a slow process, but I guaranteed myself that the theory stuck to my head, and not only can I apply modes on a guitar, but any instrument I can lay my hands on. This is again, intended for a general audience, so bare with me.
A major component about modes that I haven't mentioned earlier is that modes simply CANNOT EXIST without harmony; modes are not played "modally" if they do not a have a tonal center/some sort of chord progression. Consider a chord progression as a paragraph in a book, and the melodic lines as each individual sentence within the paragraph. Normally, in English literature, a paragraph represents a single idea as a whole, as it should have an organized idea and a well planned out context. The same applies to chord progressions and modes. You need a good sense of how to compliment one and the other. So, before playing any mode over the chords you are given, you must first establish what the chord movement is.
*WARNING [Part 1]*
I am again going to embark on more technical terms and will now focus on chord constructions. For now, I will be mainly using the term "harmony" and its adjectives. Get used to the usage of said term.
Already written in the last article, there are SEVEN main chords. For reference, I will refresh your memory:
These chords apply for any major key movement, hence all these chords in Roman numerals are ascending, and capitalized numerals are all major, and all the minor ones are not. However, there is a "minor" version of these chords, which indeed follows a minor key:
**And just for reference, the modes for the minor key are EXACTLY the same as the ones in major, except that instead of i min7 being Ionian, it's Aeolian, and ii (b5)min7 is Locrian, III maj7 is Ionian, etc etc. Modes are based on their intervals**
In whatever key you wish your chord progression, verify that you know what your chord qualities are before you move on. What's important to know at this point that modes work BETTER when the melody does not "conflict" with the harmony. So we'll break down a Imaj7 chord within the key of Bb Major to see why:
- A Major 7 chord always consists of the ROOT (1), its MAJOR 3RD (3), its (optional) PERFECT 5TH (5) and its NATURAL 7 (7)
1 3 5 7
Bb D F A
You want to see why the Ionian mode is associated with chord Imaj7? Look at the intervals within Ionian mode:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Bb C D Eb F G A
See that? We just took the notes 1, 3, 5 and 7 to create Imaj7 in the key of Bbmaj, this is why Ionian is associated with chord Imaj7, and the major key in general. So naturally, in the key of Bb major, a IV maj7 would be constructed the exact same way:
1 3 5 7
Eb G B D
Why is it still 1 3 5 7? Consider this: I previously mentioned on the first "How to Play Modes" that Lydian was the 4th degree of a major scale. So, a IV would also naturally (no pun intended) be the 4th chord of the major scale. So when you can combine these two together, and you see that both IVmaj7 and the Lydian mode are one and the same (when analyzing in a major key context)! So if you filled out the rest of the numbers between the 1 3 5 7, you would get the full Lydian mode:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Eb F G Ab B C D
Hopefully by demonstrating this, this further enforces the idea that you are indeed NOT playing "modally" when you play Eb Lydian over a Bbmaj chord because all these aforementioned notes are indeed the same notes as Imaj7, or the Bb major scale, or the mode of Bb Ionian. Want more proof? We'll take another chord within the key of Bb major to prove it:
- This here is a vii (b5)min7 (half-diminished):
1 b3 b5 b7
A C Eb G
- Now let's fill in the gaps:
1 2b 3b 4 5b 6b b7
A Bb C D Eb F G
You should now have a clear and definite picture as to why playing diatonically within the key is playing modally. Ever.
Now, for ease's sake, I am going to write out what are the intervals each chord has, but I'll make it your own homework to fill in the blanks as to which mode each chord would fit into:
Imaj = 1 3 5 7
ii min7 = 1 b3 5 b7
iii min7 = 1 b3 5 b7
IVmaj7 = 1 3 5 7
V7 = 1 3 5 b7
vi min7 = 1 b3 5 b7
vii(b5)min7 = 1 b3 b5 b7
A quick recap now; the first step into establishing a tonal center is by getting to know your key, and knowing your chord qualities. When you know your chord qualities, you will be able to more fluently apply modes into your playing. So get well acquainted with your intervals and chords!
*WARNING [Part 2]*
There are bountiful more chords that stretch beyond those I have given. There exists tensions, extensions, augmentations, diminutions, bImajs, bVIImajs... The list goes on. Again, these will all be explained in due time. So for now, stick with the ones I have provided you with.
Onto the next step of the tonal center, which is getting the context. To establish a well planned out tonal center, you must first have a beginning, middle and end of a chord progression. For me, the easiest part of establishing the tonal center is via the ending, better known as a more technical term, "cadences". There are a numerous amount of resolutions, but that is what a cadence is, is the end of a chord progression of at least two chords which offers the listener some sort of resolution. There are three BASIC cadences in all types of music:
The Perfect/Authentic Cadence:
V - I or also IV - V - I
The Plagal Cadence:
IV - I
The Interruptive/Deceptive Cadence:
V - (insert any chord that isn't the diatonic Imaj)
There are other cadences, but for simplicity's sake, I will leave it at that. Under a "normal" context, a nicer more "pop" sounding cadence would always have the cadence chords on a strong accentuated beat. I won't say if it should be the first or last beat of a bar because there's the cultural issue of who consider which beat of a bar because there's the cultural issue of who considers what beat to be the strongest, but for my articles, for any regular 4/4 beats, the first and third beat will always be the strongest until otherwise stated. Also, these "nicer" cadences are ALWAYS diatonic. INTERESTING cadences include tensions, extensions and may not be diatonic.
Next up is establishing the beginning and middle of the chord progression. Generally, an easy start is always by deciding what chord Imaj is. Once you identify that chord, it's easy to begin.
*WARNING [Part 3]*
Not to be harsh, but I am trying to hold your hand here. I'm trying to make sure there are no doubts here, so I will still be using a major key for examples firstly and foremost. People pondering about minor keys, for now use the given relative major key of your minor song, so your i min would instead be a vi minor.
Onto an example. Continuing in the key of Bb major, this is a simple chord progression I have created for this exercise:
**the slashes indicated the preferred amount of times you play a chord per crotchet/fourth note in a bar**
So play the progression as written, and it should have some sort of direction to it. Indeed, it sounds rather normal and boring, but for now, you'll have to bare!
*WARNING [Part 4]*
I analyzed these chords as much as I could so that you can see that you are all still playing the chords of Bb major. I am trying to stuff a couple of weeks worth of classes into your head, so don't be let down if you've been lost for a while. If you are lost, you should either scroll up, or re-enforce your basic chord and scale construction and intervals at the BARE MINIMUM. Also, why I added that third section was to get people thinking that even though we are playing diatonically within the key of Bb major, we can add a chord here and there to add colour to the entire progression, and also use certain harmony "rules" to modulate down a key as I pointed out in the third paragraph. However, anyone who has reached this far, don't panic! I'll guide you through this step by step.
Now then, play these sections in this order:
A A B A
And for those who want to play section C:
A A B A B C
Use whatever chord voicings you desire, just as long as you follow the chord qualities I have provided you with.
Once you have the progression down, either stuck in your head, loop pedal, or with a friend, I'll guide you into using modes with Section B only. The Section A progression uses the same chord progression intervals I used in the previous "How To Use Modes [Part 1]". So you may imitate the modes used from there. Just remember to adjust to the key of Bb major. Section C I will not mention right now as it would make this article twice the length it already is, so I will leave it for the next article!
So we've got these chords in sequence:
1 b3 5 b7
-Gm7 = G Bb D F
1 b3 5 b7
-Cm7 = C Eb G Bb
1 3 5 b7
-F7 = F A C Eb
1 3 5 7
-Bdmaj7 = Bb D F A
So what I propose you do now, is take your knowledge of modes that I have given you thus far, and look at the chord tonalities, and figure out the possibilities you can make here.
So if it were for chord vi-7 being the Gm7, since we only have 1 b3 5 b7, What could we fit into there? Let's find out:
1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7
G Dorian: G A Bb C D E F
1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
G Aeolian: G A Bb C D Eb F
1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
G Phrygian: G Ab Bb C D Eb F
**Where's Locrian? Let's put it this way, Locrian has a flat 5 in it, so if you decide to try and play it, I guarantee you it will conflict with the Gm7 chord because of that clashing 5 and b5. You can try it out if you wish, I can probably guarantee the large majority of you won't like the sound of it, even if you don't care to admit it.**
Let's move onto chord Cm7:
1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7
C Dorian: C D Eb F G A Bb
1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
C Aeolian: C D Eb F G Ab Bb
1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
C Phrygian: C Db Eb F G Ab Bb
And now for F7:
1 2 3 4 5 6 b7
F Mixolydian: F G A Bb C D Eb
1 2 3 #4 5 6 b7
F Lydian b7: F G A B C D Eb
1 b2 3 4 5 b6 b7
F Mixolydian b9 b13: F Gb A B C Db Eb
And lastly, for Bbmaj7:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Bb Ionian: Bb C D Eb F G A
1 2 3 #4 5 6 7
B Lydian: Bb C D E F G A
I will leave which modes you wish to use up to you. But if it were up to me, I'd recommend the following:
For Cm7 use Phrygian
For F7 use Lydian b7
For Bbmaj7 use Ionian
I picked these out because you can almost make a chromatic movement with these modes. Such as Dorian has that E, and Phrygian the Eb and Db and Lydian b7 has that C and B. For me, making a melody using these modes works for me. And yes, I said making a melody, and not improvising. Why? Well, for now, I want you guys to figure out how to make this chord progression flow using the modes I gave you. You have to pick which notes to play while anticipating what chord is coming next. Such is tonality. The overall flow of a song where the melody and harmony are congruent and flow together and make a musical "sense".
Phew! That was a long one? Well, we'll stop here for now. Make sure that you got EVERYTHING in this lesson, because the next one will be even harder! Until next time!