Modal Arpeggios Hear The Darkness

author: chris flatley date: 03/02/2012 category: scales
rating: 8.6 / votes: 8 
Practicing modal arpeggios can be very useful, not only to help increase your appreciation of the key from which they are taken, but they get you used to playing scales in thirds. Playing in thirds can help round out your melodic lines, and help them to sound less angular and steppy. To play a modal arpeggio, you simply play the 7 scale degrees as chord tones. So as well as the 1, 3, 5 and 7, you play the degrees 2, 4, and 6 as extensions, 9, 11, 13. A simpler way of explaining it would be that you take two octaves of a scale, and play every other note: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, and back to 1 two octaves higher.
IONIAN MODE in C
 
|----------------|
|----------------|
|------------4-5-|
|------3-5-7-----|
|3-5-7-----------|
|----------------|
 C D E F G A B C
 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
 
IONIAN ARPEGGIO inC:
 
|-------------5--8-|
|----------6-------|
|------4-7---------|descend using same pattern
|----5-------------|
|3-7---------------|
|------------------|
 C E G B D F  A  C
 1 3 5 7 9 11 13 1
So you can see that when we play the Ionian mode as a scale, all the intervals are made of seconds, major and minor, whereas playing it as an arpeggio, they're all major and minor thirds. Instead of now progressing to D Dorian, and E Phrygian, and so on through the modes based on the key of C, let's look instead at how the modes differ from each other by keeping the root (1) as C, and arranging them in order of how they deviate from the mother mode' Ionian. With the exception of the odd one out, Lydian, the modes get progressively darker as we move away from the most upbeat, Ionian Why is Lydian the odd one out? The Lydian has an augmented 4th, whereas all the others leave the 4th degree unaltered. It's also the only mode that deviates from the norm (Ionian) by augmenting/sharpening. All the others deviate by diminishing/flattening. I think the Lydian has a slightly crazy oddball sound to it. I certainly wouldn't say it was darker' than the Ionian, but all the rest are. So let's arrange them in order of deviation/darkness.
IONIAN the norm'
  
|----------------| |-------------5--8-|
|----------------| |----------6-------|
|------------4-5-| |------4-7---------|
|------3-5-7-----| |----5-------------|
|3-5-7-----------| |3-7---------------|
|----------------| |------------------|
 C D E F G A B C    C E G B D F  A  C
 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1    1 3 5 7 9 11 13 1
We know that 1 and 4(11) remain unaltered, so the only degrees we're interested in are: 2(9), 3, 5, 6(13, and 7. Ionian has a M2(o) M=major, M3, p5, p=perfect, M6, and M7. So it's major all the way. This is why it's the most upbeat/happiest. So in order of deviation the next mode is Mixolydian.
MIXOLYDIAN
 
|-----------------| |--------------5--8-|
|-----------------| |-----------6-------|
|------------3--5-| |------3--7---------|
|------3-5-7------| |----5--------------|
|3-5-7------------| |3-7----------------|
|-----------------| |-------------------|
 C D E F G A Bb C    C E G Bb D F  A  C
 1 2 3 4 5 6 m7 1    1 3 5 m7 9 11 13 1
By flattening the 7th degree from a major M7 in Ionian, to a minor m7, Mixolydian has become slightly darker sounding.
DORIAN
 
|------------------| |---------------5--8-|
|------------------| |------------6-------|
|-------------3--5-| |-------3--7---------|
|-------3-5-7------| |-----5--------------|
|3-5-6-------------| |3-6-----------------|
|------------------| |--------------------|
 C D Eb F G A Bb C    C Eb G Bb D F  A  C
 1 2 m3 4 5 6 m7 1    1 m3 5 m7 9 11 13 1
So now we've added a m3 to the m7. Even though Dorian is a minor mode, it still sounds reasonably upbeat because it has the p5, M2, and M6, and only the 3 and 7 are minor. Now we progress to what I think of as the truly dark modes.
AEOLIAN
 
|-------------------| |---------------4---8-|
|-------------------| |------------6--------|
|--------------3--5-| |-------3--7----------|
|-------3-5-6-------| |-----5---------------|
|3-5-6--------------| |3-6------------------|
|-------------------| |---------------------|
 C D Eb F G Ab Bb C    C Eb G Bb D F  Ab  C
 1 2 m3 4 5 m6 m7 1    1 m3 5 m7 9 11 b13 1
So we see minor starting to dominate. Only the 2 is still major.
PHRYGIAN
 
|--------------------| |----------------4---8-|
|--------------------| |-------------6--------|
|---------------3--5-| |-------3--6-----------|
|--------5-5-6-------| |-----5----------------|
|3-4--6--------------| |3-6-------------------|
|--------------------| |----------------------|
 C Db Eb F G Ab Bb C    C Eb G Bb Db F  Ab  C  
 1 m2 m3 4 5 m6 m7 1    1 m3 5 m7 b9 11 b13 1
All the majors have gone. Just the p5 holding out, but
LOCRIAN
 
|---------------------| |-----------------4---8-|
|---------------------| |--------------6--------|
|----------------3--5-| |--------3--6-----------|
|--------3-4--6-------| |-----4-----------------|
|3-4--6---------------| |3-6--------------------|
|---------------------| |-----------------------|
 C Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C    C Eb Gb Bb Db F  Ab  C
 1 m2 m3 4 b5 m6 m7 1    1 m3 b5 m7 b9 11 b13 1
That's as far as we can deviate, as dark as we can go. So when playing modes, and modal arpeggios, it helps to think of them in this degrees of darkness way. How m2=b9, m6=b13 etc. Really try to hear these flattened tones by contrasting them against the 'straight' all major of the Ionian. And by playing the modal arpeggios, you of course get to see the types of chords they produce. Let's end by having a quick look at the oddball that goes against the flow by augmenting rather than diminishing.
Lydian
 
|-----------------| |--------------5--8-|
|-----------------| |----------7--------|
|-------------4-5-| |------4-7----------|
|------4--5-7-----| |----5--------------|
|3-5-7------------| |3-7----------------|
|-----------------| |-------------------|
 C D E F# G A B C    C E G B D F#  A  C
 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7 1    1 3 5 7 9 #11 13 1
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