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Old 01-04-2013, 08:29 PM   #1
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Learning Jazz and modes

I picked up a Jazz guitar book the other day, and after skimming through it, there seems to be an emphasis on modes. After being on MT for a while, I've come to understand that modes are outdated in modern music. However since Jazz is a slightly older genre, should I be learning modes? Yes, learning is awesome, especially within music theory, but are modes necessary?
This post may contain my opinion and/or inaccurate information.

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Old 01-04-2013, 09:02 PM   #2
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no. modes in jazz didn't really come up until the lydian chromatic concept. it's an okay way to fast track playing jazz, but it's ultimately more of a hindrance i think. i had the opportunity to hang with some heavy dudes from new york once and when you mentioned modes they're kind of just like 'what the **** are you talking about?'

if you understand it in terms of modes, okay. everyone has different ways of thinking about things. but the important part is to just learn the music and the vocabulary. listen to it all the time. transcribe it all the time. play it all the time. the way you understand it is important, but not nearly as important as just doing it.

just a quick reason i think modes are BS:

you've got a ii-V-I. central to jazz. Dm-G7-C.

CST (chord-scale theory) like you're talking about would dictate that you play D dorian then G mixolydian and then C ionian.

the thing is every single one of those "modes" is just a C major scale. why rack your brain with all these bullshit modes when you could just say, "okay four bars of C major." isn't that a lot easier and fluid?

the main thing is listen to the music and learn it from listening. it's the hard way. it's the slow way. but it's ultimately the best way. IMHO, YMMV, etc.

to me a mode isn't an alphabet; the chromatic scale is the alphabet. the scale/mode is ultimately just a lick.

the only two scales you really need to know are the chromatic scale and the major/minor scale for theoretical purposes. everything else is derivative.
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Old 01-04-2013, 09:23 PM   #3
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Modes are helpful in analyzing jazz music, but aren't necessarily proscriptive. That is, jazz isn't made of modes, it's just an easy way to talk about the sounds. As the guy above says, modes themselves aren't the focus until you get to "modern" jazz, which was very innovative but representative of Jazz overall.

Work on building melodies around chord tones. Arpeggios-ish. Easy shortcut to a "jazzy" sound: use chord tones on downbeats, and non-chord tones on upbeats.

And, of course, rhythm. Rhythm is the most important part of jazz (well, music in general). Listen for jazz phrasing. Once you have a solid grounding in chords/scales, you'll find that note selection is the easy part.

As to whether or not you should learn your modes... you won't be a worse player for it, but it's probably not a very good use of your time, compared to learning actual music.
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Old 01-04-2013, 10:36 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by AWACS
However since Jazz is a slightly older genre, should I be learning modes?

Lol jazz isn't that old. When people say that keys replaced modes, they are referring to developments in music around 200 years ago.
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Old 01-04-2013, 10:50 PM   #5
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If you're just getting in to jazz, don't worry about modes. Modes suck. Modes are modes... in modal music. Forget about that. Work on comping. Get a good chord vocabulary and familiarity with the fretboard. Building 9ths, 11ths, 13ths (embellish them chords nigga), tritone subs, altered chords, etc... Once you get that down, along with bass movement (walking bass is cool as tits) and full on articulation (by voicing of chords, rhythmically, and timbre) utilizing chord tones when improvising will come easy.

The best thing to do is immerse yourself in the genre. Listen, Listen, Listen, to the music. If you can transcribe, then transcribe. A few artists that first come to mind are: John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Wes Montgomery, Stanley Jordan, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and Dizzie Gillespie.

Autumn Leaves is a good standard to dip your feet in the water. Pretty good for just learning ii-V-I progressions and how the notes in such work together.

I don't know... I'm still learning this myself. Just my two cents.
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Old 01-05-2013, 08:35 AM   #6
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The modes are used as scales today. You aren't playing in modes (like in keys - there are only two keys: minor and major). And I wouldn't think in CST if I was playing over a simple chord progression. But if you have a chord progression that has lots of strange chords and it feels like the key is changing all the time, it might be useful to think that you play a certain scale over a certain chord - just like that ii-V-I thing that you were playing D dorian over the ii chord and G mixolydian over the V chord and C major over the I chord but the chord progressions would be much more complex. It just wouldn't be sensible to think in CST over such a simple progression. Because that progression is in C major and all the "modes" you would be playing over it share the same notes as C major scale. CST is only useful if the progression is complex.

Mixolydian, dorian, lydian and phrygian scales are used a lot. But that doesn't make the music modal. The music today is tonal.

For example this song is in a minor key but it's using the notes in dorian scale. (A bit off topic - it's not jazz but really, the same theory applies to all music styles.)

Originally Posted by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.


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Last edited by MaggaraMarine : 01-05-2013 at 08:41 AM.
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