Lately I've been making a real effort to make sense of these damn things called Modes. I've always accepted that they play a special role in creating (and playing) music but always struggled to work out (a) their key roles and (b) when is a certain 'minor' mode better than another minor mode.

A few days ago I did the math and made a basic chord sequence using notes from the A Lydian scale. It seemed like just as good as place to start. So I've got the following chord sequence:

Amaj, B7, Emaj, F#m11, E7.

Now, when it comes time to lay a solo over it, do I 'A' as the root note or E, since A is the 4th note of Emaj scale! Am I starting to get the idea of modes ?
Last edited by flaaash at Jun 3, 2014,
Quote by flaaash
Lately I've been making a real effort to make sense of these damn things called Modes. I've always accepted that they play a special role in creating (and playing) music but always struggled to work out (a) their key roles and (b) when is a certain 'minor' mode better than another minor mode.

A few days ago I did the math and made a basic chord sequence using notes from the A Lydian scale. It seemed like just as good as place to start. So I've got the following chord sequence:

Amaj, B7, Emaj, F#m11, E7.

Now, when it comes time to lay a solo over it, do I 'A' as the root note or E, since A is the 4th note of Emaj scale! Am I starting to get the idea of modes ?

You use A. Just think of Lydian as major #4. I would suggest you completely forget about the fact that Lydian is infact Emaj starting from the fourth note. It only confuses you.

Why don't you just start treating A lydian as A major #4? It's own entity. When you play E minor you don't think of G major do you? (unless you of course modulate to the relative major)

"when is a certain 'minor' mode better than another minor mode."

It's simple: whichever you think sounds better for the situation!
Quote by Elintasokas
.

Why don't you just start treating A lydian as A major #4?

!

I don't really know what that means. I'm going to fire up the google-mobile now though...

When I do a chord sequence like Emin, Amin, D7, Gmaj I def think of it as Emin (while G's twin sister). That may be a bit weird.

I'm going to understand this Mode thing if it's the last thing I do.
Quote by flaaash
I don't really know what that means. I'm going to fire up the google-mobile now though...

Well it means that the only difference between A lydian and A major is that in lydian the 4th note is half a step higher than in major. It's practical to treat it as major #4. Just sharpen the fourth note of any major scale and you have lydian.

That also obviously affects the harmony. So when you harmonize A lydian, every time there's a D note in a chord, you change it to D#. If you want the progression to sound lydian, you use those characteristic chords a lot. aka chords that have the #4 note.
Last edited by Elintasokas at Jun 3, 2014,
Cheers. Thanks for that. Perhaps this is the beginning of me being able to actually get a grasp of what modes do. Creating unique sounds. Perhaps a crude example is how Emaj (Ionian) and Emin (Dodian) do.

Quote by Elintasokas
...when you harmonize A lydian, every time there's a D note in a chord, you change it to D#. If you want the progression to sound lydian, you use those characteristic chords a lot. aka chords that have the #4 note.

I'm def going to have to fire up my multi track recorder so I can properly 'hear' it.

On a side note , my life would be so much easier if I'd made an effort earlier on to practice doing diminished chords. I built an E dim chord (E, G, Bb) but found it awkward as heck...
Quote by flaaash
Lately I've been making a real effort to make sense of these damn things called Modes. I've always accepted that they play a special role in creating (and playing) music but always struggled to work out (a) their key roles and (b) when is a certain 'minor' mode better than another minor mode.

A few days ago I did the math and made a basic chord sequence using notes from the A Lydian scale. It seemed like just as good as place to start. So I've got the following chord sequence:

Amaj, B7, Emaj, F#m11, E7.

Now, when it comes time to lay a solo over it, do I 'A' as the root note or E, since A is the 4th note of Emaj scale! Am I starting to get the idea of modes ?

If you want a piece of music to sound like it's in A Lydian, you have to ensure:

1. The tonic is A
2. You mainly use the intervals (1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7) from A

In particular, the #4 above the tonic gives the immediately identifiable Lydian sound.

The only problem is that we hear certain resolutions so strongly we can sometimes get an unintentional modulation out of the mode and into the relative key.

If the chord progression contains the tonic chord and the dominant chord of the relative major key (in this case, E major and B7 respectively) their strong relationship can make it sound like a modulation to the relative key. If this happens it won't sound modal anymore.

One easy way to avoid this is to just bounce from the modal tonic, A, to another chord and back again to the tonic repeatedly. Reinforce the tonic as A, not E by simplifying the chord progression so it won't drop into a V-I in E.
Last edited by Jehannum at Jun 3, 2014,
The E7 in the end of your progression just makes it sound like A major instead of A lydian. Your progression is just I-V7/V-V-vi-V7 in A major. You are using a secondary dominant, you are not in lydian.

To get the lydian sound, use simpler progressions. The most basic "lydian vamp" (in A) is A-B/A.

As Elintasokas said, don't think modes as the major scale starting with a different note. Minor scale is also a mode of the major scale.

Compare parallel modes (same root note, for example A dorian, A lydian, A mixolydian) instead of relative modes (for example D dorian, G mixolydain, F lydian - they all share the same notes). To get the lydian sound, your tonic needs to be the root of that scale. You need to use your ears. So in A lydian your tonic is A, not E. You need to resolve to A to sound like A lydian.
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To expand on what was said above about A Lydian being A Major #4, and for your future reference, here's a little guide (the "minor" ones are "natural" minors as opposed to harmonic or melodic minors):

Ionian - Major
Dorian - Minor #6
Phrygian - Minor b2
Lydian - Major #4
Mixolydian - Major b7
Aeolian - Minor
Locrian - Minor b2, b5
Quote by flaaash
Lately I've been making a real effort to make sense of these damn things called Modes. I've always accepted that they play a special role in creating (and playing) music but always struggled to work out (a) their key roles and (b) when is a certain 'minor' mode better than another minor mode.

A few days ago I did the math and made a basic chord sequence using notes from the A Lydian scale. It seemed like just as good as place to start. So I've got the following chord sequence:

Amaj, B7, Emaj, F#m11, E7.

Now, when it comes time to lay a solo over it, do I 'A' as the root note or E, since A is the 4th note of Emaj scale! Am I starting to get the idea of modes ?

what you've got isn't A lydian. that E7 -> A pull is going to completely destroy whatever lydian feel you might have had, and is going to make the D# in the B7 harmony sound like it's functioning as a V/V rather than the II, which nets you the lydian sound. this is straight up A major, and about that there is no question.

Quote by MaggaraMarine

To get the lydian sound, use simpler progressions. The most basic "lydian vamp" (in A) is A-B/A.

this is what you need.
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Thanks everyone for your input (and teaching). I really appreciate it.

Would it be fair to think of each mode as a brand of the major or minor approach? As in you've got the simple, everyday brand 'Ionian', then there's the Lydian brand (which has the #4 note in the scale) for a different feel / taste / effect. Same sort of thing with the minor modes?

Earlier I put together a really simple (but interesting riff) of G & C9, while playing the G Lydian mode (G, A, B, C#, D, E, F#), it sounded OK. Based on a comment above, when would be a 'better' time to hit that C# note since there's a D in both G and C9, or would it be an either/or situation?

Would a chord progression such as G -> C9 -> G -> D (while soloing gently with the G Lydian mode) work OK? I think I'm actually getting the grasp of the concept.
Quote by flaaash
Would it be fair to think of each mode as a brand of the major or minor approach? As in you've got the simple, everyday brand 'Ionian', then there's the Lydian brand (which has the #4 note in the scale) for a different feel / taste / effect. Same sort of thing with the minor modes?

i guess...? but that wouldn't be an effective way to treat it. you don't take the same approach to composing in modes as you do in keys.

Quote by flaaash
Earlier I put together a really simple (but interesting riff) of G & C9, while playing the G Lydian mode (G, A, B, C#, D, E, F#), it sounded OK. Based on a comment above, when would be a 'better' time to hit that C# note since there's a D in both G and C9, or would it be an either/or situation?

uh, no. if you're soloing over G/C9 with C lydian something's off. a C# is going to clash hardcore with C9 because it is a semitone away from two different chord tones -- C and D. if you had to pick which chord was better for the C#, it's very much going to be C#. but if you have a C9 as a chord, i can pretty much guarantee you C lydian is out of the question.

Quote by flaaash
Would a chord progression such as G -> C9 -> G -> D (while soloing gently with the G Lydian mode) work OK? I think I'm actually getting the grasp of the concept.

no. you're still missing an extremely fundamental idea, and that is to eschew the dominant-tonic relationship. modal music doesn't work that way. first off, as before, the C9 kills any possibility of it being lydian because you've introduced the C natural. the D - G relationship is going to make this progression sound textbook G major, even though there's a Bb in the C9 chord.

if you want G lydian, try playing a ||: G | A/G :|| vamp and see how that goes. if you know a voicing for Gmaj7#11, play that -- that's your lydian tonic chord. if you feel the need to play a D chord, put a G in the bass.
Anfangen ist leicht, Beharren eine Kunst.
E7 clearly leads back to A as the tonic.

Also, this isn't necessarily modal. You have key change is what's happening.

While all of those chords (except E7) fit into A lydian, you have a clear progression based on root movement, which generally falls outside the definition of "modal". You will get the most melodic sound by using chord tone soloing, rather than applying the same mode across the A B E and F#.

Now, you can jam that D# into the Amaj7 if you want, and it'll sound nifty, but then you'll also lose the dramatic effect of the B7-E change, which ought to sound like a temporary key change, because it is.

This is a situation where it's really up to you how "modal" you want to get. Try playing around with both modal and chord tone sounds, you'll find a good balance with some practice.
Quote by AeolianWolf
i guess...? but that wouldn't be an effective way to treat it. you don't take the same approach to composing in modes as you do in keys.

uh, no. if you're soloing over G/C9 with C lydian something's off. a C# is going to clash hardcore with C9 because it is a semitone away from two different chord tones -- C and D. if you had to pick which chord was better for the C#, it's very much going to be C#. but if you have a C9 as a chord, i can pretty much guarantee you C lydian is out of the question.

no. you're still missing an extremely fundamental idea, and that is to eschew the dominant-tonic relationship. modal music doesn't work that way. first off, as before, the C9 kills any possibility of it being lydian because you've introduced the C natural. the D - G relationship is going to make this progression sound textbook G major, even though there's a Bb in the C9 chord.

if you want G lydian, try playing a ||: G | A/G :|| vamp and see how that goes. if you know a voicing for Gmaj7#11, play that -- that's your lydian tonic chord. if you feel the need to play a D chord, put a G in the bass.

Thanks again for your quick response.

With the chord progression I was using the notes G A B C# D E F# and not C D E F# G A B. It makes sense though when I used the C# it sounded a bit - sour.

Looks like I've still got a bit of reading and playing to learn to see what works and what doesn't!
try playing C lydian over ||: C | D/C :|| and see how that sounds. that will allow you to begin internalizing the lydian sound.
Anfangen ist leicht, Beharren eine Kunst.
Ok so I've out pen to paper and looked at the difference between A Aeolian and Dorian[/I. I could have as easily put Phrygian in there - but I thought a binary comparison would be good for now.

So I found that what sets them apart is:

Bdim/Bmin
Dmin/Dmaj
Fmaj/F#dim

Now I've just looked at A Phrygian and noticed that there's a Bbmaj chord in there (as opposed to the diminished and minor chord). I feel like I'm learning something...
Quote by flaaash
Ok so I've out pen to paper and looked at the difference between A Aeolian and Dorian[/I. I could have as easily put Phrygian in there - but I thought a binary comparison would be good for now.

So I found that what sets them apart is:

Bdim/Bmin
Dmin/Dmaj
Fmaj/F#dim

Now I've just looked at A Phrygian and noticed that there's a Bbmaj chord in there (as opposed to the diminished and minor chord). I feel like I'm learning something...

definitely things to keep in mind. but what you should also keep in mind is that the further away you drift from the tonic, the less it's going to sound like a mode and the more it will sound like a key. that's why so many modal vamps have very few (often two) chords, and unless every other chord emphasizes the natural 6, you're going to have a hard time putting together a track in dorian. stick to two chord vamps for now, and expand from there once your understanding is solid. and i mean rock solid. like, don't even consider adding a third chord until you can tell whether the modal feel is there or not.
Anfangen ist leicht, Beharren eine Kunst.
Quote by cdgraves

......you have a clear progression based on root movement, which generally falls outside the definition of "modal".

Oh please don't start this again.
Cheers. There's a few great songs I like which operate with 2 chords (Molly's Lips) by the Vaselines.

In terms of not drifting too far from the tonic - can any (realistic) chord after the tonic work, eg I/IV, I/iii, I/V ?

By adding a 7th, 9th or an added note....would that be straining the relationship?
don't use V, because V will tend to want to go to the I. at that point you're out of lydian and in major. I/IV can't work because you'd need to use the chord based on #IV rather than IV, which, in G lydian, equates to G - C#º, which is less than pleasant (and frankly will just sound like G - Gº, which isn't really lydian). I - iii doesn't include the #4 in any capacity, and therefore doesn't tell us anything about being in lydian.

for these reasons, I - II is often the best -- the tonic held underneath both chords. extended notes generally won't strain the relationship -- but it depends. the safest note to add over the I chord is the #11 (Gmaj7#11). keep the II chord a triad over the tonic note (A/G).

again, i reiterate -- stick to ||: Gmaj7#11 | A/G :|| for now. learn to identify the sound before getting crazy with the theory.
Anfangen ist leicht, Beharren eine Kunst.
Every way I look at doing Gmaj7#11 - it looks awkward as heck.

I really should expand my comfort zone more often.
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Anfangen ist leicht, Beharren eine Kunst.
Hey! What do you know...?

I knuckled down and used those 2 chords and doll'd with the Lydian mode and it sounded pretty niffty actually. Def not the sort of sound i usually float with, in terms of writing to, listening to or playing to...but it was a great change of pace.

Holy smokes I've got a lot to learn!
Quote by Elintasokas
Oh please don't start this again.

What? This is the pertinent distinction between modal and non-modal music. "Modal" doesn't just mean all the notes fit into the same scale - then all music would be modal. Modality is an approach to harmony that takes the emphasis away from harmonic motion.

The progression in the example contains a pretty clear secondary dominant (B7), which strongly implies functional harmony rather than modal. But because the same lydian scale contains all the notes from A, B7, and Emaj, it can also be looked at modally.

In situations where you have an actual chord progression, you really don't want to use a modal approach, because you'll completely lose the effect of changes in harmony, and the melodies will sound weak. And on the other side, if you're playing a modal thing, you don't want to outline chord tones, because the harmony isn't really going anywhere, so chord-based melodies won't resolve as easily.
Last edited by cdgraves at Jun 4, 2014,
Quote by cdgraves
What? This is the pertinent distinction between modal and non-modal music. "Modal" doesn't just mean all the notes fit into the same scale - then all music would be modal. Modality is an approach to harmony that takes the emphasis away from harmonic motion.

yes. very true.

Quote by cdgraves
The progression in the example contains a pretty clear secondary dominant (B7), which strongly implies functional harmony rather than modal. But because the same lydian scale contains all the notes from A, B7, and Emaj, it can also be looked at modally.

no. this contradicts what you said in paragraph 1. the E7 - Amaj prevents this from being perceived as lydian at all, as you said. so while the first sentence is spot-on, the second is patently untrue -- this cannot be looked at modally.

i feel that it's important to point out (for the benefit of any reader in musical training that has made it thus far) that while you acknowledge that B7 is functioning as a secondary dominant, you also referred to it as signaling a key change earlier in the thread, and this is not true because the tonic does not change at all. a secondary dominant is generally not convincing enough to change a key on its own, especially in the case of a repeated progression where it serves as a V/x.
Anfangen ist leicht, Beharren eine Kunst.
I had piece performed recently which was built off one chord that didn't move anywhere. That could be argued as being 'modal' even though I didn't think of it that way. TS (or anyone else), send me a message if you would like the link.
Quote by flaaash
Every way I look at doing Gmaj7#11 - it looks awkward as heck.

I really should expand my comfort zone more often.

just flat the 5th of a GMaj7 chord. (b5 = #4 = #11)

R, 7, 3, #11 will get ya there.
Quote by AeolianWolf
yes. very true.

no. this contradicts what you said in paragraph 1. the E7 - Amaj prevents this from being perceived as lydian at all, as you said. so while the first sentence is spot-on, the second is patently untrue -- this cannot be looked at modally.

i feel that it's important to point out (for the benefit of any reader in musical training that has made it thus far) that while you acknowledge that B7 is functioning as a secondary dominant, you also referred to it as signaling a key change earlier in the thread, and this is not true because the tonic does not change at all. a secondary dominant is generally not convincing enough to change a key on its own, especially in the case of a repeated progression where it serves as a V/x.

I was simplifying for to make the idea more clear to the original post. Yes, it's a tonicization, not a modulation(depending on rhythm and structure).

The presence of the dominant at the end doesn't preclude modality in the rest (though I think this case is ambiguous). It's not like a completely black and white thing - the same piece of music can be modal AND have functional chords. Plenty of modal music changes key a few times and then uses V7 to reestablish the original key.

Either way, the progression in question can be viewed as either modal or tonal, but the way it was written out earlier, it has too many elements of functional harmony to consider it strictly modal. I think a listener would hear circle of 5ths and secondary dominants and have a natural expectation for non-modal melodies. The B7 really sets up an expectation for a tonal resolution.

Now, if those chords were stated were stated at great rhythmic/structural length, like 8 bars each, and dressed up with extended harmonies, it would look more like an unambiguously modal chord sequence. For example, 8 bars each of AM7#11, B13, EM9, F#m11, and just use the E7 for a turnaround. In that case, you would have a lot of sensible modal options, such as changing the mode with each new harmony, or using the same mode across all the chords.
Quote by cdgraves
I was simplifying for to make the idea more clear to the original post. Yes, it's a tonicization, not a modulation(depending on rhythm and structure).

by bringing up unrelated terminology?

Quote by cdgraves
The presence of the dominant at the end doesn't preclude modality in the rest (though I think this case is ambiguous). It's not like a completely black and white thing - the same piece of music can be modal AND have functional chords. Plenty of modal music changes key a few times and then uses V7 to reestablish the original key.

one of the very essences of modal music is that it lacks chord function (EDIT: or it is at least extremely suppressed), and the example given is certainly not ambiguous -- unless, of course, you consider || C | A7 | Dm | G || to be D dorian and C major (it's not, though).

Quote by cdgraves
Either way, the progression in question can be viewed as either modal or tonal, but the way it was written out earlier, it has too many elements of functional harmony to consider it strictly modal. I think a listener would hear circle of 5ths and secondary dominants and have a natural expectation for non-modal melodies. The B7 really sets up an expectation for a tonal resolution.

no, it cannot. it's in a major key with a V/V, for the very reasons you listed here.

Quote by cdgraves
Now, if those chords were stated were stated at great rhythmic/structural length, like 8 bars each, and dressed up with extended harmonies, it would look more like an unambiguously modal chord sequence. For example, 8 bars each of AM7#11, B13, EM9, F#m11, and just use the E7 for a turnaround. In that case, you would have a lot of sensible modal options, such as changing the mode with each new harmony, or using the same mode across all the chords.

TS is definitely not talking about 8 bars on each chord. that's a very different situation and depends on a multitude of factors that are of no benefit to discuss here.
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Last edited by AeolianWolf at Jun 5, 2014,
I apologize if I was unclear - I do not think this thing is modal. It has functional harmony written all over it.

But here it is in a thread about modes, for some reason, so I thought I'd see how this might work if it were modal.

The "8 bars" example was to demonstrate how this differs from a more straightforwardly modal piece of music.

That said, it is not unusual for a modal song to contain a V7 for the sole purpose of re-establishing the tonic, after moving to another key/mode. The turnaround is a point of structure. That doesn't change that the rest of the piece is approached from a non-functional perspective.
Last edited by cdgraves at Jun 5, 2014,
Quote by AeolianWolf
by bringing up unrelated terminology?.

I'm down with new learning new terminology. My musician lexicon is never too full.

Are there any 'pop' songs that are modal? By pop I mainly mean mainstream music, not necessarily current Billboard top 100 songs. It sounds like there may not be many (or any).
Quote by flaaash
I'm down with new learning new terminology. My musician lexicon is never too full.

Are there any 'pop' songs that are modal? By pop I mainly mean mainstream music, not necessarily current Billboard top 100 songs. It sounds like there may not be many (or any).

My Lagan Love (by, e.g., Kate Bush)
Quote by flaaash
I'm down with new learning new terminology. My musician lexicon is never too full.

this is a good way to think, but you want to be careful of learning which terminology discusses concepts that are related to terminology discussing other concepts. you don't want to learn about a noun, verb, and adjective while you're trying to focus on things like alliteration or assonance.
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Amazing!!!

I've been doing more reading about modes, this time the mixolydian mode and i actually understand terminology much better than before.

For example

So, what makes a good Mixolydian progression? Well, you need to have the note. Which note? The note. Each mode has one note that truly defines it. In the case of Mixolydian, it's the b7th. (It's always the note that makes the mode different)

I totally get what phrases like that mean. How there's a definitive note (notes?) that sets apart the Ionian and Mixolydian mode apart, likewise the Aeolian and Dorian.

I've still got loads of questions but I'll get there...0
Nice :P Everything (about theory in general) was kinda confusing to me for a long time, but once I got it, I learned everything pretty fast. It's natural because everything in music is connected somehow.
Quote by flaaash
Amazing!!!

I've been doing more reading about modes, this time the mixolydian mode and i actually understand terminology much better than before.

For example

I totally get what phrases like that mean. How there's a definitive note (notes?) that sets apart the Ionian and Mixolydian mode apart, likewise the Aeolian and Dorian.

I've still got loads of questions but I'll get there...0

You are getting there! "The note" is what you will rely on to make modal music from a melodic standpoint. From a harmonic standpoint, modes are about learning what chord progressions accomadate this note without sacrificing the tonic quality of the tonic chord
Am I on the right track to getting a hold of this concept?

If I cross between the two chords Emaj, Emaj7 and Bmin, would it be 'proper to solo over it with the E Mixolydian mode (E, F#, G# #. A, B, C#, D).

This is based on the Ionian mode carries a Bmaj chord.

Edit I added the E7 chord after the original post.
Last edited by flaaash at Jun 7, 2014,
Quote by flaaash
Am I on the right track to getting a hold of this concept?

If I cross between the two chords Emaj, Emaj7 and Bmin, would it be 'proper to solo over it with the E Mixolydian mode (E, F#, G# #. A, B, C#, D).

This is based on the Ionian mode carries a Bmaj chord.

Edit I added the E7 chord after the original post.

Emaj7 is not mixolydian at all. It has a major 7th instead of the minor 7th that is what makes mixolydian mixolydian. Use E7 instead of Emaj7.

Learn about chord construction and itervals and it's a lot easier to understand.
Quote by AlanHB
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