#1
So I've just recently been introduced to modes and in looking further into them, I was introduced to chord progressions. With these two concepts in mind, I'm trying to fully wrap my head around what key a chord progression is in and/or what scale(s) you can play over it. If I understand correctly, there are a couple of ways to go about this.

1st: I could go through each chord that I'm playing, write down the notes in each chord, and then find the scale(s) that all of the notes (or at least most) fit into.

2nd: I could look at the specific chords I'm playing and then find the chord progression key that they all fit in and play the corresponding scales.

Am I way off base here? I'm really looking for a practical way to understand what key chords are in to ultimately understand what scale(s) to play. I understand this is a huge concept but I'm looking for anything that will help me to understand this.

Additionally, are modes in any way related to chord progressions? I think the thing that was confusing me with this is that there are 7 modes within a major scale and 7 chords that are in a progression before it comes full circle.

Any help is appreciated. Thanks!
#2
Actually, I just discovered the FAQ sticky. I'll post here if I need clarity after reading that. Thanks!
#3
I just created a song without a chord progression. Just harmonies and feelings. Modes have different feelings. Not happy or sad, but more like different forms of balance.

Just analyze what chords each of the 7 modes form.
Ionian - 1-3-5-7-9-11-13
Dorian - 1-b3-5-b7-9-11-13
Phrygian - 1-b3-5-b7-b9-11-b13
Lydian - 1-3-5-7-9-#11-13
Mixolydian - 1-3-5-b7-9-11-13
Aeolian - 1-b3-5-b7-9-11-b3
Locrian - 1-b3-b5-b7-b9-11-b13

There ya go (:

Modes and chords just give you a starting place, otherwise, all the notes are the same, the only difference is the starting place which gives them different feelings due to the different intervals from the starting point.

You can always think about this too. Invert the ionian mode, instead of building it W W H W W W H, C D E F G A B, build it downwards, it ends up Phrygian, C Db Eb F G Ab Bb. The dorian mode stays dorian. Mixolydian and Aeolian are similar, and Lydian and Locrian are similar. That can give you an advantage when coming up with chord progressions that contain chords outside the key.
#4
If you don't understand chord progressions yet, forget about modes. I would get a good understanding of keys before starting to learn about modes.

And no, modes don't really have that much to do with chord progressions.

To find the key, find the tonic, ie the "home note/chord". That is your key. For example if the chord that sounds like home is C major, you are in the key of C major.


1st: I could go through each chord that I'm playing, write down the notes in each chord, and then find the scale(s) that all of the notes (or at least most) fit into.

2nd: I could look at the specific chords I'm playing and then find the chord progression key that they all fit in and play the corresponding scales.

Those ideas are fine, but they are not the best way of finding the key. Some songs use a lot of accidentals or may modulate or something. And if you use this method, how do you know which of the chords are more important than others?

To know what key you are in at the moment is all about finding the tonic.


I would suggest learning about chord functions, ie the Roman numerals. First learn about diatonic chords, ie, what chords are in the major and minor keys.

If you know the key, you also know what scale to use. If there are non-diatonic chords, know what key they come from (they most likely come from the parallel key), or just alter your key scale so that for example if you are in the key of C and your song has a Bb chord in it, just change the B note to Bb when playing over that chord. All the other notes in the Bb major chord are also in the C major scale. The Bb is the only note that's not in the C major scale. If there's an Eb major chord in a C major song, you need to change your E to Eb and your B to Bb. In other words, use the key scale and chord tones.
Quote by AlanHB
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#5
Quote by Twhjelmgren28
Actually, I just discovered the FAQ sticky. I'll post here if I need clarity after reading that. Thanks!
Good idea.

In general, I suggest not trying to understand ANY theory until you find a song where you're curious about what all those sounds are called, and how it all fits together.

E.g., I take it you know some chord names already, right? And they make sense (enough sense anyway) because you associate the sound with the name and the shape. The name (which is "theory") is no problem, because you have that musical connection.

So, do you know any songs yet?
Assuming you do, they will (almost certainly) have "chord progressions". So in that sense you've already been "introduced" to them. You just may not have thought of it that way before.
What makes you think knowing more about them (let alone "modes") will help you improvise?
If you know a song - ie. can play all the chords in it (and any riffs or bits of melody) - then you have all you need to solo on it. All the material is there in the tune and the chords. All that theory does is give you names for it all, so you can talk about it.
I'm not saying that's not useful, but the theory itself won't help you play it.

The two ways of approaching it that you mention are - as MaggaraMarine says - not far off the mark, but even those are a little more complicated than they need to be.

E.g.
1st: I could go through each chord that I'm playing, write down the notes in each chord, and then find the scale(s) that all of the notes (or at least most) fit into.
If you write down all the notes in each chord, then those are the notes you can use. No need to identify them as a "scale". You just need to know where to find them on the neck. And as they're all contained in the chords (which you know), that shouldn't be too difficult.
You don't even need to "write down" the notes. Why write them down? You already have them there on the fretboard!

Of course, if you don't know all your chord shapes well enough - and your scale knowledge is better - then that strategy should work. The problem is that most songs include notes from more than one scale. It's very rare to find a song that is totally diatonic to one key (unless maybe you're playing country or folk). That doesn't mean it's IN more than one key! (although it might be...)
IOW, if you try to identify a scale from those notes, you hit that kind of problem. But the notes in the chords are what they are - staring you in the face! There's nothing else to know!

2nd: I could look at the specific chords I'm playing and then find the chord progression key that they all fit in and play the corresponding scales.

Likewise, you're using a theoretical approach which is reasonable, but is unnecessary and may confuse. Not all chords in a song may fit the same key. What do you do then? You might be scratching your head trying to fit the song into some other theoretical concept.
But if you just follow the chords as they are - at least in groups of two or three - you can combine those notes and use those.
IOW, whatever chord you're on, you have the notes in that chord (obviously), and any others you need are in the chords either side. You don't really have to look any further. If the key changes on the next chord, well you go with it. If 3 chords in a row all seem to belong to different keys, you can (almost certainly) still use notes from all of them on each chord.

It's true this is, in a sense, "working blind" - in theoretical darkness. I'm not advocating ignorance! Only saying that switching a theoretical light on won't show you anything that isn't already there.
The chord tones are your stepping stones through the song. Your job as an improviser is to construct phrases linking them. Launch a phrase from this chord tone - and plan to land on that chord tone, maybe on the next chord (or even the one after). In between you step though other chord tones (to be safe), but almost any passing note can be OK: either notes from nearby chords, or "chromatic approaches" (preceding a chord tone from a half-step away, usually below). This strategy works, probably 99% of the time, even in total ignorance about what key, scale or mode (or even note names) you might be employing.

It's good to be curious about theory (even to be curious about "modes"! ), but always start from the music. Theory makes no sense unless you have good musical examples.
You want to know what modes are? Listen to some music that is written in modes. (Some music is; most isn't.)
Last edited by jongtr at Mar 17, 2016,
#6
Thank you for all of the replies. They have been extremely helpful. I really was getting hung-up on the theory. I was trying to make everything sort of fit into a box.

But, if I understand correctly, I should better learn chord structure and fully understand what note is my tonic. From there, I can improvise in relation to that tonic for that chord specifically and if the tonic changes, change with it b/c songs oftentimes change key throughout. Modes can then be thought of as evoking certain moods, but don't get too hung up on that until I completely understand chord structure....

Seriously thanks for all of the help!
#7
Quote by Twhjelmgren28
Thank you for all of the replies. They have been extremely helpful. I really was getting hung-up on the theory. I was trying to make everything sort of fit into a box.

But, if I understand correctly, I should better learn chord structure and fully understand what note is my tonic. From there, I can improvise in relation to that tonic for that chord specifically and if the tonic changes, change with it b/c songs oftentimes change key throughout. Modes can then be thought of as evoking certain moods, but don't get too hung up on that until I completely understand chord structure....
Yes, pretty much.
For any music that can be interpreted as being "in a key" (major or minor), modal terms are rarely of any help.

BTW, songs don't often "change key throughout", although a chorus or bridge may often be in a different key from the rest.

Jazz tunes often appear to pass through many different keys, but usually that's all about "secondary" chords, or substitutions: temporary chromatic alterations to the key to make for more interesting chord moves without actually "modulating" (fully changing key).

Other types of jazz are not really in a "key" at all (they do away with all the old-fashioned conventions of chord structure and chord progression), and that's where modal concepts do become important and useful.

Always study music first. And then ask theory questions if you're curious about specific sounds or effects in the music.
#8
Quote by Twhjelmgren28
Thank you for all of the replies. They have been extremely helpful. I really was getting hung-up on the theory. I was trying to make everything sort of fit into a box.

But, if I understand correctly, I should better learn chord structure and fully understand what note is my tonic. From there, I can improvise in relation to that tonic for that chord specifically and if the tonic changes, change with it b/c songs oftentimes change key throughout. Modes can then be thought of as evoking certain moods, but don't get too hung up on that until I completely understand chord structure....

Seriously thanks for all of the help!


Pretty much. Don't focus on trying to keep up with key changes right now. Just focus on playing in one key, and learn the notes in every chord in that key.

When you try to understand the theory in key changes at this point, you'll start getting into this thing called secondary dominants, which can get extremely confusing. Don't worry you will progress no matter what