#1
Hello everyone.
Firstly, I want to say I know two kind of scales - pentatonics and natural minor/major.
In case of natural minor/major, I know how to build them on any note (by intervals) and got to know them by ear.
I also know, that in case of e.g. major scale, I-IV-V make for major chord and VII for diminished (rest are minor).
Of course I am familiar with some other details but I think those are the most important things about them.
So I know how to write a simple song based on all of that, with melody and harmony.

But l've wanted to try something else lately, experiment a little bit.
So now comes my question: how does those rules apply to different scales?
I'm asking both for modal scales or some more exotic ones like Hungarian or Japanese one.
Would I-IV-V work for them too? If not, what would I have to do to pick a chords in order to play matching melody over them?
Or does each of these scales have unique properties with own rules I'd have to learn individually?
Thanks.
#2
There really isn't any point in learning about the Hungarian scale unless you want to play Hungarian music.

Harmonise the scale to find the chords. If you study the music, you'll find the common chord progressions and avoid notes and stuff.

Scales are actually pretty boring.
#3
Don't confuse scales and keys with each other. A scale is a linear collection of notes. A key is a concept in tonal music theory that dictates the tonal center of a song, and the functions of other notes in that composition. A scale can be literally anything, have any number of notes and any intervals. While in practice, we only have two keys: major and minor.

Two answer your question: yes, you can use other scales to form progressions like I-IV-V, but if you don't know what you're doing your results might vary (and any song you'd come up with would still be in either major or minor. You technically can't write music that's in the key of C hungarian or anything). I think you should look at exotic scales as sources for cool borrowed chords. You might even have done this without realizing it, as it's really common to borrow the V chord from harmonic minor scale and replace the v chord with it. An another example would be to borrow the iv chord from the parallel minor and use it in a major key, to add a nice touch of darkness to your major progression. So chart out the chords you can derive from various scales, write a nice progression in a major key, and play around with chord substitutions a bit. As long as stuff you come up with sounds good, you're on the right track.
Quote by Jet Penguin
Theory: Not rules, just tools.

Quote by Hail
*note that by fan i mean that guy who wants his friends to know he knows this totally obscure hip band that only he knows about with 236 views on youtube. lookin' at Kev here
#4
Kevätuhri
One can technically, and practically, write a piece of music that is in C Dorian, etc. I.e. Tonal centre is C. Main context for source of chords and melody is Dorian. I'd love to know when someone decided that such a thing is impossible. If you read the slightly older theory books (Ligon, Russo (both Jazzers) or Piston (classical) for example, they were happy to acknowledge this, and the ear can easily hear this. And I'm not talking about pure modal vamps.

Piston et alia recognise the major/minor system as the most commonly used, BUT ...
https://soundcloud.com/jerry-kramskoy-1
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Nov 7, 2016,
#5
jerrykramskoy

I don't think that I said that you couldn't write music that only uses the notes from the dorian scale for example, and of course it sounds different To me, terms major and minor just refer to the relationship between the tonic and it's third. I don't care if you call it C dorian or C minor with a quite persistent raised sixth, I still see it as a minor key as the minor third stays. Maybe I'm wrong but it makes sense to me.
Quote by Jet Penguin
Theory: Not rules, just tools.

Quote by Hail
*note that by fan i mean that guy who wants his friends to know he knows this totally obscure hip band that only he knows about with 236 views on youtube. lookin' at Kev here
#6
^Semi-this.

I dunno if its entirely accurate to call C minor and C Dorian the same thing.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#7
Quote by Jet Penguin
^Semi-this.

I dunno if its entirely accurate to call C minor and C Dorian the same thing.
Not the exact same thing, no. Personally I see it as follows:

C dorian is "a minor mode", or "a kind of minor scale". A "minor scale with a major 6th and minor 7th".

"C minor", meanwhile, can mean a scale, a key or a chord. In all cases, the defining element is the 3rd. For a scale, the usual assumption is "natural minor" (aeolian mode), but of course the "C minor key" includes harmonic and melodic minor variations (raised 6th and 7th degrees).

A debatable point would be whether the C minor "key", as a concept, can include a "C dorian" variation (the 4th permutation of 6th and 7th degree variations). I guess it depends on how strictly you want to define "key", or "tonal music", as separate from "modal music".
#8
Quote by iSailor
So now comes my question: how does those rules apply to different scales?
They don't. I.e., you can apply those rules if you like, but generally speaking one doesn't.
Quote by iSailor
I'm asking both for modal scales or some more exotic ones like Hungarian or Japanese one.
Right. The western system of harmonizing scales only applies to major and minor (including harmonic minor, and sometimes melodic minor).

The kind of scales you're talking about tend not to use harmony, at least not chords as normally used in major and minor keys. Having said that...
Quote by iSailor
Would I-IV-V work for them too?
Depends what you mean by "work". Try it and see how it sounds, with any scale you choose. If you like it, it "works". What's certain is a I-IV-V won't "work" in the same way it does in a major or minor key. It may not produce a "cadence" to the I. The IV might sound more like a dominant than the V does. The V might sound more like a tonic than the I. The I might not sound stable at all.
But all that matters is you find sounds you like.
Quote by iSailor

If not, what would I have to do to pick a chords in order to play matching melody over them?
You could still harmonise a melody in any way you wanted. The melody would obviously be drawn from notes in the scale you've chosen. You'd harmonize it with other notes from the same scale, according to whichever ones sounded the way you wanted. Depending on the scale, you might come up with some weird chords (hard to name), but it's all down to your ear to judge whether they "work" or not
Quote by iSailor

Or does each of these scales have unique properties with own rules I'd have to learn individually?
Well yes, they each have their own sound. You "learn" them by playing around with them, because there are no set rules ("common practices") about how you add chords to non-western scales.

One big exception is modes - i.e., the familiar dorian phrygian etc. There is a common practice in jazz about harmonising those, in different ways from major and minor keys. I.e., the "modal jazz" concept was to make a different-sounding kind of music, even though they were using the same notes as before. Essentially that meant using chords built in 4ths instead of in 3rds; and then not using the old kinds of sequence. Often they'd hold one chord (mode) for a long time, before switching to a different one (different scale).

I.e., the issue here - where your project might fail - is bringing concepts from key-based music and expecting them to apply to modal or ethnic scales.
Let's say you're a car driver, getting bored with that and want to try something else. (Thinking of your ID here - You see a boat on a lake and that looks like more fun. But what you don't do is drive your car into the lake. It doesn't work like that . A boat is a quite different kind of vehicle, designed for the different environment. Likewise, you don't expect to be able to sail a boat on to land.
So, all those other scales are different musical environments. You should be aware of how much of your current knowledge is designed to apply to major and minor keys, and is not necessarily transferable.
But hey, what's the worst that can happen? Your car might sink! But at least you've had fun and learned something... (Nobody died - yet - from messing around with scales the wrong way .)

BTW, there IS a system of common practices (different ways of using harmony) attached to modes, as used in jazz. Look up modal jazz, and quartal harmony. Some of that might be adaptable to various ethnic scales.
Last edited by jongtr at Nov 8, 2016,
#9
^Ex-freaking-actly.
"There are two styles of music. Good music and bad music." -Duke Ellington

"If you really think about it, the guitar is a pointless instrument." - Robert Fripp
#10
Use the scale to create a melody. Then find ways of harmonizing that melody. You could do this by using standard major and minor chords or by using some more dissonant chords. A good starting place is simple harmony. This might be a single chord, a vamp on a couple of chords, or sticking to fifths and octaves with the root notes coming from the scale even if the fifth isn't part of that scale. Another approach might be to harmonize your melody with a bassline and then fill in a note or two in between the upper melody and the bass to create chords.

People typically respond well to some kind of familiarity to ground them. Something as familiar as a I IV V can be used to contrast something very exotic in another section of the song. The very exotic can be mentally challenging for a listener. Contrasting it with something very familiar gives the listener a mental reprieve allowing them to digest what they heard and want more.
Si
#11
jongtr Well put. My point about the modes is that they can be used just as successfully with chord progressions (with a little care to avoid setting up the parent scale tonic), as they can by using modal progressions. And there are many examples of the former to be heard. Common wisdom also advocates that -7b5 is avoided in modal progressions for fear of implying an unwanted resolution. I disagree ... so long as appropriate voicings are used.

But as we all know ... theory is descriptive, not proscriptive.
https://soundcloud.com/jerry-kramskoy-1
#12
There are 12 keys (not counting enharmonics). The key typcially refers to the keynote together with the mode. The mode is the collection of notes that, used in a certain way, define the overall tonal character of a piece of music. The third is a very important part of this but not the only part in determining the mode.

The minor mode encompasses the flexible 6th and 7th degrees in specific harmonic and melodic situations. These conventions are typically absent from Dorian, Phrygian, or Aeolian modes. Although they are all minor modes a distinction can be made between the larger set "minor modes" when used to describe the common relationship of a mode having a minor tonic chord and the subset "minor" when used to define the specific mode of a piece of music which extends to an extended set of scale degree relationships.

Can it be confusing to use the same word to define several different but closely related concepts? Absolutely and music theory is riddled with them. Minor is also an interval quality and chord quality. Dominant is a scale degree, a chord quality, and a harmonic function. Those are just two examples.

I'm not saying that viewing this another way is wrong. It is just as valid to refer to any mode with a minor tonic chord as being "in the key of X minor". That's not the point of this post. One of the other things that music theory is riddled with are semantic differences. The underlying musical concepts are agreed but the way we describe or talk about them can be different. This post is merely presenting a different point of view that IS supported by some reputable sources and musicologists while remaining unsupported by others.

I also agree with Jerry's post above. The church modes are tonal and we can use complex chord progressions that establish tonality without necessarily losing the overall quality of the piece of music that could be described as, say, Dorian.
Si
#13
Okay, so to keep it simple:
I know how to make songs based on natural major and minor as well as how to use pentatonics.
I shouldn't bother with ethnic scales as they aren't really important and have their unique properties.
But how do I simply make songs with modal scales?
They are popular enough so that I assume people would have it figured out by now.
#14
If you're looking for songwriting advice, I think the base material - the scale - is a secondary point. Modal scales are just like any other musical concept; you decide to use it, and just play around with it. Or you get an idea and it happens to use that concept. Songwriting/composing is fundamentally about your ability to organize your music, which takes a lot more discipline than having occasional good ideas.

While we can give you some generic advice about songwriting, I'd advise that you first become familiar with different examples of modal music, and second, get comfortable harmonizing the regular major/minor scales. It's all the same notes as the "parent" major scale, so the derived chords are all the same, just in a different order.
#15
If you want to write a song that uses a certain scale, just use that scale. Get familiar with the sound of the scale and come up with some melodies that sound good. In the end, nobody cares which scale you used to write your song. What people care about is whether it sounds good. Nobody will be impressed about the fact that you used the Locrian mode.

But yeah, if you want to write a song that uses a certain scale, just play around with that scale. But songwriting really doesn't have that much to do with scales. A good song is not just a bunch of ideas played one after the other. A good song sounds coherent. Scales are just tools to make it easier to find the sounds that you are looking for.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#16
Quote by MaggaraMarine
Nobody will be impressed about the fact that you used the Locrian mode.
https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1694651



@iSailor

You're asking how to write songs using modes. Songwriting is a very personal thing, so it's hard to give such general advice. Just try it out. Make sure you don't resolve to the relative major or minor. Vamp Dm - Em over and over and start singing melodies over it.
Last edited by Declan87 at Nov 11, 2016,
#17
Quote by Declan87

There is a difference between music theorists being interested in something and people in general being impressed about something. Music theorists are interested in things that most people have no interest in. Even if I don't like a piece of music, I may find some aspects of it interesting, at least in a theoretical sense.

And I know you know this so whatever.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#18
Quote by MaggaraMarine
There is a difference between music theorists being interested in something and people in general being impressed about something. Music theorists are interested in things that most people have no interest in. Even if I don't like a piece of music, I may find some aspects of it interesting, at least in a theoretical sense.

And I know you know this so whatever.
I absolutely agree with your sentiment: "What people care about is whether it sounds good."

Songwriting isn't about scales or theory. That stuff just exists to describe music.
#19
Quote by iSailor
Okay, so to keep it simple:
I know how to make songs based on natural major and minor as well as how to use pentatonics.
I shouldn't bother with ethnic scales as they aren't really important and have their unique properties.
Yes, that's more or less true. That is, they aren't "important" in terms of mainstream pop, rock and jazz music. Explore them if you like, but ethnic means ethnic - ie, they are from other cultures. Rock music (etc) is western culture - although some of its DNA is African.
Quote by iSailor

But how do I simply make songs with modal scales?
They are popular enough so that I assume people would have it figured out by now.
Ha! Some have, some haven't...

Ie. all the stuff you see written about modes might suggest they are "popular". But mostly that's loads of theoretical jargon flying around between confused beginners (guitarists most of the time) and experts who find it hard to explain them. A lot of trouble was caused when some idiot decided to name guitar fretboard patterns after modes (anybody know who first did that? Is he in jail yet?), while other (slightly less idiotic) people were talking about what cool sounds modes were - as they were some kind of secret to being able to play expressively, or improvise in different "moods". Which they can be, but only in some rather unusual circumstances.

[Apologies for the following wall of text, btw, if you were hoping to keep this simple...Feel free to skip the history lesson and check out the examples given at the end, to know what modal music sounds like, at least in popular form.]

The people who first really figured out how to "make songs with modal scales" were probably the Ancient Greeks, if not the Babylonians before them.
Then there were the European church authorities who (around 600 AD) adapted the Greek system for their liturgy, which involved the modes we call dorian, mixolydian, lydian and phrygian. They didn't use ionian or aeolian - and definitely not locrian. That system lasted for around 1,000 years, until Ionian and Aeolian were added, just as harmony was beginning to develop, and it evolved into the "major-minor key system" using "functional" chords, that formed the basis of classical music, and of popular music and jazz too - up to a point...

The major-minor key system was only around 300 years old when classical (post-romantic) composers - around 100 years ago - started to feel it was worn out, had nowhere else to go. So 20thC Art music started delving into 12-tone music, as well as digging back into modes and folk music. In particular the "French Impressionists", Debussy, Ravel and Satie wrote some pieces which could be interpreted as modal, in part at least.

Popular music hung on to major and minor keys, for at least the first half of the 20thC. Then - between the 50s and 60s - three things began to happen, all of them "modal" in a sense.
(1) Jazz musicians like Miles Davis, Bill Evans (who had studied Debussy) and John Coltrane started using modes as ways of escaping the old key system, being bored with bebop chord changes, looking for something cooler and more open. They did it by abandoning "chord progressions", focusing on one mode at a time, and harmonising in 4ths rather than 3rds (so as to avoid harmonies that sounded like functional chords).
(2) Blues emerged from African-American culture into overground white culture, becoming widespread as "rock'n'roll." Blues derives in part from ancient African folk modal practices.
(3) the 60s saw traditional (white) folk music becoming overground too, along with more exposure to ethnic music such as Indian raga in particular. Folk music has strong modal elements (such as mixolydian from Scotland, dorian in some English folk), and raga is modal music par excellence.

So 1960s rock musicians had modal sounds coming in at them from all angles (jazz, blues, folk), all them with an aura of "cool". Very few of those musicians had any music education, of course, they just knew the sounds they liked, and copied them (by ear).
Lennon and Harrison, eg, developed a strong taste for mixolydian, as a go to mode for verse vamps and riffs, but if you'd told them that's what they were doing they'd have laughed at the funny word. (McCartney, meanwhile, was much more a major-minor key fan, with very rare excursions into modes.)

Likewise, bands like the Rolling Stones found themselves using mixolydian as a blues version of the major key, in songs like The Last Time (from the Staples Singers), riffs like Satisfaction, chord sequences like Sympathy for the Devil (although that also contains a major key V chord, demonstrating that the mixolydian bVII was little more than borrowed chord).

However, there was one 60s band that knew about mode theory, and that was the Doors. Hence the lengthy dorian vamps in Light My Fire and Riders on the Storm. (Probably Zappa knew what modes were, but he had other fish to fry.)
More recently, Joe Satriani has explored mode mixture, with a particular preference for lydian.

Essentially, untrained rock composers see no essential distinction between parallel major and minor keys - except maybe the tonic chord. So a song "in E major" will have E major as tonic chord. A song "in E minor" will have Em as tonic. But both songs could use other chords from either scale: including A, Am, B, B7, D, G, C, C#m, F#m, etc, This is "mode mixture", or (in a major key) "borrowing from the parallel minor". This has become "common practice" (over the last 50 years at least), so is now conventional "rock theory". It's not breaking any rules. (Not any rules that count, that is.)

Just occasionally, you will find rock songs that stick closely (or even entirely) to one mode - although they're probably as rare as songs which stick to one major key scale. Examples:

Santana: Oye Como Va (A dorian mode)

Beatles: Tomorrow Never Knows (C mixolydian); She Said She Said (Bb mixolydian); Within You Without You (C# mixolydian, with brief deviation to dorian); Norwegian Wood (E mixolydian, shifting to E dorian); Eleanor Rigby (E dorian/aeolian mix)

Rolling Stones: The Last Time (E mixolydian)

Them: Gloria (E mixolydian)

(These last two are, of course, standard rock grooves in E. Normally such songs might feature a B chord at some point, but these never do. It's E, D and A all the way.)

Pink Floyd: Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun (E phrygian, shifting to A phrygian and back).

Joe Satrian: Flying in a Blue Dream (4 different lydian modes, but mainly C lydian)

As mentioned, much purer examples of modal music - consciusly created as such - can be found in jazz:

Miles Davis: So What (D dorian mode, bridge in Eb dorian); All Blues (G mixolydian vamp, shifting to G dorian and back, with a minor blues V and bVI added); Flamenco Sketches (5 separate modes, including phrygian dominant); Milestones (A dorian/aeolian mix)

John Coltrane: Impressions (his take on So What). He explored modal thinking in more depth later - going beyond both keys and modes.

Herbie Hancock: Maiden Voyage (4 different dorian modes)

Freddie Hubbard: Little Sunflower (mostly D dorian, with Eb and D major added)
Last edited by jongtr at Nov 11, 2016,
#20
iSailor

1) start by learning the harmonized major scale in triads first - you'll see why I, IV, and V are major
2) you can harmonize any scale the same way ( in triads), whether it sounds good is up to you ears really. So if you want to harmonize a Hungarian scale, just use the same approach.
3) check out the modes of the major scale and listen to the examples that Jongtr laid out above closely. You'll see how each has a "sound" - the "sound is what is important. You have a lot of tonal "colors" just with those modes.
#21
Quote by MaggaraMarine
There is a difference between music theorists being interested in something and people in general being impressed about something. Music theorists are interested in things that most people have no interest in. Even if I don't like a piece of music, I may find some aspects of it interesting, at least in a theoretical sense.

And I know you know this so whatever.


I'd argue the opposite: theorists aren't analyzing music that nobody listens to. Most all of our theory is derived from music that was popularly played and listened to. Groundgreaking music is good and popular precisely because it's interesting.
#22
Quote by cdgraves
I'd argue the opposite: theorists aren't analyzing music that nobody listens to. Most all of our theory is derived from music that was popularly played and listened to. Groundgreaking music is good and popular precisely because it's interesting.

Sure. But what I meant was that if I for example hear a pop song that bores me, I may still figure out what's happening in it. And I may find certain kind of "enjoyment" in songs that I otherwise wouldn't listen to. I may find interesting things in those songs, even though I don't necessarily enjoy them musically.

When I said music theorists are interested in things most people aren't, I meant that most people don't care if the song uses the Locrian mode or whatever. But music theorists pay attention to that kind of things. If you are going to theoretically explain what's happening in a song, whether you like the song doesn't really matter.
Quote by AlanHB
Just remember that there are no boring scales, just boring players.

Gear

Bach Stradivarius 37G
Charvel So Cal
Hartke HyDrive 210c
Ibanez BL70
Laney VC30
Tokai TB48
Yamaha FG720S-12
Yamaha P115
#23
tip of the hat to jongtr for showing the examples of tunes that have modal influences..and that information may or may not give some an insight into how to use/hear modal flavors...to many though..modes and their use is still an arcane mystery..as the definition in not fully explained and examples are not broken down into "bite sized" bits..

In saying a song or a part of it is in a "dorian" mode..it may beg the question.."how do you know that" I have read many definitions that vary from one to another and still do not clarify the exact properties of "mode" .. if for example a tune is in the key of C and there is a four bar section Dmi7 FM7 BbM13#11 Dmi7..some may say that is a dorian modal section..some may not..and herein lies the confusion and in some cases verbal wars-as past posts on the discussions of modes have shown to be emotional and aggressive in many cases..

the other consideration on the use of modes in tunes..was it a deliberate decision ( as jon points out in his post) by the composer or was it just a creative evolution and not intentional at all..and later seen as "oh yeah..thats D dorian"

which scales to use over these type of progressions varies and the context must be considered and this includes the melody line and voice leading which may be a major factor in naming the chords..which in turn may be a factor in the choice of scales or melodic fragments or patterns
play well

wolf
Last edited by wolflen at Nov 11, 2016,
#24
As far as unique qualities in scales and chords, you could try looking at the harmonic minor scale and its phrygian dominant mode (being the 5th mode of the harmonic minor scale. The raised 7th scale degree, in comparison to the natural minor variant, does make a big difference. The most notable and practical chord change in the V chord in minor. Because the minor scale variants can be used interchangeably and flexibly, you can substitute what would normally be a minor v chord in the natural minor scale for a major V chord in harmonic minor to resolve to I.

If you then look at the 5th mode of the harmonic minor scale, the phygian dominant mode (root, m2, M3, P4, P5, m6, m7) makes simply building a chord diatonically give you an interesting "spanish/middle easter" sound between the I and II chords.

Basically, if you can grasp and understand building a chord containing "Root - 3rd - 5th" from different modes and on different intervals of a scale, you'll be able to find some interesting results. Especially on exotic scales.
#25
After transcribing in depth certain rock songs, many have little nuggets of extra coolness.

Around 5:10 after the pedal steel guitar finishes a little flurry, the keyboard ascends a D Lydian dominant scale over a sustained chord, you can hear a 13 (B note) in the upper register of the chord. D13#11

It's not modal in any way, but a great example of how to throw in a colourful mode.

#26
Quote by mdc
After transcribing in depth certain rock songs, many have little nuggets of extra coolness.

Around 5:10 after the pedal steel guitar finishes a little flurry, the keyboard ascends a D Lydian dominant scale over a sustained chord, you can hear a 13 (B note) in the upper register of the chord. D13#11

It's not modal in any way, but a great example of how to throw in a colourful mode.
Interesting example. The D7#11 does occur earlier in the song (eg, 1:17), as part of the verse sequence (bVII in E major).

The coda (repeating the intro) is an 8-bar loop in C# minor, but the final time the G#7 resolves into a long held Amaj9 instead (basically C#m7 with A bass) - a deceptive cadence, which leads to that final D13#11.
In key of C# minor, D13#11 is tritone sub for F#7, so it's like they've ended on an unresolved V7 substitute - but it's kind of "made sense of" by the root movement of A to D! And they really milk the lydian dominant, every note is in there. Very cute...
Last edited by jongtr at Nov 21, 2016,