#1
I had always had this question.Theoretically if we take C as a key centre.If we apply modes,it's C Ionian,D Dorian,E phrygian,.....But I heard that Joe Satriani uses pitch axis system where he assumes a key,say C and use modes as C ionian,C Dorian ,C Phrygian....An example is Satriani' song Always with me always with you.How would the traditional diatonic view of modes differ from Satriani's pitch axis system in an improvisational point of view.
#2
To my understanding, pitch axis theory has to do with using different scales with the same tonic to imply different harmonies, and it's usually used over a pedal point.

What notes you are going to use over a backing track has everything to do with harmony. Now, if the backing track is basically just one chord, let's say something fairly neutral like C5, you could play basically anything over it. And in a case like this you could use "pitch axis theory" - you would choose different scales that have C as their root note.

I don't see how Satriani is using pitch axis in "Always with Me", since it uses a clearly functional diatonic chord progression, and applying pitch axis theory to it wouldn't make much sense.

I don't know what exactly you mean by "traditional diatonic view of modes". But pitch axis isn't really a different way of understanding modes. It's more of a tool, and it doesn't really necessarily have to do with the "church modes". You could apply it to any scales you want.


But yeah, I don't know if it makes sense to think it as a purely improvisational tool. Actually, when it comes to improvisation, it's pretty limited because it can really only be applied to really simple harmonies. I mean, something that on its own doesn't suggest any kind of tonality, because the point of pitch axis is to imply different kinds of harmonies. If your backing track on its own already uses certain harmonies, that already has an effect on which notes will work and which won't, and it doesn't really give you any freedom to use pitch axis theory as the basis of your improvisation. So if you want to use it in your improvisation, you need to play over a drone or a power chord or something that sounds "neutral" on its own. But you could use it in your compositions to write interesting chord progressions where all of the chords have one note in common. For example if you choose C as this note, and just use different chords from different scales that have the note C in them.
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Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Aug 7, 2017,
#3
Quote by shred101guy
But I heard that Joe Satriani uses pitch axis system where he assumes a key,say C and use modes as C ionian,C Dorian ,C Phrygian....An example is Satriani' song Always with me always with you.

Satch Boogie is the song (I'm sure not the only one but the most obvious example) which uses pitch axis theory - in the tapping section, all different stuff based off of A.
#4
shred101guy If you set up a groove over a C pedal. and change the chords to match the mode you want (such as playing IV and V from the parent scale), then you can happily use that mode for improvisation.

E.g. C phrygian.  parent scale is Ab major.  IV and V of Ab major are Db and Eb.  PlayDb and Eb triads over C.  Improvise in C phrygian.

That's basically it.

Another approach is to mix and match chords from different modes.  E.g. in C major,mixed with C Phrygian...

Cmaj9 Bbm11  Fmaj7/A  Dbmaj9  Cmaj7

Bb and Db chords are from C Phrygian.  So, one soloing approach would be C major mixed with C Phrygian.

Another would be to keep C major scale, but adjust to handle the mismatches.  I don't like this method very much ... but that's just personal.
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Aug 7, 2017,
#6
Quote by shred101guy
I had always had this question.Theoretically if we take C as a key centre.If we apply modes,it's C Ionian,D Dorian,E phrygian,.....But I heard that Joe Satriani uses pitch axis system where he assumes a key,say C and use modes as C ionian,C Dorian ,C Phrygian....An example is Satriani' song Always with me always with you.How would the traditional diatonic view of modes differ from Satriani's pitch axis system in an improvisational point of view.

Your first example isn't actually using modes at all - it's just all C major. Doesn't matter what shape you play or what note you "start" from - if your tonic is C then the notes C D E F G A B are only ever going to function as C major.
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#7
cdgraves 
Quote by cdgraves
Pitch Axis Theory is just a fancy term for Parallel Modalism.

Parallel Modalism sounds like a fancy term for Pitch Axis to me.
#8
Quote by shred101guy
I had always had this question.Theoretically if we take C as a key centre.If we apply modes,it's C Ionian,D Dorian,E phrygian,.....But I heard that Joe Satriani uses pitch axis system where he assumes a key,say C and use modes as C ionian,C Dorian ,C Phrygian....An example is Satriani' song Always with me always with you.How would the traditional diatonic view of modes differ from Satriani's pitch axis system in an improvisational point of view.

The "traditional diatonic view of modes" is nonsense.  I.e., it doesn't exist as a musical strategy, only as a way of deriving modes when teaching beginners who already know the major scale.  Its usefulness falls away immediately after that - and causes confusion if it doesn't.

IOW, to improvise "in D dorian mode in key of C major" is meaningless.  You're just improvising in C major, maybe with an emphasis on the 9th (D).  That - same as "applying" any other diatonic mode - may be a nice effect, but it's not a modal effect.  To play in D dorian mode, the music needs to be in D dorian mode to start with.

Pitch axis (aka mode mixture or modal interchange) is a more meaningful concept.  The blues convention of mixing parallel major and minor pents when improvising is a kind of "pitch axis" approach.  
But that works because blues is a music with variable scale degrees.  
Otherwise, in other forms of music, scales tend to be fixed by the chords used - because the scales that work are scales that contain the chord tones.  And normally we want a scale (or scales) that contain all the chord tones in all the chords, if possible, because that will unify the piece.  Normally that limits you to just one scale - although you're still free to add chromaticism for extra jazziness.  (IOW, the basic principle is: use the material in the tune as a foundation; and add any other outside notes to taste. Improvisation is really no more complicated than that )

In tunes where there are long sections on one chord, then there may be greater freedom in choosing passing notes between chord tones, if it doesn't matter too much if chord changes sound like key changes (because they force the use of a different scale).
E.g., if you have a piece consisting of a vamp on a G7sus4 chord, then you could (in theory) apply any scale which contains those chord tones (G-C-D-F), meaning G mixolydian, dorian, aeolian, or phrygian.  G minor pent and blues scale ought to work as well.  G major (ionian) or lydian won't, because they contain F# and/or C#.  
If there is a chord change to (say) Fmaj7#11, then only the C major scale (F lydian) will fit that chord, and it's then your decision whether you want to limit the scale on the previous G7sus4 to mixolydian (C major), so the tune sounds unified, and the change doesn't sound like a modulation.
Of course, this is also assuming you owe no allegiance to any melody or riffs present, which may imply scales in themselves.