#1
Hey. I've learned a fair bit of theory recently, I can construct major and minor scales, and the modes of the major scales from any root, can form triads and seventh chords of all types off of those, and know how to form pretty basic tension-resolution chord progressions.

My question is about the modes, as they seem to be the hallmark of a good musician (a lot of people praise certain genres or musicians for their use of modes). My question is how does one use a mode in common playing?

I ask, because for my music tech class the final exam was to compose a song using the software we used in class. It could only be ten measures in standard ABA song form (most of the kids in the class know nothing about music, they just need a tech credit). I had been discussing the modes with my teacher earlier, since he's also the band organizer for the school. I brought up locrian, and he said Locrian was a joke, and no one ever uses it. So, as a sort of inside joke, I wrote my final exam in B Locrian. It was a shred/death metal kinda thing, without vocals, but for a twelve measure song I think it turned out ok. After I presented it though, he started talking to me about how "modes aren't used very often, it's basically theoretical music" and "modal compositions never work" because they gravitate back to their respective major? I can't remember exactly what he said, though I wish I could. Anyone able to shed any light on that?

I think he meant that, it's hard to make chords for modal compositions, so people usually just use one or two chords. And because of that, the harmony of the mode is pretty much lost so it just sounds like a major scale. I'm hoping someone can explain it to me, because I'm looking to use some of the modes in my writing and I hope it's not futile.
#2
There is a reason, using physics, to explain why the modes will gravitate to their relative major (or minor). The reason being the tonic of these two modes are both stable, and will sound resolved, more so than the others. The reason for this stability lies in tritones. Tritones sound very unstable because the mathematical relationship between the two notes is irrational (the square root of two to be exact), and therefore it sounds very dissonant. Now if you look at a major scale, you will realise that there are only two notes, which are a tritone apart. These notes are the fourth and the seventh, and they are the least stable notes of the scale. Now lets look at the remaining notes : 1, 2, 3, 5, 6. The 2 cannot be used in a triad without also involving the fourth and/or the seventh, so we will disregard the second. Now we are left with 1, 3, 5, and 6. Assuming we are playing Cmajor, we will realize that 1, 3, 5 is the tonic, while the 6, 1, 3 is the tonic of A minor (relative minor) these chords will therefore be the most stable and function the best as a tonic.
#3
Quote by isaac_bandits
There is a reason, using physics, to explain why the modes will gravitate to their relative major (or minor). The reason being the tonic of these two modes are both stable, and will sound resolved, more so than the others. The reason for this stability lies in tritones. Tritones sound very unstable because the mathematical relationship between the two notes is irrational (the square root of two to be exact), and therefore it sounds very dissonant. Now if you look at a major scale, you will realise that there are only two notes, which are a tritone apart. These notes are the fourth and the seventh, and they are the least stable notes of the scale. Now lets look at the remaining notes : 1, 2, 3, 5, 6. The 2 cannot be used in a triad without also involving the fourth and/or the seventh, so we will disregard the second. Now we are left with 1, 3, 5, and 6. Assuming we are playing Cmajor, we will realize that 1, 3, 5 is the tonic, while the 6, 1, 3 is the tonic of A minor (relative minor) these chords will therefore be the most stable and function the best as a tonic.


Genius. That helped me understand the actual reason those notes sound so hard on the ears a lot better than I did before. Thanks.
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#4
Quote by HammerAndSickle
Anyone able to shed any light on that?
Yes. That guy is right to an extent. Modes are tricky to use because they want to go back to their parent scale. For instance, your B Locrian song probably would have resolved nicely to a C major chord. For this reason, modal chord progressions are often fairly simple.

The way I make modal progressions is this. First, I pick a mode, say D Dorian. Obviously Dm is an important chord here. Neck I figure out what the modal tone is. In Dorian, the unique tone is the natural sixth, in this case B. There are three chords in the D Dorian scale that contain a B: Bdim, Em, G. Bdim wants to go to C, thus destroying the "Dorian-ness," so we don't want to use that, but Em and G are good. A D Dorian progression should use Dm, Em, and G. This is not a rule, but an nice guideline.

Now, you can also use modes a different way-over chords. Take a simple minor progression, Bm A G. Your first instinct is to use the B natural minor scale, which is fine, but why not approach each chord differently. You could use B Dorian, Aeolian, or Phrygian over B. You could use A Mixolydian, Ionian, or Lydian over A. You could use G Mixolydian, Ionian, or Lydian over G. This is more of a Jazz idea, but it's very important to the style as it will often have progressions that change key very often (what the hell do you play over a Dm F#m vamp?).
Last edited by bangoodcharlote at Jan 27, 2008,
#5
Thanks for the insight guys. To Isaac, I appreciate the explanation. But how do I go about using the modes if they'll all sound dissonant and unresolved? Plenty of songs use them without incident, so what makes them work?

And to bangoodcharlotte, I'm a little confused. In your first example, it's more from a songwriting perspective, which makes sense cause you'd build the harmony around D dorian. Your example helped, in identifying the important tones of the mode and building the harmony like that. But in the second example you're using the modes over existing chord progressions, which is more of a soloing/improv thing. How do you keep the modes from sounding dissonant against the backing chords? I understand using minor scales with minor chords and major with major, but like... Wouldn't the raised fourth of say, lydian, clash with the natural fourth that might exist in one of the Ionian chords?
#6
Quote by HammerAndSickle
Thanks for the insight guys. To Isaac, I appreciate the explanation. But how do I go about using the modes if they'll all sound dissonant and unresolved? Plenty of songs use them without incident, so what makes them work?


Songs dont have to resolve... The major and minor will naturally resolve best, but that doesnt mean each song has to resolve.
#7
Thanks for the insight guys. To Isaac, I appreciate the explanation. But how do I go about using the modes if they'll all sound dissonant and unresolved? Plenty of songs use them without incident, so what makes them work?


Modes can resolve just fine. The problem is that the relative major and minor scales has stronger resolution, which means that complex progressions will tend to gravitate towards those two modes. For this reason, modal music tends to be harmonically simple. Modes certainly don't have to be dissonant either. Over a maj7 chord, lydian would actually be preferable to ionian because the #4 would sound more consonant. Personally, I find modes highly overrated and overused, and you shouldn't even think about them until you're familiar with diatonic harmony and the theory behind the major scale.
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Last edited by Archeo Avis at Jan 27, 2008,
#8
Quote by HammerAndSickle
Wouldn't the raised fourth of say, lydian, clash with the natural fourth that might exist in one of the Ionian chords?
You would avoid Lydian over a sus4 chord, but my example listen only major and minor chords. G Lydian will sound fine over a G chord since there is no fourth via sus4/add4.

You are right about something though. Adding notes to the basic triad cuts down your choices (ignore the fact that dominant chords open up all kinds of possibilities). Had I included a sus4 chird, you would not want to play Lydian over that. Had I included a dominant 7 chord (A7), you would only want to play Mixolydian over that.


Does this answer your question?
#9
Yeah, actually it does. Thanks everyone.

I'm more of the school of "melody comes first", which I always thought was a good thing because all good music (in my opinion) has a bright melody line that stands out and basically "makes" the song. But as I started learning about harmony, I learned that different harmonies can completely change a melody. The example my theory book gave was one melody, played with corresponding chords of the major scale. Then the same exact melody, but the chords were based off of the key's relative minor. And the song sounded completely different.

So I think I'll want to keep my harmonies pretty simple, at least until I'm able to have their power work for my melodic ideas, and not against it. Theory is hard >.<