#1
I've learned my Pentatonic scale along the neck and can move around the neck with 'reasonable' fluency. I've also learned my modes and tonight have been taking a look at the Harmonic minor scale (really like that one) and the Melodic minor scale (not so sure about that one). My question is how this all comes together in soloing.

If a song is in the key of Am then I figure I can start with an 'A' Minor Pentatonic scale and simply improvise up and down the neck using all five shapes and it will sound OK. Right?

It seems to me that I could make solos more interesting if I could use more than five notes so modes became attractive but I find this really confusing. I get that the Ionian scale in the key of 'C' is basically the Major scale so I assume that if a song is in the key of 'C' Major I could improvise using this shape and it will sound OK, right? To mix things up a bit, I'm guessing that I could also improvise in the key of 'C'Major by playing the 'A' Aeolian as that is the relative minor of 'C' and that should also sound good, right? Where I get very confused is that I was told that all of the different modes seem to be exactly the same notes as the Ionian just in a different order. If that's the case, isn't an 'A' Aeolian simply a 'C' Ionian scale played in a different part of the neck? If that's the case, if a song is in 'C' Major then I should be able to use all of the modes to solo in the song as long as I'm at the appropriate position on the neck. For example, could I start soloing using the 'C' Ionian and then simply move up two frets and start improvising using the 'D' Dorian shape and so on?

All of that sounds fine so far except that now I'm starting to think I've got it all wrong. I've just been readng an article on music theory and it was saying that I can play an Aeolian scale over minor chords but it said the same thing about the Dorian scale. If that's the case, to use my previous example of a song in 'C' Major, I could only use these shapes over minor chords but not when a major chord was being played. Furthermore, does that mean that when an Am is played in the key of 'C' major I could play either an 'A' Aeolian or an 'A' Dorian and both would work in the key of 'C' major as long as a minor chord was played? If that's true it would seem to contradict what I previously thought.

This is really doing my head in!!!

Could anybody please help me to understand exactly what I should and shouldn't be doing when improvising a solo. I know that I should just trust my ears but I'd really like to know if what I'm doing is theoretically right and why it's right. I've hesitated about asking this for a while as feel like a right fool not getting it but someone told me that modes can be very difficult so I'm guessing that I might not be the only one struggling with this. I'm at a stage where I can learn other people's material OK but I want to be able to just put a backing track on and improvise my own stuff but I feel so very restricted because I don't really understand what I'm supposed to be doing or what is supposed to be right. I'd be extremely grateful for any help so I can move my playing on to the next level.
Gibson Les Paul Studio with Catswhiskers pickups
PRS SE 'Floyd' Custom 24 with Creamery pickups
Fender Standard Stratocaster with DiMarzio pickups
Takamine GN30
BluGuitar AMP1
#3
Ionian = First note of the scale in C, that would be C
Dorian = Second note of the scale in C, that would be D..and so on


You usually switch modes when playing along with a chord progression, for example if the chord was G in the key of C, you would start on the 5th interval of the scale or a G Mixolydian

Im probbably not right, so look at the post below mine
Last edited by grifff at Sep 13, 2008,
#4
If you're in the key of C major then all of it's relative modes, A Aeolian, D Dorian, E phrygian etc don't actually exist. They all contain exactly the same notes, it's the context that differentiates them. If you're playing the notes of C major over a static A minor chord or a progression that resolves to A minor then yes, you're playing in A minor. However, if you have a progression that resolves to C then it's always going to be C major.

That's why there's little point learning shapes on their own, you'll just end up learning the same thing several times over without realising it.

To be honest you don't ever need to learn modes, they can be interesting but they're far from essential. Most guitarists will have all the scope they ever need simply from the natural minor and major scales - remember that the notes that don't appear in the scale are just as valid, it's up to you to figure out the best way to use them.

You can play with the changes and treat each chord as it's own tonal "island" but that can sound awkward and disjointed and doesn't always make for a musically fluid solo. With most modern music there's a definite overall tonalily established by the chord progression and you're better off basing your improv ideas around it.
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Last edited by steven seagull at Sep 13, 2008,
#5
The way ive always approached it in my soloing is if you take something like a simple 5th Cchord ii-v-i progression in C major (D5 G5 C5) then you can play any of the positions of the C major scale and its voiced as the Ionian mode which has its own particular sound, however if you take the A major scale, which still features the same sets of chords, and play play that over the progression it changes the voicing of your solo to C Dorian.

taking licks and adapting them to different modes can open up a world of different sounds as each mode gives its own feel (such as minor scales giving a sad feel)
#6
So let's see if I have this right. If a song is in 'C' Major (I might as well stick with that) I can improvise over the chords using any of the modes relative to the 'C' Ionian and it should sound fine as all of the notes are the same but I could create slightly different moods within this by resolving to different notes.

I've heard people talk about soloing over particular chords and changing the scale accordingly but if I'm at a jamming session and all I know is that I'll be imrovising over a song in 'C' Major I won't know what chords will be played in which order so that option would appear to be impossible unless I already know the song very well. In that situation I'd need scales that would work being played over any of the chords in that key so that I wouldn't have to worry about individual chord changes. I'd always assumed that this was the attraction of modes.

I know that people say that all I need is the Major and natural minor scales but the Major scale is Ionian and the natural minor scale is Aeolian so I'm back to modes anyway. Surely whether I call them Dorian, Lydian etc. or not, it still amounts to the same thing. In the Aeolian and Dorian modes I'm still playing the same notes so surely the Dorian is still a natural minor just played at a different part of the neck? The trouble is, it's also the same notes that are in the Ionian and Lydian modes and they're supposed to be major. How does that work?

So far, if I try to improvise a solo, I generally start in the key it's in taking the root note from the 6th string so if I improvise over 'Smoke on the Water' I will start using a 'G' Minor Pentatonic at the 3rd fret. I could then play around with the Pentatonic scale using each of the 5 positions so I can cover a range of the neck. To add variety, I would then normally try using the 'G' Aeolian and maybe 'G' Harmonic and Melodic minor scales at either the 3rd or 15th fret. After that I'm a bit lost and in all honesty, it doesn't always sound perfect. I guess that's either because what I'm assuming to be theoretically correct is in fact wrong or that I'm resolving to the wrong notes. I suppose I could use natural, harmonic or melodic minor scale shapes starting at either the 4th or 5th string instead of the 6th and that would allow me to move all over the neck but I guess that's kinda what I'm doing when I play a Dorian mode.

As it stands at the moment I couldn't say without looking it up which notes are in which key and I couldn't say without stopping to think about it what all the notes are on the neck. I know the notes on strings 4, 5 and 6 reasonably well due to my knowledge of chords but when guitarists say that while they improvise they are targetting certain notes, that is beyond me as I'm never sure enough of where the notes are. I simply mess around in a scale that seems to fit the song and if I do target certain notes, it's not something I'm making a conscious decision about. I assume that knowing all the notes on the fretboard and all the notes in the various keys would make this a lot easier!
Gibson Les Paul Studio with Catswhiskers pickups
PRS SE 'Floyd' Custom 24 with Creamery pickups
Fender Standard Stratocaster with DiMarzio pickups
Takamine GN30
BluGuitar AMP1
#7
its easiest to think of modes as intervals rather than positions on the neck.
The Ionian mode is
T-T-S-T-T-T-S
whilst the Lydian mode is
T-T-T-S-T-T-S
As you can see, theyre different. Modes have nothing to do with position on the neck, nor were they created for the guitar.

Btw, T=tone , S=semitone
#8
You totally missed the point here...you CAN'T use any of the relative modes because they won't technically exist. There's no point apporoaching it as "I'm going to use the D Dorian 'shape' here" either" because the shape means nothing, it's the notes it contains that are important and if you're in C major then those notes are C major, the context dictates that they can't be anything else. Modes have two components, the notes/intervals and the underlying tonality...take either of those away and you don't have a mode.

Modal theory is not the same as diatonic theory, they're two different musical systems and things get messy if you don't maintain the distinction in your head. Aeolian is not the same as natural minor, they contain the same notes but if you're talking about Aeolian then you're implying modal music.

It's possible to construct simple progressions that imply modality, or use a static chord or backing to force a specific tonality but for you're average contemporary complex chord progression modes simply don't come into the equation. If you're good you can attach a scale to each individual chord, and if it's done well it sounds very accomplished but it isn't always easy to keep things sounding "together".
Actually called Mark!

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Last edited by steven seagull at Sep 14, 2008,
#9
LOL, I don't seem to be getting this at all do I!?

OK, let's try again. I'll try not to think of modes in the same way again and see if that helps me. If a song is in 'C' Major I could decide to play a solo using that 'C' Major scale. That scale does not have to be tied to any particular position on the neck as I could play the same scale anywhere as long as it contains the same notes. If I choose to play the scale a couple of frets higher up the neck it is still the Major scale because I am naturally resolving to the same root note. It may share the same 'shape' as a Dorian mode but it's not Dorian in feel, nor is it a Minor scale because I'm not resolving to the right note to make it Dorian or Minor. Likewise I could go back down the neck by 3 frets but it will still be the same Major scale because I am resolving to 'C'. If I used 'A' as the tonal centre of the scale, then it would become a Natural Minor scale because the note I am resolving to has changed even though the shape hasn't. Is THAT right?

If that is correct, presumably when a guitarist says he's based a solo in the key of 'C' Major on the 'D' Dorian it means he is trying to add interest and variety to the tonal nature of the song by choosing to highlight a different note in the key of 'C' and that will help to give it a more Minor and in this case, jazzy feel.

God I hope I've got this at last!!!!
Gibson Les Paul Studio with Catswhiskers pickups
PRS SE 'Floyd' Custom 24 with Creamery pickups
Fender Standard Stratocaster with DiMarzio pickups
Takamine GN30
BluGuitar AMP1
#10
I used to have that problem before, The explanations above are are right but il give my tip in a brief way. To see that you're using modes it depends on the background and chords your playing. An Em ,C , G, D progression wont give nothing new and modal work. Now try changing the chords to major/minor 7th 9ths and B7. How will it work??

-For An Em ,C , G, D you use E minor scale or Em pentatonic, like normal same sound..

-Now try Am7, Dadd9b7, Gmaj7 and Cmaj 7.
Using the exact same scale youll see a whole lot different sound, which if im not mistaken its the dorian mode
#11
So the same scale sounds totally different if you're not using straightforward majors and minors? Are you still resolving to the same note or do you naturally find yourself drawn to a different note because the characteristic of the chord progression has changed?

And when you said everything above was correct, did you also mean my last post where I tried to redefine my understanding of these scales? Have I actually got it right yet?

God this could drive you insane trying to understand this!
Gibson Les Paul Studio with Catswhiskers pickups
PRS SE 'Floyd' Custom 24 with Creamery pickups
Fender Standard Stratocaster with DiMarzio pickups
Takamine GN30
BluGuitar AMP1