How To Use Modes. Part 3

author: DarthPew date: 04/05/2013 category: guitar techniques

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How To Use Modes. Part 3
Before I begin, let me begin by making an amend. For all of my articles, I kept on referring to using modes as "playing modally". I would like to take the opportunity right now to apologize for my complete inaccuracy of the use of the term. Instead, I should have said "to play interesting phrases". In essence, what I assume most guitarists want to do, for those who are reading these types of articles, are to colour up, or "jazzify" their guitar vocabulary. In essence, using modes is just a way of highlighting a colour of a certain chord. "Playing modally" is when the most part of a composition is modal. The best example I have are most of John Coltrane's repertoire, specifically his compositions after "So What?" as these compositions are modal as they are centered around one tonal chord. Mind you, "centered" is the key word. But more on that later. Now then, as a reboot, do read my previous articles on "How To Use Modes", as I did explain a large portion of how they are constructed and how you can apply them at certain times. The challenge, however, is how to make these modes sound musical. In theory, it is a lot easier than one may originally think. In practice is a completely different story, however, I shall try and guide you through a way that I have managed to find interesting phrasings with different modes.

1. Resolutions

The most important thing when trying to chain modes into a nice phrase, are by the resolutions. If you don't know what a resolution is, it basically means a transition from one chord to another, and whether or not it resolves well (like a ii - V I progression compared to a vii V ii progression). A melody, or even an improvised solo, can also resolve like chords do. This is what most jazz musicians do best, and it is what most fusion/jazz musicians have learned to do either by ear, or by harmony training. To make your solo sound "interesting", the first thing you need to know are your basic chord constructions. If you don't know your basic chord constructions, don't panic. Please just take time to read my articles "How To Play Modes Re-Vamped" and "Beginner Intervals". They are both lengthy reads, but hopefully they shall get you on track. So let's say you have a simple vii ii V I progression in the key of A major. That would be: F#min7 Bmin7 E7 Amaj7 First, know which are the notes that provide consonance with each chord. For example, F#min7 is what it is. Can you guess what are the notes? If you answered F#; A; C#; E; you're on the right path. And what is the chord construction for a Minor7 chord? If you thought 1 b3 5 b7, then you're on the good path. Now take Bmin7. What are the notes? If you said B; D; F#; A;, then you are right again. And again, what is the chord formula for a minor 7 chord? 1b3 5 and b7. Make sure you fully comprehend this before moving on to the next paragraph! So what now? Now it's time to apply your phrasing to use! I'll make this as simple as I can, so basically have a metronome with you, and have a backing track play you a F#min7 chord for two measures, and Bmin7 for one measure in 4/4. Let's take some time to reflect about the chords now (while having that backing track playing along):
F#min7  F# G# A  B C# D   E
         1   2 b3 4 5  b6 b7

Bmin7  B C# D  E F# G# A 
        1  2 b3 4 5  6  b7
Right, these two mode formulae should look familiar. They are an Aeolian mode and Dorian mode respectively. Basically, to resolve nicely to the next chord while making some sweet solo cream, you must begin soloing with the given chord frame you are given. I gave F# Aeolian because it is diatonic, and is easier to play out. Depart from the first, third, fifth or seventh of F#min7, and make sure that when you land on F#min7, you "land" on one of these same notes. You should tell that there is a reasonable consonance when you "land" on the first beat of the measures you play. Now look at Bmin7. You see that the consonant notes of the chord differ from that of F#min7? That means as you approach the third measure, make sure you land on the first, third, fifth or seventh of Bmin7 on the FIRST BEAT OF THE THIRD MEASURE (re-read this last sentence until your understand it). You do this, and I guarantee you will notice something... different about your playing. Why? I have come to notice that a lot of guitar players may know their techniques. They have all these great ideas for improvising, but they always lack in a memorable phrasing. Most people would see a chord progression of vii ii V I and think, "Yeah! I'll just improvise the vii (F#) minor pentatonic scale!". While it may work, it won't have the same resolute feeling to it. However, by breaking down a chord structure, and understanding what notes resolve the strongest will make your solo sound so much better. So take this exercise I gave you: 2 measures of F#min7 and 1 measure of Bmin7, and work on ALWAYS resolving the first beat of every measure to a consonant note of the given chord, which means the first, third, fifth or seventh of all the chords in this progression. That would be:
F#min7  F# G# A  B C# D  E 
         1  2  b3 4 5  b6 b7

Bmin7  B C# D  E F# G# A 
        1  2 b3 4 5  6  b7

E7  E F# G# A B C# D 
     1 2  3  4 5 6  b7

Amaj7  A B C# D E F# G
        1 2 3  4 5 6  7
I added the formulae for E7 and Amaj7 so that when you begin to feel comfortable resolving to the other chords, you can chain these two chords for another 3 measures (2 measures of E7 and 1 measure of Amaj7). Just make sure you play a whole note for every measure you play the chord. If you resolve to the first, third, fifth or seventh note of each respective chord, I guarantee you you will notice something different about your soloing. Don't try any complicated lines, however. Keep it simple, you'll be more impressed by what little you do can be so effective. Now then, this was a basic demonstration. People have a preference to resolve on a tension, like 9ths or 13ths... But these are all personal preferences (I myself always like resolving on the 9th of every chord). I encrouage you that if you feel lost, just scroll back up and check what you have not comprehended.

2. Melodic Voicing

I may have called this incorrectly, but this is what I call "colouring the chord" It's the same principle of resolving, however, instead of playing diatonically within the key, you take the liberty to colour the chord with an outside note. So if take again, the F#min7 in the key of Amajor, F# would be Aeolian. To make it sound a bit more "colourful", I in favour would play F# Dorian which would RESOLVE into Bmin7. All you have to do is take the same concept of the last exercise, and exhort your freedom of playing the MINOR modes of F#min7 (Dorian, Phrygian and Aeolian) and trying to resolve them to Bmin7. Now your getting to some pretty strange waters. And for now, that's it. Right now, I want any guitarist that reads this article to focus on Resolutions and their melodic voicing. These are the major two points that will change the way you sound. This is not about how fast you can play, but how well you can make something sound. Hopefully you found this issue useful! Until next time. Author's Note: Just an update, I recently got enrolled into the Berklee College of Music in Boston Massachusetts! I'm really excited to go and study my harmony even further there! And hopefully, what I learn there I can share among you fellows. Happy guitaring guys!
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