Pitch Axis Theory

After a brief introduction to modes, I will explain The Pitch Axis Theory which isn't very well-known but quite fun to use. I came to it while learning to play some songs by my favourite guitarrist, Joe Satriani and if your level is intermediate-advanced, you might find it interesting. To end up the lesson, I'll show you an analysis of the song ''Not of this Earth'' from the same artist.

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Hello everyone! Firsly, thanks for reading, it's my first article in UG but I'll try to do it the best as possible. However, English isn't my mother tongue so please, pardon my inaccurate terminology. To begin with, modes were discovered in order to escape from diatonic restraint that didn't allow composers to use all 12 notes limiting it to 7 (number of notes that the mayor scale have). Modes are more abstract that what we imagine. Each of them have a special sound which is product of forcing another tonic in a scale. To follow on, I'll prove the characteristic of each mode. For doing this I'll use key of C mayor because it's much easier to see: -Like everyone should know, a mayor scale is built with the following drawing: T T 1/2 T T T 1/2* *T= tone , 1/2= semitone so the first modal scale* is: Ionian scale: C D E F G A B *Please, differ modes (speacial sound)with modal scale (the scale beggining from the other tonic) because I've seen it used wrongly in many lessons. -The second drawing is the following: T 1/2 T T T 1/2 T * *Notice that I've just began the earlier drawing with the second tone Dorian scale: C D Eb F G A Bb Dorian compared to a mayor scale = 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7 -The third drawing it's: 1/2 T T T 1/2 T T Phrygian scale: C Db Eb F G Ab Bb Compared to the mayor scale it's = 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 -The fouth drawing is : T T T 1/2 T T 1/2 Lydian scale: C D E F# G A B Compared to the mayor Scale it's= 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7 - The fith drawing is: T T 1/2 T T 1/2 T Mixolydian scale: C D E F G A Bb Compared to the mayor Scale it's = 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7 - The Sixth drawing is: T 1/2 T T 1/2 T T (minor scale) Aeolian scale*: C D Eb F G Ab Bb Compared to the mayor scale it's: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 *After finishing this, I'll compare dorian and phrygian scale to the aelian scale (minor scale) - Finally the sixth drawing is: 1/2 T T 1/2 T T T Locrian Scale: D Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb ______________________________________________________________________ To sum up: Lydian= mayor scale + #4th Mixolydian= mayor scale + b7 Dorian= minor scale + Mayor 6th Phrygian= Minor scale + b2 ________________________________________________________________________ -The Pitch Axis Theory: It involves fixing the main tonality and change modes on that fixed axis. Example: ''fixed tonality C''
 Cmay7#11  /   Cm6   /    C7    /   Csus4/may7 *
 
 C Lydian  / C dorian/ C Mixolydian / C Ionian
* Notice that I'm using restrictive chords; in other words, I'm using chords that only allow one mode. The most commun are:
- _may7#11 -  1 3 5 7 11#(4#) - Only Lydian scale has that 4#
- _m6      -  1 b3 5 6        - Only Dorian has b3 and mayor 6th
- _dom(7,9,13...)- 1 3 5 b7 * -Only mixolydian has 3 and b7
   *(might have other tensions)
*Sometimes what you want is the opposite: With one chord use several modes. In order to do this, the best option are suspended chords: - _sus4 - Over this chords you might use Ionian, Dorian, Mixolydian, Aelian and phrygian scales. - _sus2 - Over this chord you might use Ionian, Dorian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian ______________________________________________________________________ Not Of This Earth The Fixed tonality in this song is E but the chords don't have E in the bass It begins with a calm, intriguing intro which chords are: C#m add9 / Cadd9 / C#add9 / Asus4 * *The beginning of this analysis has been made by myself. You won't find it like this in any webpage... But there is not fixed tonality so what Satriani does is to invert those chords with the base note E * *Note: The low E is done with the base guitar in the song So the chords finally look like: Emay7/6 / Em7/ b6 (no 5) / Emay/6 / E7sus4 First chord- With this chord you could use lydian and Ionian. Satriani choose's Lydian (better option because of it's sound) Second Chord- You could use Phrygian and Aeolian. Satriani chooses Aeolian Fourth Chord- You can only use E mixolydian. The result is the following: Elydian / E Aeolian/ E lydian / E Mixolydian Before ending up the lesson I must do some publicity to Joe Satriani: He's way of playing has inspired me to learn to play the frets but his knowledge is well beyond from what we've seen today, he can play any type of music but instead, he shows his own style where he expresses what he feels with notes. Apart from publicity, I tell you that all this can get really complicated. Today, we have only used mayor scales... Out there, people are using modes theory with harmonic and melodic minor... Besides, there are many exotic scale waiting to you to find them. I encourage people to learn music because it's what makes me who I am. Well, finally the lesson is over, I hope it's been useful. My intention is to upload more but first, I'll see how it goes. Thank you again for reading! Lesson by: B.P.J from Seville, Spain

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    AlanHB
    To begin with, modes were discovered in order to escape from diatonic restraint that didn't allow composers to use all 12 notes limiting it to 7 (number of notes that the mayor scale have).
    What a load of crap. Modes pre-date keys so this is logically impossible. Additionally in keys you can use any note you want, so that makes it double impossible. I would argue that this basic misunderstanding about scales and modes would render the basis of your argument, and extensions invalid. The whole "modes in the key of C major" thing, it's a bad statement. You said yourself that modes were created to escape keys. Additionally a song is either in a key OR in a mode, can't have both sweetie. There's far more I can pick away at, but instead if you are interested come along to MT forum where you can discuss and learn music theory.
    iaceu
    This is very good. I especially like the explanation of the drawings, and the statement which says, "Please, differ modes (speacial sound)with modal scale (the scale beggining from the other tonic) because I've seen it used wrongly in many lessons." That is very true, and if spoken about that way, it makes modes very confusing because it is too simple. One thing: though it is clear what you mean when you write "mayor scale," you should maybe change that word in the future. In English, the Spanish "mayor" is "major." The word "mayor" in English means "alcalde." But it doesn't matter that much. Great article!
    Brainpolice2
    This article is mostly right. But not to be nitpicker, but there are a few statements that I don't agree with. Sorry if this is seen as an unecessary tangent. "To begin with, modes were discovered in order to escape from diatonic restraint that didn't allow composers to use all 12 notes limiting it to 7 (number of notes that the mayor scale have)." I find this statement confusing. All of the modes that I'm aware of have 7 notes. If we're talking about using "all 12 notes", that gets us into the topic of chromaticism, not modes. As for the historical aspect, the statement just isn't true. Modal music predates tonal music. Modes were not "discovered" as a byproduct of the major scale. In Europe (and elsewhere), most medieval and pre-medieval music was modal. Things didn't more widely begin to become formalized into the norms of tonal music until the Renaissance, and a lot of music was still modal then as well. I'd also like to note that what people call "Pitch Axis Theory" is not exactly something that Joe Satriani invented. He put a name on something that already existed. You can find jazz musicians at least as far back as the 50's using parallel modes over the same tonic. Other than this, I think you explained things well enough here.
    katalyzt13
    Brainpolice2 wrote: I'd also like to note that what people call "Pitch Axis Theory" is not exactly something that Joe Satriani invented. He put a name on something that already existed. You can find jazz musicians at least as far back as the 50's using parallel modes over the same tonic. Other than this, I think you explained things well enough here.
    Sorry, I know this is an older article, but I don't think the author ever said that Joe Satriani invented pitch axis theory, he is just using Satriani as an example and saying Joe Satriani's playing inspired him.
    EpicClapton
    An E7sus4 does not require E mixolydian unless it resolves to E7, right? You could use dorian, aeolian and phrygian (and locrian) as well.