The Modal Approach. Part Five: The Complex

Tom Colohue's "The Modal Approach". Part 5 of 5. The end is in sight, with only the more complex of pitch axis and changing tonal centre to cover.

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Hello again. I'm Tom Colohue and this is the fifth and final installment of The Modal Approach. It's certainly been an interesting journey for me, with opinion strongly divided, both here and on the forums, on whether I even know what I'm talking about. Curiously, and most comically, most of the arguments raised were questions that I answered in the first piece. A typo also caused some problems, but that was entirely my fault, and I apologise for that. Thankfully, most of you have been paying attention, so here we are. During this final piece, we're going to be seeing modal interplay to its logical conclusion. We're going to come to the end together by letting the modes themselves take us the last of the way. After that, any further learning is up to you. That said though, there is still some ground left to cover before it's all over, and that's what this particular article is for. Today we'll be covering what options are available when you let modes have their way. This will include how resolving outside of a mode can be beneficial, as well as pitch axis theory. The final quest in our modal adventure begins here.

The Modal Approach by Tom Colohue

Part Five: The Complex

Switching Tonal Centre Last time, we looked at how to make a progression modal based on an already established tonal centre. The most important part there was to hold the chosen tonal centre, ensuring that our chosen mode did not resolve to an alternate key at the time. This time, we're going to break that rule and, in order to change tonal centre, we're going to let it resolve. Say we're in G, and we're establishing the tonal centre.
G    D    Am   C
3    2    0    3
3    3    1    1
0    2    2    0
0    0    2    2
2    x    0    3
3    x    x    x
Here we have a fairly simple progression in G. Now, if, for example, we wanted to use a mode to change our tonal centre to D, we need a mode which contains the same notes as D, but starting on G. First, we take the G major intervals and notes.
G A B C D E F# G
Then, we take the intervals and notes of D and compare the two.
G Major
G A B C D E F# G
D Major
D E F# G A B C# D
Put them both with G as the root, and what do we have?
G Major
G A B C D E F# G
D Major
G A B C# D E F# G
What's the difference? Only a #4, which means that D Major contains the same notes as G Lydian. If we look over our chosen progression, we can see that three of our chords can contain the C# note, so let's make that progression modal.
Gmaj7Dmaj7A7   C#m7b5
2    2    3    3
3    2    2    2
0    2    2    0
0    0    2    2
2    x    0    4
3    x    x    x
Well there's a bitch of a progression. The C# in the Dmaj7 makes a very instable modal interplay, since it so obvious calls out to C major. The A7 might contain a G note, but by this point the damage has been done because it feels out of place in G major, and the C#m7b5 is the final nail in the coffin. This progression held onto the G tonal centre long enough to give a sound of Lydian, but in no time at all the Lydian collapses and, the next moment, you're in D major. So what? Now you're playing in D. Plan your chords to accommodate and all you've done is change tonal centre. You haven't failed at anything, in fact, you've succeeded in doing exactly what you were planning. You've simply gone from one tonal centre, to another. Switching Modes Switching modes after this is just as easy, and the logical route to take for your next step. Let's use the same example. G major going into G Lydian going into D major. We'll throw up a progression for D major.
D    Bm   A    Em
2    2    0    0
3    3    2    0
2    4    2    0
0    4    2    2
x    2    0    2
x    x    x    0
While G is present in one of these chords, it is quite obviously not the tonal centre anymore once you so obviously move from the C#m7b5 onto the D. All of the previous chords want to resolve in that exact moment, so you let them, and then you're in D, using this progression. So what's to stop you letting this establish itself as the new tonal centre, then going modal again? Perhaps you could once again use Lydian, or go Dorian this time. You could choose a new tonal centre all over again just by choosing a new mode to play around with. It's easy, you just follow it wherever you want the sound to go. It can be fast, sudden or slow and obvious. It's entirely up to you. Pitch Axis Theory Pitch Axis involves changing mode without changing tonal centre. It gets its name from this. The Axis is the tonal centre, and then you change pitch around it. Let's go back to having G as our axis. We've already explored G Lydian, so how about instead of moving on to D, we change a chord or two around and make a more stable modal progression. Leave out the C and, for example, put in an E minor.
Gmaj7Dmaj7A7   Em7
2    2    3    0
3    2    2    3
0    2    2    0
0    0    2    0
2    x    0    2
3    x    x    0
Now our final chord contains a G, it's major third in B and it's fifth in D. While D is also the root of D major, the note G is not present in the Dmaj7 chord, which helps to hold the tonal centre. Now we have a choice. We can either go back to the original G - D - Am - (C or Em) progression to further safe our tonal centre, or, if we feel that the progression is still fairly stable, we can change the mode. Let's move to another fairly close mode to the major scale: the Mixolydian.
G7   Dm7  Amin7Em7
3    1    3    0
3    1    1    3
0    2    2    0
3    0    2    0
2    x    0    2
3    x    x    0
In this example, two chords now show the Mixolydian input. These are the G7 and the Dmin7. The A7 has also changed to an Amin7, but that is because the Lydian flavour is no longer present. Did the switch work, or do you feel that the progression should have had more time within the boundaries of the original tonal centre? That's a question you should be able to answer by now. Pitch Axis is just that. You stick to one tonal centre and change mode around it, using safe major scale progressions intermittently as and when necessary to strengthen the tonal centre. Try it yourself with the other modes and see what you get. Further Learning There are plenty of other resources on modes out there, but the best option right now when it comes to further learning is to find yourself an instrument and play some modes. Work out what works and what doesn't. Argue with yourself, plan a song that flows from mode to mode and just never stop with the bloody things. Remember though, and it might be worth going back to the first article here, are modes necessary? Does the song that you're writing require modes, or perhaps just a little suggestive something over tonal play? They're an option, and while they're a handy one, they're only an option nonetheless. What comes next? Well that's up to you because we're done here. The Modal Approach is now complete and we're in the after party period. What you do with the knowledge that you've obtained is also your choice. Now that you've navigated all of the convoluted back story, you'll be able to sort the fact from the fiction. There's nothing modal planned next for me, since once you know modes you know modes and no further lessons are necessary. Christmas is coming, and Christmas on Ultimate-Guitar means a full feature line-up. I have a collaboration coming with Sam Agini and a Disbelief Christmas special to write, as well as the second season of the UG Story to continue work on. Concerning non-fiction, there are two concepts that I'm considering, so my name will still be on this home page more often than not. I'd also like to thank all of my readers for the interest shown in these works. In the five weeks that this series has been running, my profile has been the single most viewed on the entire website. At the time of writing this, my total views are close to breaking thirty five thousand. While that's not close to the highest total I've ever seen, I am getting more hits weekly than anybody else at this point in time, so I'm well on the way to catching up. As a writer, my name is the most important part of my work, and I'm grateful of the rising number of hits google offers me thanks to it. My Facebook fan page also received a moderately successful launch, and hopefully that will grow with time as my UG profile has. Thank you for that. If people still have questions, feel free to send me a PM, and, depending on the demand by next Monday, I might close up with a loose ends session either in a column or in a blog. Other than that, there's nothing left to say. Goodbye for now. Tom Colohue Tom Colohue is a writer from Blackpool, England. Though he specialises in Fiction, he also writes music theory articles, and new media articles based primarily on the internet. On occasion, these also intermingle. He is well recognised by numerous critics and analysts for his integrative descriptive work and his cynical textual mannerisms. For more information, Tom Colohue keeps a Facebook Fan Page, which contains updates from new articles and his personal blog, Mental Streaming. This page can be found via this link.

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14 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I think there has been a lot of questions both in the comments and perhaps PMs too? Therefor I think It would be great with finishing Q&A article with the most common questions just to clear things up one last time! Great work! =)
    Its awesome that a guy like you takes time off his timetable to write articles like these! I hope this won't be the last article we see from you Tom.
    4stringedMetal wrote: So what? Miles Davis modal jazz reference?
    Sketches of Spain? What?
    First of all I applaud you for writing these articles. I'm a teacher myself and while I didn't pick up anything 'new' from you I'm glad to see this info being shared. I've long wanted to do a similar article, focusing more on modal pentatonics, but I just have never had the time to sit down and write it out. Like I said, I'm glad you're sharing this info, but for real man, this was way too convoluted and muddied down with words, which for beginners/players unfamiliar with modes, might make it difficult to comprehend and/or grasp the concepts. For example, in this who is familiar enough with the modes to be reading these articles should know how to figure out which mode of D major G is (lydian). I think the method you used is a bit overkill But it works nonetheless. When I play, I usually do it the other way around-I know what mode I want to use (lydian for instance again) and simply switch to G lydian....that switch in and of itself tells me (and should tell anyone) that I'm now 'in D'. Simply knowing the modal patterns on the guitar will tell you what the difference between the two modes is (#4). Anyway, I'm rambling. Bottom line is I think the subject would have been better served with more stripped down, simplified explanations...I knew what you were talking about the whole time before reading each article (after reading a sentence or two), but I read anyway just to follow your explanation/method. I must admit, there were times it was confusing to me. Anyways kudos for writing the series
    thanks tom for all the help over the past five weeks, I finally understand the concept of modes, wheather or not I will use them in my own music is a different story but I'm sure glad I get the idea just in case...
    The C# in the Dmaj7 makes a very instable modal interplay, since it so obvious calls out to C major.
    Great lesson. You seem like you know a lot more though. Could you do something on the harmonic minor maybe? I'm not sure that I have that one quite right....unfortunately....
    I've got a question, to use the modes, do the chords necessarily have to back up the mode or do they just have to not clash. like if you play an e5, then a g5, followed by a d5, could you play in e phrygian since it doesn't clash? And how do you keep a modal scale modal? whenever I seem to use them, especially the dorian mode I always end up resolving to a different note than the intended key?