Interesting Patterns

An interesting pattern found within 3 notes per string scales.

Ultimate Guitar
I recently wrote an article on the subject of Modal Arpeggios. It was mainly about playing modes as a series of chord tones rather than scale degrees, but part of it was about my own personal preference for arranging the modes in order of "darkness". I was playing around with some three notes per string finger exercises when I noticed an interesting pattern. The three note chunks always appeared in the same order as the "darkness" order of modes. First, for those who haven't read that article, the modes are organized from the happiest and most major, to the darkest and most minor/diminished. The order is as follows: R=root, M=major, m=minor, P=perfect, #=augmented, b=diminished
Lydian         R,M2,M3,#4,P5,M6,M7
Ionian         R,M2,M3,P4,P5,M6,M7
Mixolydian     R,M2,M3,P4,P5,M6,m7
Dorian         R,M2,m3,P4,P5,M6,m7
Aeolian        R,M2,m3,P4,P5,m6,m7
Phrygian       R,m2,m3,P4,P5,m6,m7
Locrian        R,m2,m3,P4,b5,m6,m7
The modes are arranged in such a way that they get progressively more diminished as you move down the list. They diminish by flattening 1 degree at a time. Notice that the chart begins with the Lydian, which is all major, and also has a #4. This makes it sound kind of manic, as if it's gone beyond upbeat and into slightly frightening territory. This is probably why it was chosen for the Simpsons opening theme; the rush hour scene. When we get to the Locrian, we've diminished as much as possible or have we? There's one degree we didn't flatten; the first. What happens if we do? Well we get the Lydian mode again but a half step lower, and the chart begins all over again; an endless cycle. I was surprised to find the three note chunks arranged in the same order as my own particular preference for organizing the modes. So what am I talking about? Well if we take the first three notes of each mode, and name those chunks according to the mode from which they are taken, then look at the patterns they make on the fret board, we find that they arrange themselves in the order described above. Let's look at the G major scale in three notes per string form in several positions (the position is marked in roman numerals). The chunk's modal name is written alongside with the root note shown in brackets. The darkness' order runs from highest to lowest string. Note that there are only six strings so we have to observe the pattern in more than one position to see the full series because all 7 modes won't show up at any one time. I've started with the Ionian because it's the same as the major, and so people tend to think of it as a starting point. Remember the order of modes is a looping cycle.
|------------------------------3-5-7-| Ionian (G)
|------------------------3-5-7-------| Mixolydian (D)
|------------------2-4-5-------------| Dorian (A)
|------------2-4-5-------------------| Aeolian (E)
|------2-3-5-------------------------| Phrygian (B)
|2-3-5-------------------------------| Locrian (F#)
|------------------------------5-7-8-| Dorian (A)
|------------------------5-7-8-------| Aeolian (E)
|------------------4-5-7-------------| Phrygian (B)
|------------4-5-7-------------------| Locrian (F#)
|------3-5-7-------------------------| Lydian (C)
|3-5-7-------------------------------| Ionian (G)

|-------------------------------7-8-10-| Phrygian (B)
|------------------------7-8-10--------| Locrian (F#)
|------------------5-7-9---------------| Lydian (C)
|------------5-7-9---------------------| Ionian (G)
|------5-7-9---------------------------| Mixolydian (D)
|5-7-8---------------------------------| Dorian (A)
I think these three positions are enough to establish that the pattern is going to repeat in the said order indefinitely. Did you notice another very well known pattern emerging? The circle of fifths? Look at the root notes. Another thing worth mentioning is the shapes made by the three note chunks, and how they of course always appear in the same order.
Shape.1  whole, whole  Lydian, Ionian, Mixolydian   
Shape.2  whole, half   Dorian, Aeolian   
Shape.3  half, whole   Phrygian, Locrian

Practical Application

The reason I'm spending time with these three note chunks is because I want to not only be able to play licks in a bluesy/pentatonic/rock way, but also be capable of playing melodic type phrases. I believe diatonic scales/modes are the answer, so I'm doing a lot of exercises based on these three note chunks because they come up so often. As for creating melodic phrases, memorizing set patterns probably isn't such a good idea. If you want to use them in a musical situation then I think it's best to think in terms of individual tones as they relate to the chords you are playing over. So you're going to need to practice chord tones within these positional patterns quite a lot, until you're totally comfortable with where they all are. My own personal preference is to give high priority to the first four chord tones, the 1, 3, 5, and 7. Then add the remaining 9, 11, and 13 later as either less important tones , or as extended chord tones if they are relevant to the type of progression you happen to be playing. The 7th can of course be considered an extended chord tone, though I myself place more importance on it, particularly the minor/flattened 7th as it's quite a harmonically strong tone. The major 7th is less so. It has an odd sound for a major. It sounds almost as peculiar as a diminished tone, but maybe that's just me. So my advice would be to have a drum track play a simple rhythm with a bass playing a similarly simple vamp using just the root note of the chord. Try just the I chord at first, and spend some time picking out the first 3 or four chord tones. In G these would be G, B, D, F#, though my own personal taste would tend more towards the minor 7th F rather than the major 7th F#, which would turn the scale into the mixolydian mode, but this is probably because I've spent so much time playing blues and pentatonic minors, and so the straight major scale sounds a little bland to my ears. I'm hoping to get over that. Once you're comfortable with a single chord, try creating a new backing track with a second chord added. Perhaps the IV or the VII (in G Mixolydian this would be an F major). The I, IV, and the I, VII are both very good progressions for creating endless loops. Now you'll need to be comfortable with both the chord tones for the I and whichever of the other chords you choose. Only when you're confident that you know exactly where the harmonically strong chord tones are should you start to create little melodic phrases involving the other tones. I think that centering your melodies around harmonically strong chord tones really helps to give them meaning, and can stop you from placing weak harmonic tones on strong beats and inevitably wandering off into melodic meaninglessness.

Do Not Shred!

If you haven't developed basic phrasing by knowing where the harmonically strong tones are, or haven't become at least partly familiar with the unique flavors of the 12 tones, then shredding isn't a good idea. If you feel the need for speed, do it as a separate exercise because blasting around set patterns is no way to develop phrasing or get to know the unique qualities of each tone. I think I've waffled enough for one day. Hope this was interesting to someone other than myself.

4 comments sorted by best / new / date

    wow, great article - more interesting than the typical "play it slow til you play it fast" advice. found it facebook...keep it up. gotta love the practical application!
    This might be the most useful article on modes I've ever read. Thanks for opening up more music theory to me!
    I have been playing guitar lately, and I had started to notice this type of patterns related to the modes, and this article was pretty neat and cleared all questions I had about these patterns. It was really cool when you showed the other type of patterns we could find on this.