How to Bring Out The Characteristic Sound of Each Mode


By Vishaal Kapoor


Photo by Photo by Salemi Wenda on Unsplash

Once you have an understanding of major and minor keys, the next step typically involves understanding modes. In this article we will be looking at the major and minor modes and not the diminished mode (Locrian) since you wonít typically be playing over a diminished key.

The easiest way to bring out the sound of each mode is to relate that mode back to its parent major or minor scale, then identify which notes in that mode have been altered. Major modes (Lydian and Mixolydian) are simply alterations of the major scale (Ionian) and minor modes (Dorian and Phrygian) are alterations of the minor scale (Aeolian).

Moving forward, we will use the major scale degrees 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 and minor scale degrees 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7. Each modeís scale degrees will be compared to either the major and minor scale degrees.

Dorian

Dorian is the 2nd mode of a major key and is a minor mode. Therefore, you will need to compare its scale degree to the minor scale degree.

Minor: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
Dorian: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7

Compared to the minor scale, the dorian scale has a raised or sharp 6. You can think of the 6th note in the dorian scale as the dorian note. Emphasizing that note as and the movement between that note and the b7 while playing in a dorian key will bring out that dorian sound.

Phrygian

Phrygian is the 3rd mode of a major key and is also a minor mode. Therefore, you will need to compare its scale degree to the minor scale degree.

Minor: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
Phrygian: 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

Compared to the minor scale, the phrygian scale has a flat 2. You can call that note the phrygian note. That is the note which gives phrygian its characteristic sound. To bring out the phrygian sound all you need to do is emphasize the movement between the 1 and b2.

Lydian

Lydian is the 4th mode of a major key and is a major mode. Therefore, you will need to compare its scale degree to the major scale degree.

Major: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Lydian: 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7

Compared to the major scale, the lydian scale has a raised or sharp 4. That sharp 4 is the lydian note. Simply emphasizing that note over a lydian progression will bring out the sound of lydian.

Mixolydian

Mixolydian is the 5th mode of a major key and is also a major mode. Therefore, you will need to compare its scale degree to the major scale degree.

Major: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Mixolydian: 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7

Compared to the major scale, the mixolydian scale has a flat 7. The movement between the b7 up to the 1 (the root) is what gives mixolydian its characteristic sound.

Knowing which notes bring out the characteristics of each mode is only one piece of the puzzle. If you only play those notes then you risk sounding uninteresting or predictable. Use them tastefully and as an accompaniment to the other notes in the scale. Choose when and how to emphasize them. Use phrasing techniques over those notes to generate some new ideas.

Another way to sound melodic while emphasizing these modal characteristics is to play around with the half steps (2 notes which are a fret apart) in the scale. These half step movements generally sound very melodic and expressive. Use these approaches and take your modal playing to the next level!!!

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