Modes and semantics

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mark96

Modes and semantics

Post by mark96 » Sun Nov 30, 2008 1:03 pm

I have entered the world of modes, both from a classical and blues perspective. I get confused on semantics and need some help clarifying.

The guitar is standardly tuned in C Major, its key, AND in the Phrygian mode -- it starts on E (the third, then a halfstep, followed by 3 whole steps, a halfstep, then 2 whole steps back to E -- the Phrygian pattern).

YET, I have people tell me "Play A Phrygian", so I slide over to C# and start the Phrygian pattern. "No, A Phrygian, start on A and play the Phrygian mode". OK, I get it, but seems their "A Phrygian" is really the Phrygian mode of F Major.

How should this stuff be interpreted, or do I need to negotiate terminology with every guitarist?

Mark

sulponticello

Re: Modes and semantics

Post by sulponticello » Sun Nov 30, 2008 1:09 pm

A phrygian is the F major scale, only beginning on A.

The phrygian mode is always the third mode of a diatonic major scale.

But it is nice to also know the structure; the structure for the phrygian mode is:

R b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 R


So, take any major scale, and run it through this structure, and you will be playing the phrygian scale.

e.g. to play E phrygian, take the E major scale, and flatten the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th notes.

sulponticello

Re: Modes and semantics

Post by sulponticello » Sun Nov 30, 2008 1:19 pm

PS what do you mean by the guitar being tuned in C major?

The open strings on the guitar could be considered to be derived from numerous major scales.

pmiklitz
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Re: Modes and semantics

Post by pmiklitz » Sun Nov 30, 2008 1:34 pm

sulponticello wrote:So, take any major scale, and run it through this structure, and you will be playing the phrygian scale. e.g. to play E phrygian, take the E major scale, and flatten the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th notes.
Or, much easier, play a C major scale and start on e instead of c.

Peter
Dringt durch des Aberglaubens Nacht, die Euch zu finstern Köpfen macht. Christian Fürchtegott Gellert (1715 - 1769)

sulponticello

Re: Modes and semantics

Post by sulponticello » Sun Nov 30, 2008 1:37 pm

no it is much easier to think of the actual scale structure

If you play jazz and do a lot of improvising, thinking in dual terms (e.g. which scale the mode is derived from) gives you one extra step in the mind, and as such, the improvising can be 'stalled' slightly.

Modes really become understandable when one begins to see them independent of the major scale they are derived from.

Thinking of them in terms of their relative major scale is only valid to a point.


I understand where you are coming from, and it is good to a point, but eventually one should know the E ionian, dorian, phrygian, lydian etc etc at the drop of a hat. And thinking in terms of other scales can be a hindrance.

If the formulas for each mode are learned, then all that one needs to know is the 12 diatonic major scales, and they can interchange between modes far quicker.

e.g. if a piece is E lydian, to B phrygian, to A dorian, to D aeolian, it is far easier to apply the scale structure for each mode to the relative ,major scale, as the mode is moving too much.


Ultimately, on the guitar, one wants to think of every scale on it's own terms.

By thinking of modes in relative terms, you can trap yourself in your thinking of harmony far easier.



PS Peter I did add to begin with that the phrygian mode is the third mode of the major scale.

mark96

Re: Modes and semantics

Post by mark96 » Sun Nov 30, 2008 1:46 pm

sulponticello wrote:A phrygian is the F major scale, only beginning on A.

The phrygian mode is always the third mode of a diatonic major scale.

But it is nice to also know the structure; the structure for the phrygian mode is:

R b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 R


So, take any major scale, and run it through this structure, and you will be playing the phrygian scale.

e.g. to play E phrygian, take the E major scale, and flatten the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th notes.
There are two ways to consider the modes, one is as you have described, but if you look at it from a structural perspective:

W - wholestep, two semitones
h - halfstep, one semitone
numbers are relative to root and played in the corresponding step

Ionic (Major)
WWhWWWh
12345671

Dorian
WhWWWhW
23456712

Phrygian
hWWWhWW
34567123

Lydian
WWWhWWh
45671234

Mixolydian
WWhWWhW
56712345

Aeolian (minor)
WhWWhWW
67123456

Locrian
hWWhWWW
71234567

Which shows that the modes do not alter but honors the key. The Phrygian mode of the key of C Major is EFGABCDE (34567123 -- hWWWhWW). Now you see the quandry: you are saying "E Phyrgian" means to play E Major with the steps associated with the Phrygian mode -- hWWWhWW, which you will find works out to be the diminished 2367 you cite above.

"E Phrygian" is (or appears to be) also correctly interpreted as G# A B C# D# E F# G# (34567123), as the Phrygian mode of E Major.

If your interpretation of the matter is correct, or most common, then you have answered my initial question, and the rest is academic.

Mark

sulponticello

Re: Modes and semantics

Post by sulponticello » Sun Nov 30, 2008 1:51 pm

Mark learning the intervallic structure (e.g. W H) is too complex - you will have hundreds of patterns in your head to remember. Your thinking of the E phrygian issue isn't correct.


Best to know all the major scales, and just remember the modal structures.

I'll list them for you:

ionian = the major scale

dorian = b3 and b7

phrygian = b2 b3, b6 and b7

lydian = #4

mixolydian = b7

aeolian = b3 b6 b7

locrian = b2 b3 b5 b6 and b7


This is by far the easiest method of learning the modes, as there is less to remember this way.


for example - if you want the C lydian scale, just take C major, and sharpen the 4th degree. C lydian = C D E F# G A B C

mark96

Re: Modes and semantics

Post by mark96 » Sun Nov 30, 2008 2:01 pm

sulponticello wrote:Mark learning the intervallic structure (e.g. W H) is too complex - you will have hundreds of patterns in your head to remember. Your thinking of the E phrygian issue isn't correct.


Best to know all the major scales, and just remember the modal structures.

I'll list them for you:

ionian = the major scale

dorian = b3 and b7

phrygian = b2 b3, b6 and b7

lydian = #4

mixolydian = b7

aeolian = b3 b6 b7

locrian = b2 b3 b5 b6 and b7


This is by far the easiest method of learning the modes, as there is less to remember this way.
I respectfully disagree: the intervals just slide "one to the right" for each mode, and what you cite are not really "flats" but diminished notes, which vary with each key. I mean, I could do both, easily enough, but the semantic issue remains, and it seems saying "E Phrygian means playing E Major with diminished 2367" separates scales/keys from the modes, whereas I THOUGHT modes were an integral part of the scale/key. This is where I struggle from a theory perspective, not in merely knowing the fingering of the modes.

Your view is a common view, BTW, and I am trying to harmonize what I thought I understood modes to be as they relate to scales/key.

Mark

sulponticello

Re: Modes and semantics

Post by sulponticello » Sun Nov 30, 2008 2:08 pm

Your thinking of intervals is wrong.

If you are thinking in intervallic terms, then the intervals are minor, and not diminished. When a perfect interval is flattened it is called a diminished interval. You are flattening a major interval - a flattened major interval is called a minor interval.

I was intentionally seperating the keys from the modes, as this is the best way to think of them.

However, in simple terms - a mode is derived by displacing the starting point of a scale without changing it's interval formula. e.g. if we take C major and start on a note other than C, we have a mode of the C major scale.

The important part to realise when thinking in relative terms is that relative to the relative major scale, the intervallic structure hasn't been altered in any way.

What makes the, for example, phrygian mode have a b2 b3 etc is that when we compare a phrygian mode to its' relative major scale (e.g. comparing E phrygian to E major), we have altered the structure accordingly.

The modal structures are relative to the major scale.

cravo_e_canela

Re: Modes and semantics

Post by cravo_e_canela » Sun Nov 30, 2008 2:16 pm

thank you for the remarks, sulponticello, your way of thinking sounds a useful base for actually playing!
i have problems with modes when trying to improvise over jazz chords: too complicated! too many possible scales!

mark96

Re: Modes and semantics

Post by mark96 » Sun Nov 30, 2008 3:17 pm

sulponticello wrote:Your thinking of intervals is wrong.

If you are thinking in intervallic terms, then the intervals are minor, and not diminished. When a perfect interval is flattened it is called a diminished interval. You are flattening a major interval - a flattened major interval is called a minor interval.

I was intentionally seperating the keys from the modes, as this is the best way to think of them.

However, in simple terms - a mode is derived by displacing the starting point of a scale without changing it's interval formula. e.g. if we take C major and start on a note other than C, we have a mode of the C major scale.

The important part to realise when thinking in relative terms is that relative to the relative major scale, the intervallic structure hasn't been altered in any way.

What makes the, for example, phrygian mode have a b2 b3 etc is that when we compare a phrygian mode to its' relative major scale (e.g. comparing E phrygian to E major), we have altered the structure accordingly.

The modal structures are relative to the major scale.
My thinking on intervals as they relate to modes of keys is absolutely correct.

It seems to me you are saying we are both correct, technically ("...intentionally separating keys from the modes...", "However, in simple terms..."), but the common usage of modes is as it is compared to its relative Major. Correct? Is this the majority opinion? If so, then when someone says to play something "A Phrygian", I will know to play A Major with diminished 2367. Correct?

I am not trying to argue, I am trying to arrive at what is the commonly understood usage of mode descriptions so i can adjust my thinking accordingly.

Thank you for your discussion,

Mark

KenK

Re: Modes and semantics

Post by KenK » Sun Nov 30, 2008 3:40 pm

A couple hints if you're trying to understand modes.

It's better if you study them in way where the differences between them are obvious.
Simply play them all w/ the same root note. (E dorian, E phrygian, E lydian etc.)
Yes, you will rarely do this in a real playing situation, but there is no better way to really learn what makes them tick.

If you play them in a "home" key, (D dorian,E phrygian,F lydian) you may not hear what's really going on.

To learn how they work w/ chords in a given key, practice through a cycle of chords moving by 4ths.
In "C" , do this w/ any rhythm you like:

A min - Aeolian VIm
D min - Dorian IIm
G dom - Mixolydian V7
C maj - Ionian I (tonic)
F maj - Lydian IV
B half dim - Locrian VIIø
E dom (a different key- Its the V7 of A min)
A min

When you have this do it in a different key.
I'd be happy to know if this helps anyone.

Ken

KenK

Re: Modes and semantics

Post by KenK » Sun Nov 30, 2008 3:47 pm

mark96 wrote:
My thinking on intervals as they relate to modes of keys is absolutely correct.

It seems to me you are saying we are both correct, technically ("...intentionally separating keys from the modes...", "However, in simple terms..."), but the common usage of modes is as it is compared to its relative Major. Correct? Is this the majority opinion? If so, then when someone says to play something "A Phrygian", I will know to play A Major with diminished 2367. Correct?

I am not trying to argue, I am trying to arrive at what is the commonly understood usage of mode descriptions so i can adjust my thinking accordingly.

Thank you for your discussion,

Mark
Hi Mark-

You've got the right idea but we wouldn't use the term "diminished".
Instead we'd say "flat second, flat third etc."
In practical usage, the term "diminished" is used for chords.

Kris

Re: Modes and semantics

Post by Kris » Sun Nov 30, 2008 5:18 pm

I have struggled with modes all my life :) Not understanding them, but understanding how to use them. I think all my problems arose from the fact I was taught to think of them based on their relative major key. For example, "A phrygian is the F major scale, only beginning on A". So, when I was improvising, my mind was subconsciously in F Major, and this gave the melody a Major flavor, not a Phrygian flavor. I wasn't getting the whole point of modes.

It wasn't until I started thinking of them as alteration and listening to how they sound and what mood they produce that I started to understand how to use them. I played A Major, followed by A Phrygian, and once I understood what made the Phrygian produce its mood, I could accentuate those notes in my improvisation.

When you play in C Minor you don't think Eb Major and start on the C, you play the C Major with a flattened third. Why would I do it differently with modes? Why was I taught to do it differently??? :roll:

I still suck at improvising with modes, but I suck less than before :)

pacifica

Re: Modes and semantics

Post by pacifica » Sun Nov 30, 2008 5:33 pm

nice discussion,

i've always had problems in memorising modes. Ken, I will try your method and let you know.

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