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Reply with quote  #1 

The reason I called it "Pandora's Box" is that this seemed to be a taboo topic with Ted.  'Modes vs. Scales' was always a point of contention with him and his common reponse was, "If we get into this, it will turn into an argument!" 


I guess my question is, why was Ted so set against modes?  I see a benefit in knowing both.  Ted tried to explain it to me more than once, but sometimes I am a little thick when it comes to understanding the reasoning behind it. 


If the chord changes are blowing by at a fairly fast pace, it makes sense to superimpose a mode over a batch of chord changes rather than think of each scale you would use over each chord individually, right? 



Reply with quote  #2 


I must say that I agree with Ted. The modal system uses one specific mode for each specific chord in a progression. Using the modal system requires breaking each of the 12 major scales into 7 modes each with its own fingering, creating 84 scales. I wrestled with this unsucessfully for years. It was just too cumbersome. When I attended GIT in the early 80s Howard Roberts explained the concept of Tonal Centers. In the space of about 20 minutes all the lights came on and I understood completely how the great jazz players navigated changes. Tonal Center thinking involves understanding cadences and what key you are in. This allows you to take the longer view and play over larger portions of the song instead of grappling with each chord as a separate entity.


Are modes useful? Yes, if you are playing a modal tune such as So What or Impressions. For playing over chord changes, tonal center thinking vastly simplifies the improvisational process.


The following quote appeared in the foreword to Chuck Wayne's Guitar Studies:Scales in 1996. 'To me, the silliness of modes updated into our 20th century is to apply something that was discarded in the 15th century. Back then they realized the inadeuacy of modes when they discovered the chromatic scale. The modes became nonsense and they discarded them. Now, because of players who are not properly schooled about chords or harmony there is a resurgence of modes."


Howard Roberts, Joe Pass, George Barnes, George Van Eps, Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian, Jimmy Raney and Tal Farlow didn't use modes. Chuck Wayne obviously didn't. Neither did Lester Young or Charlie Parker. Pat Martino, Johnny Smith and Bucky Pizzarelli don't use modes. 


I think scales as a whole are over-emphasised. Scales don't teach you to play melodies, they teach you to play scales. During my attendance at GIT a fellow student said to Howard Roberts "All my solos sound like someone running scales. How can I get them to sound better?" HR asked the guy what he practiced most. The student answered, "Scales." Howard said "If you only practice scales, your solos will sound like scales."


I realise that some folks will disagree with this and that's O.K. Learning Tonal Center thinking changed my musical life and I've taught Tonal Centers to a lot of students who wanted to learn to improvise on all types of music and the reaction is always the same. Wow, this is a lot easier than modes.


Regards, Jerome

Reply with quote  #3 


First of all, I obviously don't know how to spell "inadequecy".

Secondly, the last sentence of your post actually describes Tonal Center playing rather than modal playing.


For instance, given Em7-Am7-Dm7-G7-C why think (or play):

   E Phrygian-A Aolian-D Dorian-G Mixolydian-C Ionian

When you can think (and play)

     iii7-vi7-ii7-V7-I in the key of C. It's all C. Modes just clutters everything.


My Best,


Reply with quote  #4 

I still can't spell "inadequacy".




Skot Jakubiec
Reply with quote  #5 
Great post jerome-
 The less thinking involved, the easier for the music to get out. Thinking is for practicing.

Reply with quote  #6 

ok, so modes do not serve very well as scales to be used over chords when running changes.......however, that's not what modes are supposed to do anyway.  Modes can be very effective when used as keys, ie, the key of E lydian.  To create the key of E lydian, play a E major triad (with a E in the Bass) and a F# major triad (with a E in the bass).....for your melody, try using a E maj7#11 arpeggio over both chords.  That puts you in the key of E lydian.  Thats what the modes were supposed to be used for, and thats what Miles Davis did when he "reinvented" the modes in the late 50's, early 60's.  Now, getting back to that lydian progression (a I major to a II major).....E maj to F# major.  Try playing a B major scale (which is diatonic to E lydian) over those chords and watch what happens.  You still have the E lydian sound because the chord progression controls the sound.  The 4 modal keys most used are Lydian (I major to a II major)  Mixolydian (I major to a b7 major) Dorian (i minor to a ii minor) Phrygian (i minor to a b7 minor) can also extend the harmony beyond triads and systematically invert them.  (hey Ted, I hope I explained that right)

Reply with quote  #7 
Hey Jerome,

Really like your thoughts against modes, I too think they can cloud your thinking....could you expand more on the tonal centre way of playing as I think a few of us would like to hear your thoughts.


Reply with quote  #8 

O.K. Here goes...

There are two types of cadence, a Major Cadence & a Minor Cadence.

The Major Cadence, iim7-V7-I, is derived from the Major Scale.

The Minor Cadence, iim7b5-V7b9-i, is derived from the Harmonic Minor Scale.

The Major Cadence can be identified as:

1. iim7-V7-I

2. V7-I

3. iim7-V7

The Minor Cadence can be identified as:

1. iim7b5-V7b9-i

2. V7b9-i

3. iim7b5-V7b9

For the key of C, we have Dm7-G7-C, G7-C or Dm7-G7. For C minor, we have Dm7b5-G7b9-Cm, G7b9-Cm or Dm7b5-G7b9.

The Dominant 7 defines the Major Key, more so than the Tonic. A major key contains two Major chords which can function as either I or IV in two keys. Likewise, there are three Minor chords which can be the ii, ii or vi in three keys. But in any Major key there is only one Dominant 7th, which resolves up a fourth to the Tonic. Each Dominant 7 has a companion minor 7th a fifth below, built on the second degree of the scale, iim7. Taken as a whole or in pairs, the 12 Major Cadences each identify a specific major key.

Historically, early composers were frustrated by the lack of a Dominant 7 when composing in minor keys. The minor chord on the fifth degree of the natural minor scale lacked the tension that demanded resolution to the tonic. Dominant 7th chords, because of the tri-tone interval between the 3 & b7, create more tension than any other chord. This dissonance needs to resolve up a fourth to the tonic.

It became common practice to sharp the seventh degree of the natural minor scale providing a leading tone and creating a V7, with the necessary tri-tone, that resolved strongly up to the tonic minor. The creation of this scale solved the "harmonic" problems associated with minor key composition and was named Harmonic Minor.

Typically in improvisation, the Harmonic Minor is used over the iim7b5-V7b9, then resolves to Natural Minor on the tonic.


Once you identify the Tonal Centers in Jazz Tunes & Standards everything else falls into place and starts to get easier.

All this stuff is about playing over chord changes. This means the harmonies are functional. It works for diatonic sevenths or triadic harmony. If you are playing rock, country or bluegrass where you are dealing with only major and minor chords, you can still ascertain a key center and improvise accordingly.

Hopefully, this makes sense and someone finds it helpful. I will try to post some examples and analyses in the next few days. If anyone has questions or comments, e-Mail me.

Regards to All,


Reply with quote  #9 

Thanks Jerome,


Looks like I may have reversed the two concepts, tonal centers and modes.  I'll find a song with a non-diatonic progression and demonstrate how I would parse it up.  Then, you can tell me if I am talking tonal centers or modes.  And I will not be selecting a tune from "All Blues".





Reply with quote  #10 


Regarding the first sentence of your post. I don't have "thoughts against modes". As I stated in my first post on this thread, modes are great for playing modal tunes and vamps. They just don't work for me when playing over changes. In the hands of someone like Miles Davis, a supreme melodicist in whatever style or format he played, modes were a melodic tool that he used specifically to break away from playing changes. Kind Of Blue has my vote for the Best Album of the 20th Century for content, cohesiveness, performance and artistic vision. It was also just one phase of a long inventive, productive career for Miles. 


Modes started getting a lot of press in the guitar magazines back in the 70s. In those days, it was always in the context of navigating chord changes and as I said earlier I tried it. It was too cumbersome for me. On a tune like So What you're only dealing with D Dorian and Eb Dorian for 8 to 16 bars at a time. At a slow tempo. No problem. In tonal music you might have two chords in every measure. At medium and up tempos. No way. At least not for me.


I've been playing guitar for 40 years. Every day I get up and look forward to whatever new morsel of knowledge may be coming my way to help make playing easier and better. I've heard, in person, both Joe Pass and Chet Atkins state that they were always looking for the easiest to play things. It makes sense to me.


Music publishers and guitar magazines have one agenda. To Sell Product. Month after month you will see the same thing over and over. Modes this. Scales that. Jazz scales. Jazz modes. Rock scales. Rock modes.

Scales do have a place and use. But it isn't to teach you how to improvise or play (or create) melodies.


Think about all of the guitar players you personally know in your area who are slaves to scales & modes. I'd wager that in the bunch there's more noodles than a chinese restaurant.  


As I said earlier, I've got 40 years in the trenches as a working player and teacher. If I can save someone who has only been playing for a few years from some of the frustration that I felt or shed a small light on a concept, then it's been a great day.

My Best,


Reply with quote  #11 

Joe and Chet were looking for the easiest way to play things. Somebody needs to invent Omitted Word check!

Koek Wei Chew
Reply with quote  #12 

I should mentioned here that modes is primarily a device to create tonal colors within changes; as a composition student thinking of modes would be more useful as I can create different modulations and progressions within an implied harmony, I can also create changes by employing the tool of modal substitution.


But it still can be used on improvisation, for instance a II-V-I in Major, instead of thinking Ionian harmony, I can think of it as Lydian, the V chord would be min7b5 but it would still be correct as the b5=#11 is existent in Lydian Dominant which is the fifth mode of harmonic minor, I can imply 2 harmony in a simple change. By implying the harmony I can know of the appropriate chord tensions that I can add or manipulate.


I used to rejected the idea of modes too, but it was until I discovered the music of Okazaki Ritsuko; she often interchange between harmonic minor and lydian major harmony creating some sweet sounding yet tricky changes.


Most traditionalist like Joe Pass thinks of scales, but Bill Evans think of modes, I believed Chick Corea think of modes too. It was a much difficult and cubersome way to think, but it was interesting to explore it for a much modern sound.


Still I am experimenting it on compositions mainly, but I can cope with that thinking by playing some interesting harmonizations of rock and pop tunes.

Reply with quote  #13 

Lydian Dominant is the Fourth mode of Melodic Minor. The Fifth mode of Harmonic Minor is called Phrygian Major. To imply is to hint at or indirectly refer to. I would argue that nothing in music is implied. It's either stated or it isn't. Function is everything.



Koek Wei Chew
Reply with quote  #14 

I agree with the notion of functionality, but I don't see it bad to think of modes at times permitted.

Music theory is just theory, not rules. I don't see it bad if we can try it further.

Reply with quote  #15 

Question:  B Phrygian Major (or B Spanish Phrygian) over the changes B7 to C B Phrygian Major still the 5th mode of e harmonic minor?

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