by Chris Buono
Looking to expand your palette of single-note tonal colors? A great way to do so is to delve into modes and alternative scales. While that’s a worthy endeavor it’s rife with obstacles. Often guitarists don’t know really know what the new scale or mode is all about and as a result they don’t know where to apply them. Guitarists are often presented concepts related to scale study that seem too good to be true and in time prove to be just that. And, guitarists in becoming frustrated with said methods also never gain a full neck vision of these new sounds.
That all ends here: How to Play 5
This post and the accompanying video
Ionian is the modal name for the venerable major scale–a melodic and harmonic bearing device that has been the backbone of Western music for over five hundred years! The resultant organized group of notes breeds a simple, yet timeless sound that has created an innumerable amount of music. What ties each and every melody and/or chord progression composed in major is the overall good vibes. If that wasn’t enough, the major scale is also the parent scale to six other scales known as the church modes–many of which will be explored throughout this course.
Modes are much more than just scales starting on specific degrees of their parent scales. Every mode has a color unto itself that can be used by you to paint myriad audio images. The Dorian mode is the second mode of the diatonic modal system also known as the “church modes”. Therefore it’s built on the second degree of the parent major scale, which in this case is referred to as the Ionian scale. In order for Dorian to be part of the system the notes have to be exactly the same as the parent major scale’s notes. To do that a major built on the 2nd degree of the parent scale will have its 3rd and 7th degree lowered a half step. The resultant formula is as follows: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7.
Sometimes it takes just one note to define a mode or a group of mode’s sound. Phrygian, the third mode of the diatonic series is a perfect example of this with its flatted 2nd degree. Check it out: 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7. That b2 also is half of the defining tritone, which is set between b2 and 5. All in all, Phrygian has a borderline dark side, but a deceptively catchy feel, too. Phrygian is so connected to that b2 it goes as far as almost negating the root based chord Phrygian produces, which is a minor triad or m7 tetrad. Both chords do not deliver the Phrygian vibe because the b2/b9 element is not present. This is the first example of a mode whose sound is best recognized by a progression or vamp. One that has a bII to i instance of some sort.
Continuing the journey through the major modes this next series of segments focuses on the Lydian mode. Built on the 4th degree of the Ionian mode we hear a return to a major based sound. The formula is as follows: 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7. As you can see Lydian is only one note different than Ionian but the one alteration, the raised 4th degree, makes a huge impact. First, it’s the second half of the defining tritone interval that starts at the root of the scale. Sound-wise the #4 adds a spice to major that in many cases trumps the Ionian mode even when the chord you’re playing over is the tonic.
There are a few go-to scales that will provide the goods in myriad styles. One such example is the 5th mode of the major series, Mixolydian. Another simple formula closely related to Ionian the formula is as follows: 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7. Just like Lydian the single alteration does a world of good and brings about a hugely important sound. More often than not when a song set to a rock or blues-rock vibe is said to be in major it’s actually a Mixolydian tune as the melodies will have a b7 as opposed to a natural 7th and you’ll find many instances of a major chord built on the b7th (bVII) throughout.
How to Play 5