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A modal question

Posted by Rex Hamilton III 
A modal question
December 18, 2018 07:11AM

Just a couple of questions as I think I am confusing myself even though I have a good grasp of modes in general (though these questions will make you doubt that!)

I understand that modes are their own entity – with their own intervals and dominant tones/chords – and thus B phrygian and G ionian sound very different despite utilising the same 7 notes.
I also understand that when playing in a mode, the root note and the 1, 3, 5 of the root chord become the strongest notes and those you want to resolve to.

Where things get a little unclear is as follows (we’ll use G and it’s modes):

When learning modes in series (the worst method IMO – parallel is best) we learn G to G over a G chord is ionian, A to A over Am is dorian, B to B over Bm is phrygian etc. so with that said:

1) Do you have to start on the root note to be in a certain mode? So whilst D to D over a D chord is D mixolydian – is it still D mixolydian if I play a run/scale starting on G or A?
My understanding is that it should do because the intervals, and the prominence of the D, F# and A notes will still be evident as the notes – be it a 1 octave scale, 2 octave scale, or even ½ an octave?
I would also expect it to still be mixolydian because even though not starting on or resolving to D, many of the notes are strong in relation to the D maj chord – (1, 3, 5, 7 example).

Furthermore I expect the mode to be the same because, despite what the theory books teach us about modes, it’s highly unlikely we’re ever going to play a scale from root to root – very unlikely we’re going to play D, E, F#, G, A, B, C, D over a D chord – because as musicians we plays runs and licks and passages that sound good rather than complete full octaves.

If my above understanding is correct, and it’s not a matter of what the root/end note is but rather the notes played over the chord and how they sound as a result, then the below question has already been answered:

2) G to G over a G maj chord is G ionian and if my understanding above is correct then D to D over G maj is also G ionian – as is E to E, B to B, C to C etc. But if I am NOT correct then what mode is it if I play the notes of G maj over a G chord but starting on the various root notes (ie: B to B, E to E, A to A)?

3) If my understanding in 1) is correct then G to G over a D maj chord is s D mixolydian but as D is a chord of G maj, is it ever just a simple case of G ionian? If I played the G scale over the I, IV, V progression of G, C and D I’d be soloing in G ionian despite – when we isolate the D chord – playing
Re: A modal question
December 27, 2018 08:50AM
Hi, I’ve been wanting to reply to this for days but sherry got the better of me.

Your question is expressed well by your first sentence - “Do you have to start on the root note to be in a certain mode?”

The answer depends on if you are talking about actual music, or about scales.

If actual music, the answer is of course NO. Drunken Sailor is in Dorian, and the first note “Hooray” is on the 5th degree of the scale, not the tonic.

But that’s an actual piece of music. In the case of a scale (which comes from Scala, meaning ladder), the convention is for the first and last rung to be the tonic. By default. So if you are “playing scales”, then yes you start on the tonic, so B phrygian starts and ends on the B. If you try to play A Dorian scale starting and ending on E, you will actually be playing an E Aeolian scale. That’s the name of that scale and there is no other name for it.

Note, there are some pieces that are bounted, top and bottom, by a note that isn’t the tonic. The Skye Boat song for example, starts on the low dominant (“speed”) and goes as high as the dominant above (“wing”), but that doesn’t alter the fact that those notes are dominants and that the tonic is on the words “boat” and “Skye”.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/27/2018 08:58AM by Viz. (view changes)
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