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A La Mode

May 31, 2017

You may have heard the word “Mode” or “Modes” used in musical circles, paricularly in relation to soloing or improvising. Once thought of as reserved for classical composors or jazz improvisors, modes are a very useful tool for us mere mortals too!

A mode is essentially a variation on the major scale, the fundemental building block of modern music. There are seven modes and each has a latin name and a particular position within the scale.

In order, they are…. Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Lochrian.

The Ionian is the regular major scale that we know and love and the other 6 can be thought of as the same major scale but starting and finishing on different degrees. In other words, if I – VIII is the Ionian mode (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C in C major) II – IX (D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D) is the Dorian mode. Due to the arrangement of intervals within each mode, they have a particular sound and are used over particular chords or keys.

For example, the Mixolydian mode fits beautifully over a dominant 7 chord and the Aeolian mode is also the natural minor scale.

Modes can be used to create melodies, bass lines, solos or improvisations and the theory extends to any instrument. Learning all 7 takes a little time but with practice, you can unlock the harmonic possibilities of your chosen instrument and pick out those ‘sexy’ notes that you hear other musicians use so effectively.

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