# A question on scales and modes.

Mick J
Registered User
Joined: 04/21/09
Posts: 39
06/18/2009 10:05 am
I have been reading through the content of this site and forum on music theory. Most things I understand but there is still one area that leaves me cold. You probably guessed it, that good old chestnut, "modes."

If you play in the key of C major in a parallel mode (and it doesn’t matter which one) but lets say for example in the Dorian mode. It then follows that the 3rd and 7th intervals of the scale will be moved down half a step so you would have a flat 3 and a flat 7, in this case E flat and B flat.
The notation will show the key signature as having 2 flats (E and B), which is essentially, the key of B flat.
So why is this called C Dorian and not B flat? If I were to take a major scale form (the E shape) and start it with root note on the 8th fret E string I would be playing a C major scale. Now if I were to drop that shape down 2 frets, what would I be playing, bearing in mind that I could cover 2 octaves over the 6 strings, B flat major or C Dorian?
Is it really as simple as “it depends on which note you start with,” would a solo piece played in C Dorian always have to start on the C note?
Apologies for any blatant stupidity but somewhere along the line I am not getting to grips with the concept (or the Point) of modes.
ChristopherSchlegel
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Joined: 08/09/05
Posts: 8,440
06/18/2009 1:24 pm
Originally Posted by: Mick JIf you play in the key of C major in a parallel mode (and it doesn’t matter which one) but lets say for example in the Dorian mode.[/quote]
The way you've set up the question here might be causing some of your confusion. To play in a "parallel mode" as you say is to imply a change of key signature. You seem to understand this because you go on to say:
Originally Posted by: Mick J
The notation will show the key signature as having 2 flats (E and B), which is essentially, the key of B flat.

Precisely. :)
[QUOTE=Mick J]
So why is this called C Dorian and not B flat?

Good question.

Answer: it IS the key of B-flat major. C Dorian is the second mode of the B-flat major scale.

However, here is where is gets a little more complex: what if you play the notes of C Dorian, but never play the B-flat major chord, or refer to the B-flat major scale?

Essentially, this is modal theory as distinguished from tonal theory.

Until and unless you include the I & V chord playing or implying a V-I cadence (a tonal cadence) you are playing modally. The issue is that merely playing a collecion of notes does not give you enough info to determine conclusively what mode or key you are necessarily using.

Suppose you only play the notes C and D. What key are you in? What mode? You've ruled out C Phrygian and Locrian along with C-sharp major, but it could still be a lot of different ones you are implying. But you won't know without more info.

Play these chords: C minor, G minor, F major. Then, play a melody over those chords using C Dorian, you are playing modally, implying that C is your root.

Now change the chords: C minor, F major, B-flat major. This is a ii-V-I progression. Play a melody over those chords using C Dorian, you are playing tonally in B-flat major using C Dorian as a position of B-flat major.

Make sense?

http://www.guitartricks.com/forum/showpost.php?p=222422&postcount=43

http://www.guitartricks.com/forum/showpost.php?p=222332&postcount=39

No need for apologies and you aren't asking stupid questions. These are advanced and often tricky concepts to get a handle on.
Christopher Schlegel
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Mick J
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Joined: 04/21/09
Posts: 39
06/19/2009 10:01 am
Certainly does make sense; my obvious blunder was not realising that playing in a parallel mode would “imply a change of key signature.”

Your second comment where you talk about the distinction between tonal and modal theory is an area that I would really like to fully understand. As an old tutor once told me, “set your goals!”
Well my goals these days are to be able to understand and even compose my own music.

I had a great book once by a guy called Warren Nunes and he covered some really cool sounding jazz chord progressions, I think he went into detail with this kind of theory in there. Unfortunately my head was too young and mixed up at the time to fully take it in. I wish I could find that book now.

Anyway, thanks for your reply, it turned on another little light on my journey.
ChristopherSchlegel
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Joined: 08/09/05
Posts: 8,440
06/19/2009 12:23 pm
Originally Posted by: Mick JCertainly does make sense[/quote]
Good deal!
Originally Posted by: Mick J
Your second comment where you talk about the distinction between tonal and modal theory is an area that I would really like to fully understand.

Having clearly defined goals is wonderful. It is an amazing, if complex area of music theory. Best of success with it. I am here if you have questions!
[QUOTE=Mick J]
I had a great book once by a guy called Warren Nunes ...
I wish I could find that book now.

Any of these look familiar?

http://www.amazon.com/Jazz-Guitar-Chord-Bible-Complete/dp/0769279724
http://www.alibris.com/search/books/author/Nunes,%20Warren
Christopher Schlegel
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Mick J
Registered User
Joined: 04/21/09
Posts: 39
06/20/2009 10:15 am
I don't think it was either of those, the first one is too recent (1999). The title of the second one doesn't ring any bells, but thanks anyway.

I will certainly take you up on your offer of help but generally I try to work through things myself. When I get really stuck, I will come knocking:)
Wallimann
Registered User
Joined: 04/01/07
Posts: 2
06/24/2009 6:21 pm
I'll just jump in to this by sharing a few high quality backing tracks designed to help you hear the modes as you develop your phrasing:
www.guitarplayback.com
Mick J
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Joined: 04/21/09
Posts: 39
06/25/2009 3:30 pm
Added that to my favourites. Could be very useful.

Over the last few days I have been reading up on the analyses of different musical compositions. It’s all very well someone saying to me “that piece was written in D Dorian!” Until I actually know the tune well, I feel none the wiser, but by studying this I am starting to get a feel for the modal influences in music.
Alan Pollack has done this on the entire Beatles catalogue! (Now there’s dedication for you!) I only pick out the tunes that are of interest to me personally and although the writer is, at times, overly verbose, if you can cut through the waffle, it is informative. (It is also Beatlemania taken to the extreme!)

http://www.torvund.net/guitar/index.php?page=Pl_main

Is this way over the top, am I in danger of becoming a total anorak or do other people find it interesting?
ChristopherSchlegel
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Joined: 08/09/05
Posts: 8,440
06/25/2009 7:52 pm
Originally Posted by: Mick J
Over the last few days I have been reading up on the analyses of different musical compositions.[/quote]
Good deal! Hopefully, if you find it interesting, you can start to do the analysis yourself. I enjoy doing that very much.
Originally Posted by: Mick J
It’s all very well someone saying to me “that piece was written in D Dorian!” Until I actually know the tune well, I feel none the wiser, but by studying this I am starting to get a feel for the modal influences in music.

Great observation.

Until and unless you know what the word means, it is useless. This is why I am always insisting students make sure their theory is backed up by practice. And vice versa. :)

Until and unless a concept (or term, word, phrase) is actually connected to some concrete real-world object it is merely a floating abstraction and as such useless. In the case of music the real-world objects are auditory sounds!
[QUOTE=Mick J]
Is this way over the top, am I in danger of becoming a total anorak or do other people find it interesting?

I don't know what an anorak is. But it is way over the top, I find it interesting and I love it. :)
Christopher Schlegel
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Mick J
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Joined: 04/21/09
Posts: 39
06/26/2009 8:25 pm
Sorry about that. An “anorak” is a quilted, stuffed and stitched jacket designed for inclement weather wear, usually synonymous and favoured by hobbyists such as “train spotters.” People whose pursuit of their hobby involves standing on a freezing cold station platform gathering numbers and info on trains! The majority of the population cannot understand the fascination and because of that , the minority, who choose to pursue their own particular interests have (maybe unfairly) become branded as “anoraks.”

I only use train spotters as an example because the term has now become generally accepted to describe anyone that is so focused and engrossed in his/her own interest that they are in danger of boring the ass off their friends and colleagues! People run when they see them approaching!

Years ago, I took a girlfriend out for a day in London. We used trains and underground all the way and ended up in Covent Garden, which is famous for the buskers, so we became busker spotters rather than train spotters. We saw a fantastic skiffle band called the Gutter brothers. They portrayed their skills using washboard as percussion, tea chest, string and broomstick as bass and of course the obligatory guitar for rhythm, they were raw and they were fantastic! That day I vowed to write a song about our experience, (after all we ended up getting wed) so far nothing, because my musical knowledge is so limited. I intend to put that right.

For the record, I think Alan Pollack’s work is exemplary and should be exposed to anyone with a genuine interest in learning.

I guess that “anorak” is the English equivalent of the American word “Nerd.”;)