Pitch axis theory

Guitar Tricks Forum > Music Theory > Pitch axis theory

Jolly McJollyson

Chick Magnet

Joined: 09/07/03

Posts: 5457

Anyone not familiar with Pitch Axis Theory should take a look at this thread, because the technique is invaluable to guitar players of every genre.

First of all, let it be understood that this is written with a certain amount of foreknowledge assumed on the reader's part. Here are the modes without any sharps or flats:

Aeolian: A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A
Locrian: B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B
Ionian: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C
Dorian: D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D
Phrygian: E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E
Lydian: F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F
Mixolydian: G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G

Now that the order of steps in each mode can be easily seen, the dissertation on pitch axis theory can begin.

Pitch Axis is the rotation between various modes on a single root note. The root note, let's say the pitch is "A," will act as an axis around which the modes rotate. It's a fairly simple concept, but realizing its potential can unlock new levels of guitarplaying, and can break guitarists out of boxes they don't even realize they're in. Let's first deal with a I-IV-V progression. We'll use powerchords here for simplicity, because complexity is simply unnecessary this early in the explanation, and is honestly best left up to the learner to test himself with, not the teacher to preach.

In A, a I-IV-V powerchord progression looks like this: A5-D5-E5, and the notes there are A-D-E-B. So, this set of notes contains the root, A, and a perfect fourth, a perfect fifth, and a major second from that note. Which of these modes contain that? Aeolian, Ionian, Dorian, and Mixolydian. Add the major pentatonic, the minor pentatonic, the minor blues, the major blues, and a japanese scale or two and the possibilities are nigh on limitless.

Please note I'm making this sticky simply because the concept is so ludicrously simple that there's no excuse not to know it. This is not actually something I'd really bring up in a "serious" theory discussion because "Pitch Axis Theory" isn't a complex theory so much as it is "obvious." The reason I say "obvious" is this: all there is to it is using multiple modes that have the same root. To be honest, the notes in the modes don't even have to fit over EVERY note in your chord progression. For instance, in an A blues progression (Amaj7, Dmaj7, Emaj7) I often play Adorian. The whole "theory" behind blues is basically playing a minor scale over a major progression, anyway. Obviously some notes should be GRACE notes, and others should be held.
I want the bomb
I want the P-funk!

My band is better than yours...

#1

Anyone not familiar with Pitch Axis Theory should take a look at this thread, because the technique is invaluable to guitar players of every genre.

First of all, let it be understood that this is written with a certain amount of foreknowledge assumed on the reader's part. Here are the modes without any sharps or flats:

Aeolian: A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A
Locrian: B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B
Ionian: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C
Dorian: D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D
Phrygian: E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E
Lydian: F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F
Mixolydian: G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G

Now that the order of steps in each mode can be easily seen, the dissertation on pitch axis theory can begin.

Pitch Axis is the rotation between various modes on a single root note. The root note, let's say the pitch is "A," will act as an axis around which the modes rotate. It's a fairly simple concept, but realizing its potential can unlock new levels of guitarplaying, and can break guitarists out of boxes they don't even realize they're in. Let's first deal with a I-IV-V progression. We'll use powerchords here for simplicity, because complexity is simply unnecessary this early in the explanation, and is honestly best left up to the learner to test himself with, not the teacher to preach.

In A, a I-IV-V powerchord progression looks like this: A5-D5-E5, and the notes there are A-D-E-B. So, this set of notes contains the root, A, and a perfect fourth, a perfect fifth, and a major second from that note. Which of these modes contain that? Aeolian, Ionian, Dorian, and Mixolydian. Add the major pentatonic, the minor pentatonic, the minor blues, the major blues, and a japanese scale or two and the possibilities are nigh on limitless.

Please note I'm making this sticky simply because the concept is so ludicrously simple that there's no excuse not to know it. This is not actually something I'd really bring up in a "serious" theory discussion because "Pitch Axis Theory" isn't a complex theory so much as it is "obvious." The reason I say "obvious" is this: all there is to it is using multiple modes that have the same root. To be honest, the notes in the modes don't even have to fit over EVERY note in your chord progression. For instance, in an A blues progression (Amaj7, Dmaj7, Emaj7) I often play Adorian. The whole "theory" behind blues is basically playing a minor scale over a major progression, anyway. Obviously some notes should be GRACE notes, and others should be held.
I want the bomb
I want the P-funk!

My band is better than yours...