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Intermediate Theory Request #3 - Modal Scales

Intermediate Theory

Andrei Moraru

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  • Nov 11, 2019
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    1. Topics of discussion

    In this lesson, we will discuss modal scales. So, get on the square and on the level, and let's go.

    2. Modal scales explained

    Modal scales (or modes) are some special scales that follow different rules than regular major and minor scales. The easiest way to understand them though is in relation to a major scale.

    Let's consider the C major scale. The notes of it are, in order, C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. However, what would happen if we played the same notes, but started on D? We would get D, E, F, G, A, B, and C. In other words, we get a scale that kind of looks like a D minor scale, but isn't, because the regular minor scale formula does not apply to it.

    The scale we just got is called a D Dorian scale. Dorian scales are formed by playing the notes of a major scale, starting on the second note of that particular scale.

    The same process can be applied for all the other notes of the scale, including the root note. That's right, the major scale itself is a modal scale. It's called the Ionian mode or Ionian scale.

    Since there are 7 different notes in a major scale, we have 7 different modal scales as a result:
    • Ionian scale - it's basically the major scale (for C major, that would be the C major scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, and B)
    • Dorian scale - formed by playing the notes of the major scale starting from the second note (for C major, that would be the D Dorian scale: D, E, F, G, A, B, and C)
    • Phrygian scale - formed by playing the notes of the major scale starting from the third note (For C major, that would be the E Phrygian scale: E, F, G, A, B, C, and D)
    • Lydian scale - formed by playing the notes of the major scale starting from the fourth note (For C major, that would be the F Lydian scale: F, G, A, B, C, D, and E)
    • Mixolydian scale - formed by playing the notes of the major scale starting from the fifth note (For C major, that would be the G Mixolydian scale: G, A, B, C, D, E, and F)
    • Aeolian scale - formed by playing the notes of the major scale starting from the sixth note (For C major, that would be the A Aeolian scale: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G); note that this is basically the relative minor scale for the C major scale
    • Locrian scale - formed by playing the notes of the major scale starting from the seventh note (For C major, that would be the B Locrian scale: B, C, D, E, F, G, and A)
    Remember the 7 positions of the major scale? Well, by playing each and every position of it, you're basically playing the modes for that major scale:

    7 forms.jpg
    3. Modal scale formulas

    Much like how major scales and minor scales have formulas based on the tonal distance between notes. so too do modes. Let's take a look at them:
    • Ionian scale: W-W-H-W-W-W-H
    • Dorian scale: W-H-W-W-W-H-W
    • Phrygian scale: H-W-W-W-H-W-W
    • Lydian scale: W-W-W-H-W-W-H
    • Mixolydian scale: W-W-H-W-W-H-W
    • Aeolian scale: W-H-W-W-H-W-W
    • Locrian scale: H-W-W-H-W-W-W
    As per usual, W stands for whole step, which means 2 frets on your guitar, while H stands for half-step, which is 1 fret on your guitar

    4. Around the fretboard

    The 7 ways of playing major scales from above are not the only way in which you can play these little creatures. In another thread, we talked about the CAGED system for major scales. And guess what, since modal scales make use of the same damn notes the major scales makes use of, once you figure out the CAGED system forms for the major scales of your choosing, those shapes are the same ones you can use for the modal scales as well.

    The only difference is where we consider the root note to be. And of course, what is the C form for the C major scale will have a totally different name for one of the modal scales. Honestly though, unless you're planning on taking some musical course designed by the musical equivalent of Sheldon Cooper, I wouldn't worry about the correspondence. Just make sure you use the correct CAGED forms based on your selected major scale.

    And if by accident you hit a note outside of those, hey, you're adding color to your playing by adding chromatic tones.

    Anyhow, here's the CAGED system forms for the C major scale. I also included the chord shape used to determine the name of the form:

    C form

    C major_C form.png
    A form

    C major_A form.png
    G form

    C major_G form.png

    E form

    05. C major - E form.png


    D form

    C major_D form.png

    That about covers it for this one.
     

    Dominik Gräber

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  • Nov 11, 2019
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    Cool lesson! What I don't get is, why bother with the naming? Why Not call it a c Major scale anyway If the notes don't Change? If you actually Play or write something you won't strictly Run through your scale pattern anyway.
    The only benefit I See right now is making it clear what your root is. But that seems Like an overly complicated way to do it.
     

    Chris Johnston

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  • Nov 11, 2019
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    Cool lesson! What I don't get is, why bother with the naming? Why Not call it a c Major scale anyway If the notes don't Change? If you actually Play or write something you won't strictly Run through your scale pattern anyway.
    The only benefit I See right now is making it clear what your root is. But that seems Like an overly complicated way to do it.

    The reason there are different modal names is because they actually represent completely different sounds - when you use different chords from the C Major Key underneath them. So they don't always act strictly as a C Major Scale.

    Like if you were to play the scale over an Fmajor chord, it would sound like F Lydian, because your ear would hear F as the new root note. If you were to play the scale over a D minor chord it would sound like D Dorian because your ear switches to hearing D as the new root and so on for all of the Modes.

    Basically, the harmony underneath the scale is what makes it sound like a particular mode.

    - Try playing the scale over this backing track and you'll get F lydian all day long!
     
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