Modes Part 7 - a simple, manageable, step towards modal improvisation

Maybe it is time to get on with making some darn music.

Too right it is. Yes - it is time we turned our attention away from reading and towards doing. We need to pick up our guitars and play something for goodness sake! Make noise. Listen to the sounds. There has been a lot of explanation and not enough exploration so, let’s strap on groovy boots, tune up our guitars and let’s go modal!

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The first task is going to involve playing some simple, improvised leads over a chordal backing track. For the moment the backing tracks will comprise nothing but sustained tonic chords.

  • Ionian, Lydian and Mixolydian all share the same tonic chord of C major.
  • Aeolian, Dorian and Phrygian all share a C minor tonic.
  • Poor little Locrian is, I’m sad to say, a lonesome outlier and we will ignore it again.

To play our improvisations we will explore playing scale shapes on the guitar – one for each of six modes. To explore those scale shapes in a free-play, no rules, no restrictions kind of way. Apart, that is, from some very tight limitations on the total number of notes to use. We stick to the scale patterns provided and try not to stray from them. Not yet anyway – that comes later.

This imposed limitation will help us keep things simple, focussed and accessible as a starting point. The scale shapes are all in a similar place on the guitar fretboard with a one octave scale pattern to use and play with.

We need a simple backing track that plays just the appropriate tonic chord – either C major (for Ionian, Lydian and Mixolydian) or C minor (for Aeolian, Dorian and Phrygian). Make one yourself if you have a looper or DAW. I am providing a 32-bar (1 min 28 sec) backing track for both types to begin.

We will start the major modes with Ionian (THE major scale). The sound of the major scale should be such a familiar one that this will feel immediately safe and secure.

Then the other two major modes, Lydian and Mixolydian will follow. Each differs from the Ionian by just one note each. These will be the notes to pay special attention to and use - target notes to add the modal flavours.

When moving on to the minor modes, Aeolian (THE minor scale) is first up. This too should be familiar. The other two minor modes differ from it by just one note each. As above, these need to be targeted and used to bring out the unique character of each mode.

Let’s have at it!

Modal improvising with C Ionian

Yes – this is basically major scale improvising.

If you have followed any of Justin’s teaching on improvising with the major scale, this will be very familiar and comfortable territory. I encourage you to also watch the recent lesson on improvising with Re-Active Listening.

32 bar looped C major chord

Improvise using this scale pattern. The root note is red and all other notes are shown as black. Ionian is a major type so the major 3rd is a good choice to target. The sound of this should be recognisable to your ears.

Modal improvising with C Lydian

32 bar looped C major chord

Improvise using this scale pattern. Note the #4 ‘colour tone’ note is shown in purple on the neck diagram. This is what separates Lydian from Ionian so make a conscious effort to aim for this target note. Use your ears to discern how it impacts the sound and the overall vibe.

Modal improvising with C Mixolydian

32 bar looped C major chord

Improvise using this scale pattern. Note the b7 ‘colour tone’ note is shown in purple on the neck diagram. This single note is what separates Mixolydian from Ionian. Aim for it and, as before, use your ears when you play it to get a sense of its affect on the overall vibe.

Modal improvising with C Aeolian

32 bar looped C minor chord

Improvise using this scale pattern. Because this is THE minor scale no particular target note is selected as the colour tone. It is a minor type mode so the b3 should be included in the improvisation to bring out the minor quality.

Modal improvising with C Dorian

32 bar looped C minor chord

Improvise using this scale pattern. Note the natural 6 ‘colour tone’ which sets it apart from Aeolian. This is shown in purple on the neck diagram. Aim for this target note. Use your ears when you play it and try to detect the qualities it brings.

Modal improvising with C Phrygian

32 bar looped C minor chord

Improvise using this scale pattern. Note the b2 which sets it apart from Aeolian. This is shown in purple on the neck diagram. This is the note to give some attention to. How does it affect the feel of the improvisation? What special magic does it bring?

Finally music. I can let my brain relax. Or can I? :wink: Ok no modal meandering until after the OM.
:sunglasses:

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Breathe deeply, relax, unloose your brain from its daily workings, let your fingers and ears flow in sweet melodic bliss.
:relaxed:

Thank you Master Po.

A year on from round one and I think I am going find those boxes hard to stay in. I’ll put away the key to the door and stay in those modal cells, doing some drone doodling. :sunglasses:

Today was the perfect morning to go through these methodically and hear some fresh sounds in my improv.
Like having the target notes to aim for to get that point of difference from the next nearest mode
The changing of a single semitone to get the next mode, and that this can elegantly be explained via the circle of fifths has opened up this whole area for me
Really useful lessons

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…and now back to trying to memorise Martin Simpson’s version of In the Bleak Mid Winter.
Yes, really.

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Fresh sounds - sounds good.
:sunglasses:

Thanks for the introduction to these variations. Be awhile before I get them under my belt, but this was a very helpful way to get me started.

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Thanks Jay. :slight_smile: