copyright © 1995 Greg Brouelette Last Modified: Oct 1, 1995
This lesson originally appeared on StickWire - the Official Chapman Stick Mailing List.
Reproduced here by permission. This article can be reprinted only in its entirety.

Theory On Tap
Lesson 4: Scales and Modes

by Greg Brouelette

The concept of modes in music (particularly jazz) is very important. Modes allow you to have a quick reference to know which scales will fit with which chords. This allows you to improvise long solo phrases over changing chord structures.

I should mention that all the scale and chord positions are drawn for a ten string Stick in the standard tuning. You'll have to adjust for Grand Stick and Baritone tunings.

What's a mode?

OK, modes (the way most jazz players use them) are built up from major scales. I'm going to use the C major scale to demonstrate the mode concept because the lack of sharps and flats make it easier to understand. You might also want to review the chord construction lesson because we'll be discussing chord structure as well.

If we play a C major scale from C to C (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C) we are playing in the Ionian mode. A major scale is simply the Ionian mode. Take the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th notes from this scale and you have a Major 7th chord. Play a major chord form with the left hand and solo a little bit with a C major scale with the right hand and notice how well these notes fit against this chord... i.e:

Left hand on Bass strings
|- - -|- - -|- - -|- - -|- - -|
|- - -|- 1 -|- - -|- - -|- - -|
|- - -|- 2 -|- - -|- - -|- - -|
|- - -|- - -|- - -|- 4 -|- - -|
|- - -|- - -|- - -|- - -|- - -|
5th Fret

Right hand on melody Strings
13th Fret

Now were going to move up to the next mode (the Dorian mode) to do this we simply play the same C major scale but we start and end on D (D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D) If we take the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th notes of this scale (D,F,A,C) we have a D minor 7 chord. But since all the notes in the chord are made up from the notes in the C major scale we can still use the C major scale to solo over this chord. Try it. Play D minor with the left hand and solo using EXACTLY the same scale as above.

Left hand on the bass strings
7th Fret

You'll notice that your solos will want to resolve on to D note instead of the C note. And the `feel' of the solo changes because you're playing in a minor scale, but the notes are still all from the C major scale.

It should be noted that what you are now playing is D Dorian, not C Dorian. Even though the notes are made up of the C major scale, because you are starting you scale and chord construction on the D note you are in D Dorian.

Obviously the next mode will start with E. This is the phrygian mode. Once again we play the C major scale, but we start and end on the E note instead of C (E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E) Taking the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th note of this scale gives us another minor 7th chord (E minor 7th). Play an E minor chord with the left hand (same as above but moved up to the 9th fret) and solo using the exact same C major scale in the exact same position as before. Notice that the left hand is changing but the right hand isn't. And yet you'll notice a slightly different feel to this minor mode than the last one, even though you're using exactly the same notes in your solo.

As you can guess, the other modes are constructed by moving up one scale tone in the major scale and building it's resulting chord from the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th scale tones. This method of building a series of chords starting at each scale tone is called `harmonizing' the scale. The total list of modes based off of the C major scale are:

Scale Tone Mode Scale Notes Chord
1 Ionian C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C C Major 7th
2 Dorian D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D D minor 7th
3 Phrygian E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E E minor7th
4 Lydian F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F F Major 7th
5 Mixolydian G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G G 7th (i.e. G Dominant 7th)
6 Aeolian A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A A minor7th
7 Locrian B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B B minor7th flat 5 (i.e. Bm7b5)

If we move up one more we're back to the Ionian mode again. Practice each of these chord forms while playing the C major scale. Because each of the resulting chords are built up from notes in the C major scale (albeit, from different notes each time) a C major scale will fit over each of these chords.

Great! So how do I use them?

In jazz, if you're playing a major 7th chord you're almost always in the Ionian mode (jazz players will sometimes use the Lydian mode. Steve Via loves the Lydian mode). If you're playing a minor scale jazz players tend to use a Dorian mode and classical players tend to use the Aeolian mode, but the phrygian mode has an interesting sound as well.

But more important is the concept of `Key Centers'. Let's take a simple chord sequence:

      Dm7   G7     Cmaj7        Cm7          F7    BbMaj7
    | /  /  /  / | /  /  /  / | /  /  /  / | /  /  /  / |

Let's look at the first 3 chords. The first is a minor 7th chord. It might turn out to be the best idea to use the Dorian mode, but we'll hold off judgment for a moment. The second chord is a dominant 7th chord. The only mode that makes a dominant 7th chord is the Mixolydian mode. So we ask ourselves "The Mixolydian is built off of the 5th scale tone of a major scale. G is the 5th scale tone of what major scale?" It turns out that G is the 5th of C major. It also turn out that D minor is the Dorian mode built from C major. So you can play C major over the first two chords. And since the next chord is C Major 7th (and we KNOW that's build from the C major scale) we can play C major over all 3 chords.

We would say that the chord progression Dm7, G7, Cmaj7 has a `Key Center' of C major. This progression is known as the II, V, I progression. (That's Two, Five, One. We use roman numbers to tell which chords from the Key Center to play). It's called the II, V, I progression because this short sequence of chords are built from the second, fifth, and first scale tones of the Key Center scale.

Look at the next 3 chords and see if you can find the Key Center. Using the same logic you'll find that Cmin7, F7, BbMaj7 are all based off of the Bb Major scale. So the Key Center for the next three chords is Bb.

It's very possible, and in fact likely, that the key center will change throughout a song. It's also very possible, and likely, that several of the Key Centers will not be the same as the key the song was written in.

By using the key center concept you can eliminate a lot of jumping around the fretboard. Quite often it turns out that the next chord you're about to play is built from the same major scale as the last chord. So you don't need to change your scale at all. You no longer have to change scales and positions with every chord.

The Stick is uniquely suited to modal playing. Because the Stick has the same scale shape for a major scale everywhere on the fretboard you can think of the notes in the scale as the `Ionian note' or the `Mixolydian note'. Let me demonstrate.

If I draw the `4ths into infinity' scale from page 41 of `Free Hands' by Emmett Chapman, but I number the notes by scale tones of the major scale I'll get this:


Let's choose a chord. Say, an Eb7th chord. We could quickly find the scale to play this way:

  1. That's a 7th chord and 7th chords are built from the 5th scale tone of a major scale.
  2. Find an Eb on the fretboard. Any Eb.
  3. Play the scale above such that the notes where there are number 5's is an Eb.

You're playing the right scale for that chord.

Modes are useful in any solo, but there are jazz standards which are completely written in a `modal' fashion. `So What' by Miles Davis and `Impressions' by John Coltrane both have 16 bars of D dorian followed by 8 bars of Eb dorian and then move back to D dorian.

You can also mix modes. In a Bb blues you might want to start your solo in Bb mixolydian (which would fit the Bb7th chord perfectly). A trick I like to use is to play Bb Dorian instead because it fits right on top of a Bb pentatonic scale.

Or try vamping over Cmaj7th and D7th while playing a C lydian scale. If you're really feeling adventurous then harmonize a jazz minor or harmonic minor scale, or an Indian raga scale. It's amazing how easily you can find new sounds and harmonies.

Stick players are lucky because we have a single scale that covers all the modes in every position. Learn the 4th's to infinity scale inside and out and you'll find that you can solo all over the fretboard with an almost Zen-like freedom. I find that once I learn the feel and sound of each mode and how it fits into the 4ths into infinity scale I don't even think of where the notes are. I can just hear where the next note is. After 21 years of practice I still can't do this on guitar, but it happens naturally on the Stick because of the unique even interval tuning.

I hope you've enjoyed this lesson. I'd be glad to answer any questions or comments via the Stickwire.

Happy tapping. Greg Brouelette

Lessons: 1| 2 | 3 - Part I| 3 - Part II| 4 - Part I | 4 - Part II| 5| 6| 7| 8| 9| 10| 11| 12|
Greg Brouelette

copyright © 1995 Greg Brouelette

This article is copyrighted 1995 via the Gnu copyright system. You are free to distribute, quote, or reference this article provided you do so for free. If you intend to charge somebody else for this information then you must receive my permission first.

The `Stick' and the `Grand Stick' are trademarks of Emmett Chapman and Stick Enterprises.
`Free Hands' is copyrighted (NOT via the Gnu system) by Emmett Chapman.

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