The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes Part 1 – Seeing The Single String Major Scale

Welcome to part one of a lesson series that’s been adapted from the forthcoming, GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes book!  Over the next several months, I’m going to post related lessons on modes, scales, chords and 12-tone guitar from my GuitArchitecture book series.

This first posting is an entry-level post for the beginning or intermediate guitarist who may have heard some music theory terms but weren’t really clear about what they meant.

If you’re already familiar with basic musical terminology and single string scales, you may still find some useful tips and observations below and use this post as a useful primer and/or review.

Note:

If you’re new to this, there’s a lot of initial ground work to cover, but once we get past it the applications are really useful (read: cool) !

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So you want to know about Modes?

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I have some good news and some bad news about learning modes.

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I’ll start with the good news. 

The Major, Melodic Minor and Harmonic Minor scales (and their associated modes) make up a lot of the melodic and harmonic material used in western pop and jazz music in the 20th (and 21st century).

If you’re an intermediate player with a basic understanding of intervals, chords and scales, I can show you a way to adapt a positional fingering pattern for all of the above scales or mode that can be modulated to any key in about 10 minutes – 20 minutes depending on your skill level.

Given a 1/2 hour or more, I can show you an integrated way do the same thing anywhere on the fingerboard using seven core fingerings and a simple visualization method that can be applied to any scale.

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The Bad News:

Making music from those fingerings will take a lot longer.

To paraphrase W.A. Mathieu, “There are only a few notes and learning them takes forever.”

I can’t teach you to be musical in an hour-long lesson – but I can certainly try to guide you towards being more musical when you leave the lesson than when you walked in.  One way to do that is to bring your attention to some benefits associated with sonic visualization.

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Sonic Visualization?

Here are a few notes to clarify what I’m talking about:

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  • The GuitArchitecture concept, in broad strokes, is that the nature of the guitar’s fretboard and tuning lends itself to visualizing fingering patterns.
  • While patterns performed mindlessly can be a bad thing, they can allow people to realize ideas more readily.
  • More importantly, patterns can be associated with sounds and visualizing how to realize a sound by seeing its shape on the fretboard makes performing it easier.  Hence the term Sonic Visualization.

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If I hear a sound in my head, and know how to finger it on the fretboard before I play it, that not only allows me to create the sound but also offers me more flexibility when improvising.

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Likewise, if I stumble across a sound I’ve never heard before, and understand the fingering behind it – it makes it easier for me to remember that sound for future use.

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The GuitArchitecture Process

While GuitArchitecture utilizes sonic visualization as it’s core foundation, the process behind developing and utilizing that process can be adapted to any musical context.  The process itself is fairly straightforward:

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Understand the approach (harmonic or melodic)

Develop a fingering pattern to use with that approach

Associate the pattern with a sound

Manipulate the patterns to make music

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Now let’s start to apply this to Major Scale Modes.  In order to understand modes, we need to have a grasp of the Parent Major scale.

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Understand the Approach or

Parent Scales and Painless Theory

A parent scale is a sequential collection of notes within an octave that define a tonality. An example of a parent scale would be the C Major scale which has no sharps or flats and is spelled, C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C.  The easiest way to visualize this on the fingerboard initially is on a single string.

Played on the B string it looks like this in standard notation.

Note:

Instead of speaking about notes (which are tied to specific scales), when speaking about scales in general, musicians sometimes refer to their location in the scale as scale degrees and use numbering based on the Roman numeral system to indicate their position (this will come much more into play when we get to chords).   In this specific case:

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C=I : D=II : E=III : F=IV : G=V : A=VI and : B=VII

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Building Blocks:

The smallest unit of measurements on the fingerboard are the 1/2 step (1 fret) or the whole step (2 frets).

If you look at the tablature above, you’ll see that the Major Scale is made up of a series of whole steps with 1/2 steps between the IIIrd and IVth degrees (E and F in this case) and the VIIth and VIIIth degrees (B and C).

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This general formula applies to any Major Scale.

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All major scales are made up of whole steps 7 scale degrees with a 1/2 step between the 3rd and 4th scale degree and the 7th and 8th.  The distances between these notes are constant.  If we move the C major scale to the E string:

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Since C is still the root of the scale (also refered to as the tonic), the 1/2 steps still occur between the IIIrd/IVth and the VIIth/VIIIth degrees.  Since this is true of any major scale, any major scale can be visualized this way, but the number of components makes it cumbersome to get around.  So let’s look at positional shapes.

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Positional Playing

Or developing a fingering pattern to use with that approach

A position is usually defined as a four-fret section of the fingerboard.  If the scale is broken down into positional components, we end up with a series of three-note shapes.  We’ll number each one from the scale degree for now:

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A Brief Interruption

When practicing anything on the guitar, you should pay attention to what I call the 3 T’s (Tension, Timing and Tone).   If you are unfamiliar with practicing methodology, you may want to read through my practicing posts (you can find them under the lessons heading on the Blueprints page).

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First here’s the tab:

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And a generic 3 note shape.  The numbers indicate recommended fret hand fingers to use.

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II

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III

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IV

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V

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VI

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VII

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Putting it all together

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If you combine all of the patterns together.  You’ll get something that looks like this:

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Notice that the fingering patterns move in sequential  order (I, II, III… etc) up the B string.  If we play the C Major scale on the E string:

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The fingering pattern now starts with pattern #3, but continues in sequential order.

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Next steps:

I’ve covered a lot of groundwork here, so this is a good place to stop for now.  In the meantime, here are some things to consider:

1. Theoretical:

  • The important things here are learning the initial pattern fingering sequence, and associating each of them with a sound.
  • In addition to using a time keeping device of some kind (like a metronome, drum loop, etc) playing along to a chord or a bass note will help establish tonality and help associate each pattern with a sound).  For now try playing the patterns over the related major chord (C Major / C Major 7) or the relative minor chord (A minor/A minor 7 chord).
  • Sing.  The most tried and true method to attach the sounds made with your hands to your ears is to sing what you’re playing.  This isn’t an American Idol audition, so you don’t have to worry about how good you are as a vocalist.  Instead, just work paying attention to the tuning and timing between your voice and your guitar (and check out some George Benson guitar solos to hear at least one place where this approach can take you.)

2.  Technical:

  • While it’s natural to want to progress quickly, trying to play too quickly too soon results in excess hand tension which will increase the difficulty of what you’re trying to play.
  • Fluidity comes from focused, relaxed repetition.  From a technical standpoint, this observation is really important.  (As in: you may want to write that down on a piece of paper and tape it to your guitar level of important).
  • Even many intermediate to advanced players can gain something by really focusing on making clean transitions between the fingering shapes.

3.  Musical:

  • Making music from the patterns is a whole other skill set, but you need to know where to put your fingers on the strings while you  bend, slide and phrase your way into making music.  Having said that, since the visualization process doesn’t take that long,  as soon as you get the patterns down I’d recommend to start manipulating the patterns to try to make them more musical to your ear.   There are a number of different ways to do this:
  1. Try changing up the ascending note order.  While the example here is presented as 1-2-3 (C, D, E) , you can try other note orders such as: 1-3-2 (C, E, D), 2-1-3 (D, E, C), 2-3-1 (D, E, C), 3-1-2 (E, C, D) or 3-2-1 (E, D, C) as variations.
  2. Try using different rhythms (16th notes, etc).
  3. Try integrating rests in the patterns.
  4. Try sliding between pitches instead of using different fingers.  Like-wise try bending to notes (Example play C, D and then bend it up to E )

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In the next lesson, I’m going to cover how to exploit standard tuning in visualization, expand on the single string fingerings for these forms and continue to move towards making modes (and music) out of them.


The next posts in the series will hopefully be a little shorter (and have more examples) but in the meantime, I recommend that you just go through the lesson at your own pace and return as you need to.  Please feel free to post any questions you might have (or pm me at guitar.blueprint@gmail.com).

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I hope this helps and as always, thanks for reading!

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-SC

P.S. If you like this post – you may also like:

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A BRIEF THOUGHT ABOUT MUSIC THEORY

PRACTICE MAKES BETTER AKA PRACTICING PART I

PROPER POSTURE IS REQUIRED FOR PROPER PERFORMANCE – PRACTICING PART II

TENSION AND THE SODA CAN OR PRACTICING PART III

DEFINITIONS AND DOCUMENTS OR PRACTICING PART IV

PRACTICE WHAT YOU PLAY OR PRACTICING PART V

TESTING YOUR VOCABULARY OR PRACTICING PART VI

POSSESSION IS 9/10S OF THE LAW BUT PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING OR PRACTICING PART VII

SOME USEFUL ONLINE PRACTICE TOOLS

WARMING UP: FINGER EXERCISES, THE 3 T’S AND THE NECESSITY OF MISTAKES

MAKING MUSIC OUT OF SCALES

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