The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes Part 4 – Modes and Chords

Welcome to the fourth installment of the GuitArcitecture Mode Visualization lesson series.

If you see anything unfamiliar here, you may want to check out part one, part two, part 3a or part 3b, of the series, but in the meantime, here’s a quick recap:

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To Review:

Any major scale can be broken down into seven 2-string modal shapes that are derived from their scale degree (i.e. position in the scale). These Related Modes are:

  1. Ionian
  2. Dorian
  3. Phrygian
  4. Lydian
  5. Mixolydian
  6. Aeolian
  7. Locrian

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The sequential order of the modes is always the same.

In the 2-string modal shapes, the fact that the 7th note of each mode is missing from the initial fingering pattern is irrelevant because it will be played in the pattern that follows it.

Modes do not exist in a vacuum.  They have as much to do with chords as they do with scales and are always associated with either a chord or a chord progression.

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Deriving the chords from the scale

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Let’s take a look at the initial two-string C Major pattern that we used in the previous lesson.

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If we remove every other note of the scale pattern, we can see arpeggiated versions of the triads associated with those modes.

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Here are the triads in ascending order with a root on the A String:

(Note: these are only sample voicings – please feel free to use your own)

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Since major scales all use the same intervallic formula, all major scales follow the same formula for standard harmonization. 

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From this we can develop a generic formula for major scale triads.

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So, for example,  the triad built on the first scale degree (i.e. the I chord) of any major scale will always be Major.

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Note:

If we’re discussing the relative minor key (A minor) – the sequence is the same – it just starts from the vi chord:

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7th Chords

If we take a look at the initial 2 string pattern again:

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This time I’m going to eliminate the 3rd and 5th note of each pattern.  So in the first pattern:

C, D, E, F, G, A becomes

C, D, F, A aka

D, F, A, C or  (D minor 7 starting from the 7th)

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Here’s the rest of the sequence:

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And a generic breakdown in another chart.

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Here are the 7th chords in ascending order with a root on the A String:

(Again, these are only sample voicings so please feel free to use your own)

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Beyond 7th Chords:

You could extend this idea out beyond 7th chords into harmonizations using the diatonic 9th, 11th or 13ths.  But all of these chords just come from stacking diatonic 3rds on top of each other.    I’ve followed this process through all the diatonic chord tones below with each scale degree of C Major:

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I’ll be explaining a lot more about this in a future post (including multiple approaches for voicing these) but for now here’s a chart that shows the harmonizations in the key of C Major.

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But Here’s The Catch

(and there’s always a catch)

The C Major modes are all just subsets of  the same parent scale.  If you’re playing them over a C major chord (or a chord progression in C Major) scale-wise it really doesn’t make a difference which of the above modes you’re thinking of as it’s all going to sound like C Major.

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To get deeper into modes, we need to get into some other tonal centers and talk about Relative Modes versus Parallel Modes and Modal Interchange and that is the topic of the next post in this series.

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Here are some important things to focus on for now:

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1. Theoretical:

  • The major scale can be broken down into a series of triads and 7th chords based on scale degrees that are associated with the modes on those scale degrees (Ex. Key of C Major – D Dorian and D minor 7 on the 2nd scale degree.)
  • The sound of the mode is based as much on the notes of the mode as it’s related chord.  So for right now – this is just a whole lot of ways to see C Major on a fingerboard – you should adapt the process to other keys as well.

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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.  
  • Fretting hand: Always use the minimum amount of tension needed for the notes to sound cleanly.  The idea is to be able to hear every individual note in the chord as well.  Additionally, try to keep the fingers motion on the strings to a minimum and removing them from the string only when necessary.
  • Picking Hand:  Try using the above picking pattern on the top two strings or alternate picking.
  • Practice switching between chord voicings cleanly and playing the 3-note-per-string forms over each one individually.  As a comping exploration, you could try moving from one chord to the next in the series but only moving one voice at a time.  This type of internal motion is something I initially copped from guys like Torn and Miroslav Tadic.
  • Isolate problem areas and develop them.  You’re not going to be able to pull  any of these ideas off live if any of the individual components aren’t happening.  This isn’t a bad thing.  Things you develop over time are more likely to stay with you (and thus be accessible when you’re improvising).

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3.  Musical:

  • One thing to work on right now is to come up with multiple ways to play the chords above.  If you’re not familiar with voicings in general – try to write out the individual notes of each chord and move them around on the fingerboard.   It might not yield the most practical voicings (depending on key and position) – but it will definitely help expand your awareness of the fingerboard!

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Finally, one other thing I need to mention is that this is just my approach but it certainly isn’t the only one.    You should explore multiple approaches and take things that resonate with you from each of them as each of them will give you more depth of understanding.

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As before, just go through the lesson at your own pace and return to it as you need to and 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

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

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THE GUITARCHITECT’S GUIDE TO MODES PART 3B – SEEING THE SIX-STRING MAJOR SCALE

THE GUITARCHITECT’S GUIDE TO MODES PART 3A – SEEING THE SIX-STRING MAJOR SCALE

THE GUITARCHITECT’S GUIDE TO MODES PART 2 – SEEING THE TWO STRING MAJOR SCALE

The GuitArchitecture Guide To Modes Part 1 – Seeing The Single String Major Scale

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Making Music Out Of Scales

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A BRIEF THOUGHT ABOUT MUSIC THEORY

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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

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GETTING HIPNESS FROM A MAJOR TRIAD OR MORE CHORD RECYCLING PART 3

Getting Hipness From A Major Triad Or More Chord Recycling Part 2

GETTING HIPNESS FROM A MAJOR TRIAD OR MORE CHORD RECYCLING PART 1

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Getting Through The Gig – Negotiating A Chord Chart Part 3

Getting Through The Gig – Negotiating A Chord Chart Part 2

GETTING THROUGH THE GIG – NEGOTIATING A CHORD CHART PART 1

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

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5 thoughts on “The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes Part 4 – Modes and Chords

  1. Hi Scott,

    Firstly, your breakdown of fretboard navigation and modes is enormously helpful. Thank you for all the work you’ve put into this. I have a question about something that appears in the lesson above:

    “This time I’m going to eliminate the 3rd and 5th note of each pattern. So in the first pattern:
    C, D, E, F, G, A becomes
    C, D, F, A aka
    D, F, A, C or (D minor 7 starting from the 7th)”

    It seems like you’re saying this Dmin7 chord is derived from the I(C), II(D), IV(F) and VI(A) degrees of the C ionian scale, instead of the I(D), III(F), V(A) and VII(C) degrees of D dorian. I realize these are two ways of arriving at the same chord from what is essentially one master scale, but since the chord formula for Dmin7 is 1 – b3 – 5 – b7, isn’t this an unnecessarily complicated way of thinking about the derivation of the chord? I’m just trying to wrap my head around this as efficiently as possible. There may be a need to see the chord the way you have described above that I’m not understanding.

    Again, thanks so much for this invaluable resource. After I finish these lessons I plan on buying one of your books (whichever looks like the next logical step in my learning).

    Best,
    Nick

    • Hi Nick.

      Thanks for posting! I’m glad the material is helpful.

      There are a couple of different things here at work, so I’ll try to touch on each one.

      In the example above, I’m simply showing the relationship between the scale patterns and the chords associated with the scale.

      In one of the posts in this series, I talk about the modal microscope and seeing things on different levels. This ties into that concept.

      One way to see a chord D minor 7 – is to see it as a chord formula.

      I tend to see it as part of the master scale as you called it- what I would call a parent scale. But I find that looking at things in multiple ways increases my depth of understanding.

      Having said that, I’d recommend that you go with whatever is the easiest way for YOU to conceptualize (and more importantly actualize!) it.

      The books are more reference than instructional – but based on this post – chord scales or harmonic combinatorics may be up your alley!

      I hope that helps!

      -SC

      • Thanks for the reply. The broader picture is slowly coming into focus. I’ll move on to lesson 5 and see where that takes me.

  2. Ok – all I can say is “Wow,” and “Thank you.” I’d recognized the breadth of information one had to internalize to get into jazz improv and things like that, and I’d decided that the only way in was rote memorization is large, large amounts. That’s not something I enjoy – I improved at chess until it became time to more or less memorize opening details, and that was just no fun. But your approach fits my mind-set perfectly, and while there is still some memorizing that will be required it’s a lot less than I’d previously thought would be required. Suddenly the goal seems within reach.

    Fantastic job, and thanks again!

    • Hi Kip. Thanks for taking the time to comment and for the kind words. I’m glad that the posts are helping. With the lesson material – I really strive to try to present information in a way that helps people get to where they’re trying to go t so it’s great to hear that it’s helping you.

      Your thoughts made me think of a much older blog post of mine:

      https://guitarchitecture.org/2010/04/15/a-brief-thought-about-music-theory/

      “Theory is secondary to sound.

      The history of music originates in organized sound. Theory and jargon were developed over time as a way to replicate those organized sounds. A term like “C major” is just musical jargon. When “C Major” is said, it tells the informed person what kind of sound is going to be produced. This jargon then, is nothing more than a way for musicians to express ideas to each other without written music in a more efficient manner.

      It’s much less important to be able to look at something and say, “that’s an altered dominant chord” than it is to hear an altered dominant chord in your head and be able to realize it on the guitar (or to hear someone else playing it and know what to play against it).

      In other words, theory and/or analysis should always be in the service of sound…..Theory, then, is just a tool. It really isn’t anything to get tripped up on.”

      One eats an elephant one bite at a time. Music is a large language – but you don’t need to master every aspect of it to be able to say something. There are something like 1 – 1.5 million words in the English Language but I probably only use 1-2% of them in daily conversation. Just work on bits and apply them to musical contexts as soon as you have any time of proficiency. THAT is really the secret to learning new things. Application, feedback (where a teacher comes in), adjustment and feedback.

      If you’re looking for books to help – My Chord scale book is probably the best book I’ve written in terms of getting the concepts applied in a very real world way (some people are partial to my pentatonic book for this as well) – all depends on where you are and what you’re looking to do.

      In the meantime – a lot of good information in the posts that follow. Thanks again!

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