Do you know how modes work in music? It is actually a very confusing subject matter, mainly because the word ‘mode’ implies that it doesn’t reference to a scale on its own, but rather to a different scale. Most of the times, a mode is based on a specific scale, usually a major scale. And, as a result, if you play a note up or a note down on the scale by one octave, you will have the mode that you need. But, if you ever tried doing this, you will notice that there is no difference in sound and it is likely that you gave up.

music collegeAn Oversimplification

While the above is true, it is slight oversimplified. The best music college teachers will tell you that there is a vital ingredient missing in the above, and that is ‘context’. If you play over an A drone or A major progression chord, and your ear clearly hears an A major, you should be able to find the corresponding Phrygian or Lydian. But when you do, your ears will probably continue to hear the same thing. What you need to learn is the context, so that you can change the flavor. This change can be anything from radical to slight, which is all up to your personal preference or down to the context you are trying to achieve.

Static or Changing Harmonies?

Modes are used across all types of music. Some of the most complex are the changing harmonies, such as the ones found in jazz music. While this is something that you will need to learn about, so-called ‘modal’ harmonies, which are static, are equally important and a much better starting point. Basically, it means that even though multiple chords may be used the harmony (which can also be called the key center or the mode) will never change. It is the neutral drone in your piece of music.

So why is this? Basically, if you do look at something like jazz, you will notice many different chords in quick succession, with changing modes and key centers. As such, you will barely have time to figure out what the context is and you will find it even harder to really figure out the flavor or really start to appreciate the mode. Plus, jazz is very much about taking a standard chord and then playing ‘wrong’ notes (which is known as dissonant playing) or playing ‘right’ notes (which is known as playing in). If you want to learn what the flavor of a certain mode is, you need to start by playing over static modal harmonies.

Scale or Mode?

In reality, scales and modes are pretty much the same thing. This is because every mode always is a scale. It can be compared to the wave/particle duality of light. Plus, any scale is basically a mode of another scale that is related. What you have to figure out is not so much the literal difference between the two words, but rather how you can simplify things.