Major Modes Introduction

The Major Harmonic chord/scale system is possible because of the asymmetrical manner it is constructed with. That means the 'irregular' method the intervals are placed to bring out a Major scale. Like you already know the formula for constructing a Major scale is W W H W W W H ( W = Whole tone H = Semi tone ).This means that when you start the scale from a different place you'll always end up with a 'new' scale with a unique tonality. Having 7 degrees that means you have 7 different tonalities and chord/scale relationships out of every Major scale. So an asymmetrical scale always generates modes as opposed to the Diminished, the Whole Tone, the Augmented and the Tritone harmonies which are symmetrical scales so you don't have different tonalities whatever degree of the scale you start from! Even the Pentatonic scale has modes as it has an 'irregular' interval construction making it an asymmetrical scale!

Starting to think in this manner one will quickly start to re investigate the classical tendency of some that 'only' the D Dorian mode exists! This type of reasoning came out because of the 'only white notes on the piano' method. Let me clarify here. If one has ever looked at a piano keyboard he/she will realize it's made up of black and white notes. If there isn't yet a piano constructed with orange and blue keys I believe we all agree here :) The white notes are the 'natural' notes and the black ones are the 'sharpened/flattened notes. Now if we construct a C Major scale using the W W H W W W H formula we'll end up with C D E F G A B C. If you go to check those notes on a piano you'll realize that they are all 'white' notes hence the C Major scale contains no sharps or flats. Now if you build up a chord from the C Major scale using the traditional classical method of 'up in 3rds' or 'skipping every other note' you'll end up with the notes C E G B which makes up a Major7th chord i.e. C Maj7.Now if you have a little bit of playing experience you can go and record a rhythm using CMaj7 and play melodies against it using the C Major scale. Doing that you'll quickly experience 'major good mood' type qualities in your overall feel since you're playing in a major vibe. It should be the case since that's what the Major scale/chord relationship creates!

Now go back to the C Major's scale notes but this time write down the scale starting from the 2nd degree that is D. You'll end up with D E F G A B C D. That's a new scale with a new name which is Dorian. We will go in detail about the names/placement and harmony of the Major modes in the next lesson. But for our purpose today we have the 2nd mode of C Major which is D Dorian. Now let's do the same chord building technique we used with CMajor but this time starting from the D Dorian scale. The notes D F A C will result. That is a min7 chord so Dmin7.Now go and record a small rhythm of Dmin7 and play against it using this time the D Dorian mode. Why not C Major you might wonder? The reason is pretty simple! Our ears capture the 'root' of a chord automatically being musicians or not. And since we have this root in our ear the melodies played against it will want our ear to resolve or complete the melodic line and that can only happen by playing the root of the chord in the melody! So by resolving/finishing on C while playing against some kind of a D chord in the rhythm will leave the line incomplete since you're stopping on the 7th degree(in this example the min7 degree).The 7th degree's behavior is always to resolve up a semi tone if it's a Maj7 or a tone if it's a min7.That's why playing in the Dorian mode is always going to create some kind of minor tonality as opposed to the happier Major mode quality! The chord/scale relationship creates that. By the way these are still all white notes on the piano!

Going back to our observation regarding the classical 'only the D Dorian exists' mentality we can now prove that wrong. How? Do the same thing you did with C Major and D Dorian construction but now starting from the 3rd degree of the C Major. Doing that you'll end up with this scale E F G A B C D E. Here we have a new scale with a new interval construction. The 3rd mode generated from the Major scale is called Phrygian. So now we have the E Phrygian scale/mode. Do the same chord construction method you did previously and you finish up with the E G B D notes which forms an Emin7 chord. Record it up and play against it. As you notice it's a dark somber tonality which indicates a minor tonality but very different from the Dorian minor vibe. Needless to say a complete change from the Major type tonality too. Like we said before our melodic root now is guided by the root of the chord in the rhythm which now is E. Since we can't resolve on D cause our ear won't let us we have to resolve on E to have a complete rest in our melodic line. So a new tonality was born here which is the Phrygian. And they're still 'only' white notes on the piano!

We still have the 4th,5th,6th and 7th degree tonalities to investigate but for today's lesson I believe we proved a point and a very important one. The Major scale has 7 different degrees which will generate 7 different tonalities and vibes. All the white notes of the piano will create question on that now ! Whoever doubts that can go and test it by doing our exercise up here creating any or all of the 7 scales out of a Major key and building up the 'right' chords to play against them. Then records a rhythm of some kind and solos on them it.The answer will be there in your room...and in your ears! Although I'm a guitar player the application is universal to all instruments.. that's why no guitar was mentioned... for now!

Until next time be sure to read this lesson over and over and do try for yourself the beauty of the world of Modes. Go to the lesson "How To Practice Scales" if anyone needs some help in memorizing the Major scale first.. yes the most important scale to master before going into it's modes! The music that can be written with them can't be done elsewhere so be sure to master and 'impress' it on the skeptical ones with the intention that one day they'll hear it for themselves!

Until next time, go and get 'moody'...

Jean-Pierre Zammit is a guitarist and instructor from Malta who has been playing guitar since the age of 14.

Zammit uses complex techniques, time shifts and scales in his writing, and always puts the song and the message he wants to portray first.

His is endorsed by Music Man guitars to use their Axis BFR models and Ernie Ball strings.

Jean-Pierre Zammit