Modes of the major scale
As Halloween approaches, this might be a good time to talk about the modes of the major scale. Why you ask? Here’s why:
Years ago, Maria Schneider gave a clinic at a school I teach at. I couldn’t be there because of a conflict, but a student of mine told me that she talked about the modes of the major scale from bright to dark. I was already familiar with this idea from my jazz composition class at University of Miami, taught by the great Ron Miller. I had many mind blowing experiences in that class, and it gave me a newfound approach to how I think about music.
I already knew my modes with a fixed parent scale (C Ionian, D Dorian, E Phrygian, ect.), and had a pretty good idea of their relative brightness/darkness, but I never put them in order of brightest to darkest until that class. I knew that certain modes are clearly darker/brighter than others. Lydian is very bright compared to Phrygian, for example.
Side note: when developing your ear, consider using words to describe chords, like happy (major), sad (minor), questioning (dominant), floaty (sus), birds (Lydian), Detective movie, (Minor major 7), film noir (Aeolian), ect….try to use any connection that works for you. Some people see color, others (like me) see shape. Use your ability of association with your senses (sight, smell, feel, taste) to identify chords.
Here are the modes of the major scale with a fixed root, where the parent scale changes with each new mode, in order of brightest to darkest:
C Lydian-parent G major
C Ionian-parent C major
C Mixolydian-parent F major
C Dorian-parent Bb major
C Aeolian-parent Eb major
C Phrygian-parent Ab major
C Locrian-parent Db major
See a pattern? When I made this discovery, it blew my mind! The parent scales are moving around the cycle of 4th’s as we get darker. The same applies as we go dark to bright (cycle of 5th’s). Moreover, as we get darker, we add one flat or take away one sharp, and the opposite happens in the other direction.
Yeah, but what does this have to do with Halloween? Well, let me ask you this. If you were to compose a piece of music and wanted to convey something with Monsters and cobwebs and spiders, which mode would you choose. I certainly wouldn’t choose Lydian, would I?
There is much more to this, but how much do you want to read here? For more info, or if you have any questions, I’m available.
10,000 ways to play the C major scale:
Patterns are a great tool to increase your language in improvisation. I've heard people say "This guy is just a pattern player". If you listen to any music, player, composition from Bach to today, you will hear melodic development through patterns. Was Bach just a pattern guy? Well, you know the answer to that.
Young players tend to think they have their major scales together just by practicing them in scale-wise fashion. I like to teach my students to play the "C major sound" rather than "scale". Many jazz players including me have delved into playing scales in 3rds, 4th's, 5th's, 6th's 7th's, 10th's and more. Here are some other ideas:
-Play in alternating cell direction (for more on this, you can contact me) Now you have 4 ways to play a scale in just 3rd's! Add to that 4th's (x4), 5th's (x4), ect, and you can see how the many ways add up.
-Play in triads. There are 3 inversions of the triad. Add to that alternating cells, and you have 12 ways.
-Play in 7th chords. With 4 inversions, alternating cells, Now we have 16 more ways
-Play in consecutive intervals, like 4th's. I like this sound. It's very modern sounding. Example: C, F, B, D, G, C, E, A, D, ect.
-Add chromatic approaches, diatonic approaches, ect.
You can see that it is very easy to conceive of 10,000 ways to play the "C Major sound". What I've mentioned here is just the tip of the iceberg. Add to that all of the other scales (12 in all, modes of the major, melodic minor, whole tone, pentatonic, diminished, ect.) and you have a lifetime of practice.
This may seem daunting for most, so keep this in mind: I have only so much time in my life to practice, and since the things to practice are endless (which is why the journey is so enjoyable with new discoveries), I will try something new, and if I don't like the sound of it, I throw it away. Only practice the patterns that are musically solid to your ears, and don't bother with the others. The ones you pick to practice will eventually creep into your playing (provided you've given it enough time in the shed) and will become YOUR VOICE!
Good luck with this, and if you have any questions, I'm available!