Modal Question

JPsuff

Comparison is the thief of joy
I play a lot of things using the Dorian mode and I have come to rely on a variety of patters (still don't know all the notes yet) to accommodate a variety of musical styles.

I was wandering around YouTube and came across a video on modes and it went through the usual stuff I can't understand. Along the way it landed on the Phrygian mode. It had the basic scale box for Phrygian and I played through it and it seemed very much like the same notes I play in Dorian.
So I went in search of some Phrygian backing tracks and came across a Phrygian Blues track (Quist) and it was entitled "E Phrygian Blues".

The track was a moody vamp consisting of just two chords; Em and Fmaj7 and so I began to play the same patterns I generally use in a basic Em Blues.
What blew me away is that I could make it sound all kinds of "Middle Eastern" and moody but I was playing THE EXACT SAME NOTES I use when playing a standard Em Blues!

OK, so what's going on here?
Is it the "starts-on-a-different-root" thing again or is there something else going on?

This is really weird to me.
It's fun and even somewhat exciting -- but still very weird.

Please tell me what's going on...
 

Paleo

Lifelong Learner
The progression is Phrygian because the i and II chords are only a half-step apart, Em-F.

This creates the "Middle Eastern" or "Flamenco" sound,

The 3 minor Modes aren't all that different.

E F# G A B C D = E minor
E F# G A B C# D = E Dorian
E F G A B C D = E Phrygian (E F a half-step apart as in the progression)

They all have the E minor pentatonic notes in common: E G A B D

The differences are in the second note, F vs F# and the sixth note, C vs C#.

If you play E minor pentatonic over E minor, or E Dorian or E Phrygian it won't sound any different over any of them.

The 2nd and 6th notes you choose will (or won't) "match" the "sound" of the progression.

Of course if you don't know which of the notes you're playing none of this will be useful. :unsure:


The "starts-on-a-different-root" thing is when we're talking about the Modes of a single Major scale, they are "relative" having the same 7 notes.

Here we're talking about Parallel Modes/scales that start on the SAME note.

E minor/Aeolian starts on the 6th note of G Major.
E Dorian starts on the 2nd note of D Malor.
E Phrygian starts on the 3rd note of C Major.
 
Last edited:

JPsuff

Comparison is the thief of joy
The progression is Phrygian because the i and II chords are only a half-step apart, Em-F.

This creates the "Middle Eastern" or "Flamenco" sound,

The 3 minor Modes aren't all that different.

E F# G A B C D = E minor
E F# G A B C# D = E Dorian
E F G A B C D = E Phrygian (E F a half-step apart as in the progression)

They all have the E minor pentatonic notes in common: E G A B D

The differences are in the second note, F vs F# and the sixth note, C vs C#.

If you play E minor pentatonic over E minor, or E Dorian or E Phrygian it won't sound any different over any of them.

The 2nd and 6th notes you choose will (or won't) "match" the "sound" of the progression.

Of course if you don't know which of the notes you're playing none of this will be useful. :unsure:

That actually makes sense, especially since you pointed out how similar the modes are to each other.

The "usefulness" of that is subjective though.
I understand that it would be more useful to know the notes I'm playing in order to understand when and how to apply them so that they, as you say; "will or won't" match the sound. But for now, I know what I want to hear and either straight up (as in Dorian) or in a regular Em pentatonic, I know that moving a half-step here or there "will or won't" make it sound the way I want and for now that's good enough.

When I learn more about the notes on the fretboard and develop a better understanding of 3rds, 5ths, etc., I'm sure this will make even more sense but that's gonna take a while.

In the meantime, whatever the hell I'm doing sounds cool so I'm gonna call that a win.

Thanks for the explanation though, Paleo!
Every little bit helps! (y)
 

Paleo

Lifelong Learner
That actually makes sense, especially since you pointed out how similar the modes are to each other.

The "usefulness" of that is subjective though.
I'm saying none of my explanation will be useful.

Me pointing out the differences in notes won't be useful if you don't know which of notes you're playing. o_O

Pointing out that the characteristic note of the Phrygian mode is the b2 won't mean much if you don't know if you're playing it or not.

You can always play whatever sounds good to you without any explanation.

(Are you sure you like the sound of E Dorian over that E Phrygian progression?)

But the only way to answer a "what’s going on here?” question is to discuss the notes involved. :eek:
 
Last edited:

Paleo

Lifelong Learner
I landed on the Phrygian mode. It had the basic scale box for Phrygian and I played through it and it seemed very much like the same notes I play in Dorian.
Therein lies the rub.

The notes are in the same pattern, but they are not the same scale degrees relative to their parent Major scales.

Any pattern of any mode is also a pattern of the other 6 modes in the Key.

A Dorian pattern will work over any mode if you play it in the right place.

However, you will actually sound in the mode of the progression you're playing over.

Playing a Dorian pattern over a E Phrygian progression will "fit" if you are playing a D Dorian scale pattern.

The notes of D Dorian are the same as E Phrygian and C Major and all the rest of the modes of C Major.

But if you actually played E Dorian over the E Phrygian progression you would end up altering 2 notes by a half-step to make it sound "right",

Unless you like the sound of playing an F# over the F of the F chord and playing C# over the C of that same chord.

That's why I asked if you were playing E Dorian.


But again, if you don't know the notes you're playing you wouldn't know which key you're playing the Dorian pattern in.

You would just be moving it around fretboard til you find the place where it "locks in".

When it "locks in" you are playing a Dorian pattern, but it is actually a pattern of the mode the progression is in. :unsure:

Think of the chord progression as being in a mode and you are playing a scale pattern.

Whatever scale pattern you are playing will "conform" to the mode of the progression.

D Dorian over an E Phrygian progression will sound Phrygian.

E Dorian over an E Phrygian progression will sound weird.

Unless you like it.
 

Paleo

Lifelong Learner
Similarly, you can find a place to play pentatonic Box 1 over any modal or blues progression.

It will be Major or minor depending on the chord progression.

To me it's a matter of knowing where to play a pattern based on the progession vs moving a pattern around til you find where it fits.

Which ever way makes you happy. :)
 

JPsuff

Comparison is the thief of joy
As I alluded to in my previous post, I'm still in the "move it til it fits" regimen, which for now is just fine.

I understand what you're saying and I don't disagree. But I will need to learn more about notes and scales (theory) to apply a more "left brained" approach to modes.
For now, it's mostly right brain and in its own way it's fun and maintains a level of exploration that's often quite satisfying.
Granted it does have its limitations but so far not enough to keep me from enjoying the hunt!
 
Top