Just how many modes are there?

A certificate at Grade 8 would suggest that there are 7 modes all derived from the major scale and maybe one or two from harmonic minor. In reality, there is an entire universe of modes, so many in fact that they can be imagined as existing on a vast continuum of characteristics, a palette from which the composer or improviser may draw.

Here’s a diagram demonstrating a small section of the huge modal universe. You may see how mirroring modes (turning them upside down) can organize them into levels of brightness. It can also identify those modes that are identical in mirror form (the middle rectangle). These include Dorian (used in a thousand tunes from Scarborough Fair, Shine on You Crazy Diamond, Brick House to The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy), Aeolian Dominant (Kate Bush’s Babooshka) and Double Harmonic (Miserlou from Pulp Fiction).

These are just 3 of the heptatonic (7-note) even-tempered mode systems with mirror symmetry parents. There are many others, scales with 2-12 notes, as well as scales with ‘twin’ mode systems. Regardless this technique can be applied widely and is a rich resource for composers and improvisers alike.

Over the next few posts, I’ll look at particular modes and how their beautiful characteristics have been exploited over a wide range of repertoire.


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In addition to playing over static minor and dominant chords, the ability to play over static major chords
in all positions of the fretboard is extremely useful. This have been kept fairly neutral. avoiding too much
differentiation between Ionian and Lydian so that these can be used on most instances of static major chords.
Learning and composing Major scale patterns like these (together with the Dominant and minor examples) will greatly
enhance the harmonic proficiency in your playing, and creative freedom in improvisation. Endless Lines III on Static Major Chords

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Continuing from the last study, let’s take a CAGED approach to the minor or minor 7 chord. This will involve
Dorian, Melodic Minor, Aeolian, Dorian bebop, Minor blues and other bebop devices. A Dorian key signature
is given as this is a central modal component in a lot of static minor chord playing.
These have been written as continuous studies so repeat each section and move on at will for an epic workout.
Again we focus on a quaver feel,but remember that once absorbed these can be endlessly shuffled and lego-ed
in creative performance. Note also that these can work well on there related dominant chord (F7 in this case).
Be sure to visualise the underlying chord-shapes and arpeggios, practise in various keys, styles and tempos to
make them an intuitive part of your playing.
Endless Lines II on Static Minor Chords

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A real challenge in playing jazz guitar lies in the performance of long seamless lines. This of course is only
a small component of improvisation, but it’s worth working on, as the sort of motor control and brain-finger
connection has to be really developed. Using the CAGED system established previously, we’ll look at playing
over static dominant chord. This will largely use dominant, bebop dominant, lydian dominant with typical
bebop devices. Rather than runing scales, these (somewhat abritrary but effective) 4-bar phrases cover much
of each position and require a comprehensive understanding of fretboard harmony. Of course these can be
edited, recomposed, transposed, and lego-ed endlessly. These are very useful and can be applied immediately to the bridge of a Rhythm Changes, a Blues progression, and any instances of dominant chord ‘islands’ in other repertoire. Remember that it is the concept as much as the particular vocabulary here. Compose your own material remembering that If you have lots of musical things to say over any harmonic context in any position on the fretboard, then creative spontaneity during performance becomes a possible, or even unwavering.
Endless Lines I – Static Dominant Chord

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Following on from the challenge in the last post – developing ii-V-I vocabulary all over the fingerboard –  the following study takes a similar approach for minor ii-V-i patterns, for example Dm7(b5) – G7alt – Cm7. This will greatly enhance useful vocabulary. Furthermore all of the G7alt material may be readily used in a major ii-V context, and as ever these ideas can be broken up, restructured, shuffled, edited, sequenced and recombined for further editing. As a child I preferred Lego and Meccano to Playmobile and ActionMan. This is because Lego and Meccano had smaller and endlessly interconnectable units far more was possible, and the creative imagination had far freer scope, and partly because my ActionMan had missing fingers and only one of his eyes moved.

One should adopt a Lego approach here, but just make sure you put them away when you’re finished.

Minor ii-V-I lines CAGED

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The following short document uses an approach that provides 40 useful ii-V-I lines in every position of the guitar fingerboard, greatly aiding fluency of long improvised lines through jazz harmony. Hard work, but big returns. As ever, enjoy the process of practising and earn the resulting creative freedom. Yeah.

ii-V-I lines CAGED

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Unlike the piano, the ability of playing a simultaneous bass line and chord progression on the guitar is hard won.

However, with some focused work on fretboard harmony, an effective, intuitively controlled and fun approach is possible.

The following document provides an introduction to the technique – and some patient practice will go a long way. Enjoy.

Walking Bass & Chords

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The CAGED system is a powerful tool to unlock the guitar fretboard. Here I use the concept in a Jazz context – it’s a real roast but is a very direct way of sorting out your harmonic literacy on the fretboard. Suffer, practise, enjoy.

Uncaging the Monkies

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Rather than using the typical approach of starting with scales for soloing, it can be far more beneficial to understand the chord-tones of the harmonic progression upon which you are playing. The implications of scales is that there is an ascending (or descending) hierarchy of importance, when in reality the pattern of consonance and dissonance does not follow a linear fashion. By understanding chord tones a more lyrical and harmonically sensitive approach to soloing may be made. Furthermore, with the use of cells – small and manageable note sets – the entire fretboard can be mastered, and a fluent and genuinely spontaneous solo can be made. The following document introduces the concept of cells, using 7th chord arpeggios as a starting point.

Enjoy, practice, weep, practice, enjoy more.

Cells and 7th Arpeggios for Guitar

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The guitar is a supremely expressive instrument, and an essential component in a huge range of musical styles. However, its place in the instrument family is somewhat of a platypus. It is partly melodic with some players playing almost exclusively monophoncally (e.g. BB King). Some musicologists place it in the percussion family as its strings are not bowed – Jimmy Page and Nigel Tufnell aside, and it is also of course it is also a chordal – a harmonic – instrument. However due to

1) The guitar’s limited number of strings

2) The anomalous standard tuning system (all 4ths apart from one rogue major 3rd)

3) The fact that – unlike the piano – most of the notes on the guitar can be found in more than one position and

4) The number of fingers we’ve evolved

…a comprehensive harmonic approach is extremely challenging to learn. What might be simple on the piano, for example closed-voicing diatonic 7th chords, can be difficult on the guitar. Then again the parallel nature of the guitar has huge advantages -in terms of transposition and playing in different keys – over many other instruments.

The following document, provides a challenging but hugely useful inroad into deep harmonic literacy of the guitar, its deep study (even of just one section of it) I’ve found has really helped me and my students. Enjoy, be patient, and then enjoy a lot more.

Drop2 voicings

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