Gabriele Pala

Extended Range Guitars & Chapman Stick Player

Modes Debunked

19 July 2015 - - Theory & Philosophy

I always hated modes. Let me explain why in few, clear, points.

Why do they have ancient greek names? An unfinished, crappy work.

There are a few Greek names for the modal scales, one per each degree of the major scale plus some other ones. For all the other scales, those names are enriched with other suffixes coming from the remaining part of the musical theory, sometimes describing some specific interval, other times in a totally arbitrary fashion. At the end, I should learn all names of all modal scales of all possible scales, beside their intervals sequence? Overall, it looks like an unfinished work. Someone started this sort of musical masturbation, realized that if you really apply modes, the number of scales and all their degrees is potentially infinite, so he abandoned the logic after 2 or 3 scales… (major, harmonic and melodic minors). For example, why the modes of the Enigmatic Scale do not have a name? What about pentatonics? Can you tell the names of the modes of a pentatonic scale? Do you really study them?

What’s the point of learning mathematical permutations of scales?

A mode is simply a scale that is created with notes from another scale starting at a specific degree of the source scale. So, for a scale made up of 7 notes, there are 7 modes. But when I play music and not exercises, there is not a boundary at the beginning or at the end of a scale, nor I am forced to play it in its entirety. So what mode am I playing? Am I able to say it?

If I play without a background chord or note, am I albe to really identify the mode?

They all sound the same.

Ok this sentence will crumble you down, I know! Let me make a comparison between playing a scale and drawing something, it will clear things out!

I was thought that a specific scale played upon different chords have different sounds, because the intervals related to the notes of the backing chord are different. That’s the basic principle of using modes… C Major notes played upon a D Minor produces a D Dorian because of the natural B… well, actually it produces what it actually is: a C Major upon a D Minor, not anything else.

Yet the notes C D E F G A B will continue to sound as C D E F G A B, whatever the backing chord is.

If I change the order or start from another point in the scale do I need to learn something new? Why an ordered sequence like D E F G A B C has the right to have a name and fingerings to study and other combinations do not have that right? Why not saying that E G D F A C B is a new mode or give it a name for the pupils to work on? Still looks like a crappy blind creativeless and soulless approach to me.

Let’s see how it works with something visual: put a blue figure on a white sheet. What do you see? Simple: a blue figure on a white background, that’s all!!

Now, put the same blue figure on another paper (a red paper for example). What do you see? It’s obvious: the same blue figure on a red background. I don’t see, nor you will, a different figure, neither a figure with different color…. it’s just a combination of things that remains the same, it may be great to see or not, but the blue figure remains exactly that.

Now…. if that blue shape was a musical scale, it should magically change while remaining the same?!?! Why??

Another example: you have a family and they shot a picture with some landscape behind. You change the order of the people in the picture or the landscape and you get another family with another name?!?! No!! Why is this accepted in music?!?

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