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Home Tutorials Music Production MUSIC THEORY FOR PRODUCERS - MODES - PART 3


In the last lessons, we learned about modes. We took the C Major scale as the starting point and then we were able to build all modes. The idea now is to keep practicing so that build a mode becomes something fast and natural for you.

One of the frequently asked questions about modes is: how are they useful?

A musician plays modes all the time, even without noticing it. Modes are excellent for composing, arranging and soloing. For example, most songs are composed using Ionian and Aeolian modes, which are actually the Major and Minor scales. The Dorian mode is also often used. Some examples are So what (Miles Davis), A horse with no name (America) and Get lucky (Daft Punk).

The most important thing to notice is that Lydian, Ionian and Mixolydian are variations of a major scale, while Dorian, Aeolian, Phrygian and Locrian refer to minor scales.

Modes can become a rich and handy tool, however, when used for soloing and improvising. Although improvisation is a much more extensive subject, its basis lies on scales and chords (we will cover improvisation in future lessons.).

To give you a few examples on how to use modes for soloing, let’s take a chord sequence as an example:

Here’s the keyboard diagram for each chord:




Notice that the chord sequence above is written in C Major scale. Now let’s say that you may want to create a solo to play over it. If you’re new to soloing and improvising, you might feel a little lost in the beginning. But don’t panic. There are a few basic approaches to consider:

1) Play the whole sequence using just the song key;

2) Playing only chord notes;

3) Playing a different scale for each chord;

4) Playing a different scale for each chord + chord notes.

The main idea when soloing is to create variation and interest. A solo is not a bunch of notes played without any purpose. Also, it’s not about playing faster or playing as many notes as possible. It is about developing a new melody of a given song.

A good solo or improvisation is a combination of several approaches and the more you create new ideas and variations, the better it will sound.

The first approach will consider only the song key. So, in the chord sequence example, you would improvise using the C Major scale throughout the whole sequence. However, this won’t be always the best choice; you soon will notice that your solo sounds ’empty’ and boring, mostly if you keep playing the same idea over and over.

Here’s an example of a solo over the chord sequence using only the song key:

The song scale is a good tool to use, but it can ruin your solo if you don’t add any variation. So, try to alternate between going up and down. Also, try to start a measure with a note from the correspondent chord. It will bring interest, and your solo will sound more concise.

The second approach will help you to create a more focused solo. However, it will soon become boring because it will lack creativity and interest. It will get worse if your song has only triads.

Here’s an example of a solo over the chord sequence using only chord notes:

Notice that the chord approach will add more focus to your solo, but the result will be you just playing arpeggios up and down. A good way to create variation is to add rests and use more note durations and ties.

That’s it! In the next lesson, we will continue to learn about modes and soloing.

Good productions!






Pianist, keyboardist and music producer.

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