What the heck is a MODE anyways!?

beginners theory Mar 07, 2021

What the heck is a MODE, anyways!?

We will try to keep it simple.

If I have a major scale, for instance, C Major, that scale has a key signature, which tells us how many flats and sharps to play. C has no sharps or flats, so it's easy to talk about, and also to see on a piano. Just imagine playing the white keys and only the white keys.

Now, to play C Major we need the note C to be the 'home note', or tonic. That's the note that feels like home when we resolve to it.

But it's possible to play all the same notes, as if we are in C, but instead of C feeling like home a different note feels like home.

So if we aren't playing any sharps or flats, but the note G feels like home, then we are playing a mode, or variation of a major scale.

In other words, we are playing the same notes but in a different order.

Imagine starting the alphabet at M, and when you get to Z you start immediately back at A, and finish up at L. It's a variation of the Alphabet - it has all the...

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The major scale structure

beginners theory Mar 07, 2021

We play major scales all the time, but instead of just reading and playing the notes we've learned it's helpful to understand HOW the major scale is constructed.

We need to start by knowing that a half-step is the smallest written interval in western music, and that two half steps added together results in a whole step.

If you want a visual picture of this on a piano, check this out

The pattern of a Major scale is as follows: Whole-Whole-half-Whole-Whole-Whole-half. (WWhWWWh) The following example is in G Major

Seeing this on a piano is one thing, but what about on the violin?

If we look at the pattern of Whole and 1/2 steps on the fingerboard in G Major we see this shape:


You can see the larger gaps between fingers one-two and three-four, as well as between the nut (top of the string) and first finger. These are whole steps. Notice, hear, and FEEL the half-step between 2nd and 3rd fingers.


Likewise, if we are in a different key, for example, A Major, then...

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This essential step is the place to start

I've often been asked what the first steps are to being able to improvise. Aside from the necessary adjustments in mindset, which cannot be ignored, one of the first exercises is to number the major scale.

This is a simple process which builds awareness of relationship within any musical scale, and needs to be distinct from naming the scale degrees like TONIC and DOMINANT.

Start with any ascending scale you are comfortable with. Then play the first note: 1

Second note: 2

Third note: 3

We can look at C major as an example. Written out it would look like this:

Even if you are already a trained musician it's best not to underestimate the importance of this. And let's be clear - this exercise is DIFFERENT than naming the scale degrees (ie. tonic, sub-dominant, mediant, etc.), which begins to assign FUNCTION to the notes.

If we do this initially to build a sense of relationship and spacing, and don't concern ourselves with FUNCTION just yet, then we are opening a doorway between the ...

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