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Making Modes Manageable


The hardest part about starting with Modes has to be recognizing and identifying them. I used to be amazed at my lecturers at the ACM who could identify a Mode with no hesitation.


The truth is, Modes are in the ear. You can spend hours discussing the structure of a Mode, it's intervals, how to play and so many more aspects of what makes it unique. If you do not know what it sounds like you will not be able to use it convincingly, let alone apply any tricks like substitutions.


I have found myself in so many situations, trying to convince my students of the sound of a Mode, only to be met with a (understandable) blank gaze. Some would be polite and agree with me, but with obvious apprehension. This is completely normal, as there can be some very abstract sounds. The main thing to keep in mind is that you have to get used to them. As humans we were not born with a taste for everything and some acquisition is required. Something as obscure as sound makes it even harder to get a grip of something that is new to us. It is comparable to finding your bearings in a new town and getting the lay of the land. You do not necessarily have to like it, but it will not change just because you don't.


A good place to start while studying a Mode - and it is a good idea to do one Mode at a time - is to listen to some Modal music. It is very easy to make a Google Music or Spotify playlist for every Mode and listen through it a few times. Here are a few examples.



I - Ionian:

Always With Me, Always With You - Joe Satriani

Beast of Burden - The Rolling Stones

Brown-eyed Girl - Van Morison

Call Me Al - Paul Simon

Cliffs of Dover - Eric Johnson

Down on the Corner - CCR

Free Falling - Tom Petty

Goodbye to Romance - Ozzy Osbourne

Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring - J.S. Bach

Let It Be - The Beatles

Like a Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan

Ode To Joy - Beethoven


ii - Dorian:

A Horse with no name - America

Another Brick in the Wall part 2 - Pink Floyd

Eleanor Rigby - The Beatles

Fly Like an Eagle - the Steve Miller Band

Godzilla - Blue Oyster Cult

Riders On the Storm - The Doors

Scarborough Fair - Simon and Garfunkel

So What - Miles Davis (melody is in the bass line)

Surfing With The Alien - Joe Satriani

Who Will Save Your Soul - Jewel


iii - Phrygian:

Bemsha Swing - Thelonious Monk

Mr. Man - Alicia Keys (melody also uses harmonic minor on the V chord)

Spiral Dance - Keith Jarrett

White Rabbit - Jefferson Airplane


IV - Lydian:

E.T. Theme - John Williams

Flying In A Blue Dream - Joe Satriani

Here Comes My Girl - Tom Petty (intro and verses)

Hey Jealousy - The Gin Blossoms

Hog Heaven - Frank Zappa

Jane Says - Jane's Addiction

Oceans - Pearl Jam

The Jetsons Theme

The Simpsons Theme


V - Mixolydian:

Body Snatchers and Give UP the Ghost - Radiohead

Dark Star and Fire On the Mountain - The Grateful Dead

Dear Prudence - The Beatles

Folsom Prison Blues - Johnny Cash

Here Comes Your Man - Pixies

I'm So Glad - Cream

Jessica - The Allman Brothers Band

Lowrider - War

No Rain - Blind Melon

Norwegian Wood - The Beatles

On Broadway - George Benson

Sweet Child O' Mine - Guns 'n Roses

Sweet Home Alabama - Lynyrd Skynyrd


vi - Aeolian:

All Along the Watchtower - Jimi Hendrix

Black Magic Woman - Fleetwood Mac/Santana

Black Orpheus - Luis Bonfa

Building a Mystery - Sara McLachlan

First Tube - Phish

I Kissed a Girl - Katie Perry

Losing My Religion - R.E.M.

Paranoid - Black Sabbath

Rhiannon - Fleetwood Mac

Sultans of Swing - Dire Straits

Sweet Dreams - the Eurythmics/Marilyn Manson

You Give Love a Bad Name - Bon Jovi


vii - Locrian

Dust To Dust - John Kirkpatrick

This is, off course, not a exhaustive list, but it is a starting place. A good idea is to make your own for each Mode according to your taste that you can use long-term as a reference.


It is a journey of great discovery and development to study the Modes, so make sure you do it properly by understanding the Theory behind it and what your options are when playing them. Modes are an Intermediate to Advanced area and holds a wealth of information and greatly adds to understanding Music.


Many composers do not set off to write a song in a specific Mode and it is VERY important to remember that: Theory should not dictate music, but explain it.


It's in the Ear.


(This post was inspired by my student: Renan Carvalho)



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