In preparing for any business, trade or science, we generally need a great deal of preparation and study. In painting, literature and music, we also need to learn the tools of our trade. The artist needs paints to express himself, while the jazz musician uses tonal resources.
The above quote is how George Russell starts his book, The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization for Improvisation. I’m currently rereading it and plan to post on a few of the concepts he describes. Before one can follow Russell’s book, though, you need to have a good grasp of the modes. Many jazz musicians are familiar with modes and use them to derive note choices for particular chords. They are useful tools for not just coming up with good note choices, but they also can help demonstrate harmonic concepts as well.
A mode is essentially a type of scale. A major scale is a mode. Most of the time we would call the below scale an “E flat major” scale, but another term for it is the ionian mode.
Organizing the exact same pitches of the E flat major scale so that the root of the scale is F creates a different mode, called the dorian mode.
Organizing the pitches of the E flat major scale starting on G comes up with the phrygian mode. Continuing on up in this pattern, an E flat scale starting on A flat is the lydian mode, beginning on B flat is the mixolydian mode, beginning on C is the aeolian mode (same as the natural minor scale), and beginning on the D would create the locrian mode.
Here are all the modes in the key of C.
If this is brand new to you, one way to help you remember the order of the modes is to remember that after learning all about this you might be thinking, “I Don’t Particularly Like Music Any Longer.”
I = Ionian
Don’t = Dorian
Particularly = Phrygian
Like = Lydian
Music = Mixolydian
Any = Aeolian
Longer = Locrian
It’s very useful to understand how each mode relates to the parent major scale, but it is probably more useful for jazz improvisers to think of each mode in terms of how they are different from the major scale starting on the same pitch. I won’t get into the chord relationships for the modes just yet, but learning these modes in the following manner will help you keep track of chord tones when you start using them to improvise.
Dorian – Major scale with a lowered 3rd and 7th
Phrygian – Major scale with a lowered 2nd (9th), 3rd, 6th, and 7th
Lydian – Major scale with a raised 4th (11th)
Mixolydian – Major scale with a lowered 7th
Aeolian – Major scale with a lowered 3rd, 6th, and 7th (also natural minor scale)
Locrian – Major scale with a lowered 2nd (9th), 3rd, 6th, and 7th
If this is already familiar to you check back tomorrow for my discussion on how the modes can be useful to understand harmonic theory as well. If this is new and you have questions, please leave them in the comments section and I (or another friendly reader) will try to help you out.