How To Use Modes In Music – Modes Explained For Garageband


How To Use Modes In Music - Modes Explained For Garageband

The modes are one of the most misunderstood musical concepts out there.

Due to the fact, there are so many guitarists out there without much music theory knowledge, there has been a proliferation of misinformation spread about the modes. I was actually guilty of the same thing at one point.

It took a long time for me to finally understand what the modes truly are. After weeks of watching YouTube videos, studying music theory on my own, and posting on Reddit in the Music Theory forum: r/music theory, I feel like I’m finally in the position to help others.

In my view, the main reason why there has been so much misinformation about the modes is the fact most guitarists – or many of them – are self-taught and they try and teach themselves music theory concepts without actually learning theory.

The result of which has led to guitarists spreading misunderstandings of the concept, ie, the idea that a mode is merely starting from a different root note of the major scale, so for instance, starting on and ending on D of the C Major scale and then calling that Dorian.

While it’s true that D, E, F, G, A, B, C, and D, in the key of C Major, is in fact, the Dorian mode, this explanation of the concept isn’t sufficient, because it’s not grasping what modes really are.

It’s not the meat and potatoes of modes, so to speak.

Without further ado, I’m going to do my very best to explain what modes are and how we can go about using them in GarageBand.

I’m going to go ahead and assume that you know very basic music theory, like the notes of the major scale, and basic chord structure: major, minor, and diminished.

So…

What are the modes?

Modes have the same notes as the major scale, however, they have different tonal centers.

A mode is the musical context in which notes are played.

They are sub-scales created by shifting the notes from the major scale around.

A tonal center – explained simply – is kind of like the “home base” of a chord progression/scale. A tonal center is typically the chord a mode is played over.

They are, in this order:

Ionian – 1st Mode (Major)

Dorian – 2nd Mode (Minor)

Phyrgian – 3rd Mode (Minor)

Lydian – 4th Mode (Major)

Mixolydian – 5th Mode (Major)

Aeolian – 6th Mode (Minor)

Locrian – 7th Mode (Diminished)

An easy – and kinda funny way – of remembering the modes in case you find it difficult is the following:

I Don’t Particularly Like Modes A Lot”

You’ll notice the way the first letter of each word corresponds to the names of the modes.

And they’re based on the Major Scale, which is the foundation of all Western Music Theory.

It’s useful to think of the Major Scale as the scale on which the rest of music theory is based.

I was taught this by someone more advanced than me, and I feel like it really helped elucidate Western Music Theory.

The Major Scale, using the Key of C Major is:

C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C,

There are no sharps or flats in the key of C Major, or in other words, all seven notes of C Major have no accidentals.

For that reason, most people explain music theory concepts using this key signature because it’s the easiest to understand.

However, I’ll be creating modal progressions using additional key signatures in the following tutorial.

The Major Scale is made up of these half-steps and whole steps:

W-W-H-W-W-W-H

On the piano, the C Major scale starts on the C and then continues all the way up the white keys until the following C. The picture below should help you see.

3 (C) Modes Garageband

Also, the Major Scale consists of a series of chords as well, using the exact same notes.

This is what the C Major Scale looks like harmonically in ‘triads’ (a fancy word for 3-note chords):

Harmonically basically means how the notes are combined together to make nice sounds.

I – C Major
ii – D minor
iii – E minor
IV – F Major
V – G Major
vi – A Minor
viiº – B Half-Diminished or Bm7b5 (B Minor Seven Flat Five)

A good way of recalling the scale degrees of the Major Scale is to remember that the I, IV, and V chords, are always major, and the vii chord is always diminished, which is what the ‘º’ symbol signifies.

In four-note chords:

I – C Major 7
ii – D Minor 7
iii – E Minor 7
IV – F Major 7
V – G7
vi – A Minor 7
viiº – B minor 7 b 5 ( Bdim7)

Explained one more time together, I typically think of the Major Scale in three different ways.

I think of it in the order of half-steps and whole steps, I think of it as chords, C Major, D Minor, E Minor, F Major, G Major, A Minor, and B Half-Diminished, and I think of it in scale degrees (I,ii,iii,IV,V,vi,viiº).

So…

These are the modes of the C Major Scale:

Ionian

Ionian Mode is the first mode of the C Major Scale, which means we start playing the C Major scale from the first degree of the scale, C, so it looks like this:

C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C

Order of whole-steps and half-steps:

W W H W W W H

The Ionian, in all cases, is the exact same as the Major Scale, because it’s based on the first degree or the root note of the scale.

Dorian

Dorian Mode is the Second Degree of The Major Scale, so we start on D:

D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D.

Order of whole-steps and half-steps:

W H W W W H W

Phyrgian

Phyrgian is the Third of the Major Scale, so we start on the third note of the Major Scale:

E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E

Order of whole-steps and half-steps: 

H W W W H W W

Lydian

Lydian, is the 4th mode of the Major Scale, so we start on the 4th note of the scale:

F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F

Order of whole-steps and half-steps:

W W W H W W H

Mixolydian

Mixolydian is the 5th Mode of the Major Scale, so we start on the 5th note of the Major Scale:

G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G

Order of whole-steps and half-steps: 

W W H W W H W

Aeolian

Aeolian is the 6th mode of the Major Scale, so we start on the 6th note:

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A

Order of whole-steps and half-steps: 

W H W W H W W

Locrian

And finally, Locrian is the 7th Mode of the Major Scale, so we start on the 7th note of the Major Scale:

B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B.

Order of whole-steps and half-steps: 

H W W H W W W

This is where people normally end their explanation of the modes, and while what I listed above are, in fact, the modes of the major scale, we haven’t explained what modes are as a concept, which is 95% of what modes actually are.

The tonal center, or the musical context, are terms that truly define what modes are. This will be meaningless to you right now, but it’ll all start to make sense as you continue through this article.

Starting on a different root note of the Major Scale is merely how we derive the mode of that key signature, but it doesn’t grasp the other most important side of modes, that being the musical context.

Using the Chords of C Major will help elucidate exactly what I’m talking about.

Above, I laid out the Chords of C Major, and here they are one more time:

C Major
D Minor
E Minor
F Major
G Major
A Minor
B Half-Diminished (Bm7b5)

And here are is how what these chords look like using the scale degrees:

I – C Major
ii – D Minor
iii – E Minor
IV – F Major
V – G Major
vi – A Minor
viiº – B Half-Diminished.

Ionian

Now, if we have a Chord Progression that uses the First Chord, the Fourth Chord, and the Fifth Chord:

C Major (I), F Major (IV), and G Major (V)

And the C Major is the tonal center of this chord progression.

And then an additional musician plays the C Major Scale starting and ending on D: D, E, F, G, A, B, C, and D, some would say that’s the Dorian mode, but it actually isn’t, and the reasoning for that is the musical context.

The reason why the above chord progression, despite playing D Dorian over it, is not in Dorian Mode, has to do with the musical context of the progression.

Because the Tonal Center of the progression is actually C Major, and it’s in the Key of C, it’s actually in C Ionian.

Remember that Ionian is based on the first degree of the major scale.

Modes are based on different tonal centers of the Major Scale.

Again:

Modes are based on the seven different scale degrees, and thus tonal centers, of the Major Scale.

There are seven notes in the major scale. There are seven chords in the major scale, and thus, there are seven modes of the major scale. Basically, they’re all kind of the same thing.

A chord progression using the chords of Key Of C Major, whose tonal center is the first chord, C Major, is in Ionian mode.

The tonal center is the most important part of what we call modes.

It’s all about the tonal center of the progression.

Dorian

So, how do we make a Dorian-sounding progression then?

A Dorian progression in the Key of C Major is a progression whose tonal center revolves around the Second Degree of C Major.

The Second Chord of C Major is D Minor.

So that means if we wanted to have a Dorian sound, we would need to have D minor as the tonal center of the Progression.

For instance,

A common jazz progression:

D Minor (ii), G Major (V), and C Major (I).

Assuming we play the D minor the most in this progression, that means the D Minor is the Tonal Centre, so then, we can play the D Dorian mode, (D, E, F, G, A, B, C, and D) over this progression, and THAT would be Dorian.

But to be honest with you, whether you play the notes of C Major starting on C or D, doesn’t really matter.

The truth is that this progression will sound Dorian regardless of what root note of the C Major scale you start on.

The reason why this chord progression and scale is Dorian is that the Tonal Centre of the progression is the second degree of the major scale, so, therefore, it’s Dorian.

Phyrgian

Another example:

If we wanted to use the Phrygian mode, we would build a chord progression revolving around the third degree of the F Major Scale, the ‘A’ note, or its relative chord, A Minor.

I’ll lay out the chords of F Major for the sake of clarity

I – F Major

ii – G Minor

iii – A Minor (Here’s our tonal centre!) 

IV – Bb Major

V – C Major

vi – D Minor

viiº – E Diminished

A Phyrgian-sounding Progression would look like this:

iii – A Minor
IV – Bb Major

Assuming the A Minor is the chord that dominates this progression, this would be a Phyrgian sounding progression because it’s based on the third mode of the C Major Scale.

So…

How would we solo over this using Phyrgian?

Playing the notes of F Major over an A minor and Bb Major chord would sound very Phyrgian.

The notes, F, G, A, Bb, C, D, and E, which all belong to the Key of F Major, would sound very Phyrgian over an A Minor and Bb Major.

Each mode has its own characteristic sound due to the fact the tonal center of each mode revolves around a different scale degree of the Major Scale.

Explained once again, the reason why playing the notes of the F Major scale would sound phyrgian over an A Minor and Bb Major chord, is because the tonal center of the progression is the third scale degree/note/chord of F Major, A Minor, or the A note.

Phyrgian is the third tonal center of the major scale, and this progression sounds phyrgian because the tonal center of the chord progression is the A Minor chord, which is the third degree of the F Major scale.

Notes of F Major: F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E, and F again.

Chords of F Major:

I – F Major
ii – G Minor
iii – A Minor
IV – Bb Major
V – C Major
vi – D Major
viiº – E diminished

The Phyrgian mode of F Major, therefore, is the third chord, which is the A minor.

Using the chords of F Major, but using the third chord, A Minor, as the tonal center, produces the phyrgian mode.

I just explained it to you 5 different times in different ways, so I hope you’ve understood.

Lydian

Moving on to Lydian mode, the fourth mode.

If we want to create a chord progression or a song with a Lydian vibe, we would use the fourth degree, note, or scale degree, of the Major scale.

The Lydian mode revolves around the fourth degree of the major scale; that’s the reason it sounds the way that it does.

Using the G Major scale as the example, (G, A, B, C, D, E, F#)

I – G Major
ii – A Minor
iii – B Minor
IV – C Major
V – D Major
vi – E Minor
viiº – F# Diminished

We would want to use the C Major as our tonal center, in order to create the Lydian sound and vibe.

Playing the notes belonging to the G Major scale, G, A, B, C, D, E, and F#, over the C Major chord would sound Lydian.

The reason why, again, is because of the tonal center of the notes. The fourth mode of the G Major Scale is the C Major chord.

Moving on to the 5th mode of the Major Scale, Mixolydian.

Mixolydian

The fifth mode of the C Major scale, for instance, would be the V chord, so the G Major.

I – C Major

ii – D Minor

iii – E Minor

IV – F Major

V – G Major

vi – A Minor

viiº – B Diminished

Using a G Major chord as a backing track, if we were to play the notes of the C Major scale over a G Major chord, it would create the Mixolydian sound due to the fact the tonal center of the progression is the fifth scale degree/chord/note.

Moving on to the Aeolian mode

Aeolian

And using a different key and chord progression,

The B minor 7 chord, which belongs to the key of D Major.

The notes of D Major are D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, and D again.

The chords of D Major

I – D Major

ii – E Minor

iii – F# Major

IV – G Major

V – A Major

vi – B Minor (Here’s our tonal center)

viiº – C# Diminished.

If we were to play the notes of D Major, over the B Minor chord, we would be playing the Aeolian mode, due to the fact the tonal center of the progression, is the sixth degree, the B Minor chord.

And finally, the Locrian Mode.

Locrian

This is probably the least favorite in popular music because of its dissonant sound, although, some musicians from other genres use it more often, like in metal and jazz, for instance.

Going back to the Key of C…

C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C, and the corresponding chords:

I – C Major
ii – D Minor
iii – E minor
IV – F Major
V – G Major
vi – A Minor
viiº – B Diminished.

If we were to play the notes of C Major, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C, over the 7th chord belonging to the key of C Major, B Diminished, we would have a Locrian sound, due to the fact the tonal center of the progression is the 7th mode of the C Major scale, B Diminished, which is also the 7th mode, Locrian.

I hope this really elucidated what modes truly are. They are not just starting from a different root note of the Major scale.

The most important part of modes involves the tonal center or in other words, the musical context over which notes played.

So…

The next question here is: how do we even go about using the modes? What is even useful about this? I almost never compose a song using one single chord? Why should I even bother learning this?

Believe me, I felt the same way about this for a long time, however, after much studying, research, and sifting through swaths of misinformation online, I finally discovered how to go about using the modes.

And I have to say, it’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever discovered in my music career thus far.

So without further ado, here is how you would actually go about composing music using the modes.

I think I should probably preface this message with something important. This is how I go about composing with the modes.

It isn’t necessarily the “right” way of going about it, it’s just the way that I use them, and it’s the way I’ve found helpful.

I’m sure there are better ways of going about it.

Anyway, moving on.

How To Actually Use The Modes Of The Major Scale

I’m going to use the Lydian mode for my first example, simply because I think it’s a super cool mode.

And it’s not used very often in popular music, but it’s used a lot in film scoring according to my favorite YouTube creator, Rick Beato.

Before going on to my explanation, I’m going to lay out the foundation of the modes, or in other words, how I go about remembering them.

Ionian is the same as the major scale.
Dorian is a minor scale with a raised 6th degree
Phyrgian is a Minor scale with a flattened 2nd degree
Lydian is a Major scale with a raised 4th degree
Mixolydian is a Major scale with a flattened 7th
Aeolian is the same as the natural minor scale.
Locrian is a minor scale with a flattened 2nd and flattened 5th.

If all of this is nonsense to you, I suggest learning what the Major scale and the Minor scales are before continuing with this article.

By far the best book on theory that has helped me learn is Mark Sarnecki’s book. I recommend reading about it a little bit in my article here.

Moving on…

If we wanted to compose using the Lydian mode, we could think of Lydian as being a key signature, in and of itself.

In other words, we’ll treat Lydian like it’s a key signature, even though it isn’t.

The Lydian mode is a Major scale with a raised 4th degree

So what does that mean?

Here are the chords of G Major

I – G Major
ii – A Minor
iii – B Minor
IV – C Major
V – D Major
vi – E Minor
viiº – F# Diminished.

So, the Lydian mode is the Major scale with a raised fourth. Let’s treat G Lydian like its a key signature and show the new chords that would be in that key signature.

If we’ve raised the fourth note of the Major scale, that means we have these notes now, G, A, B, C#, D, E, F#, rather than G, A, B, C, D, E, F#.

Notice the raised fourth? The C#?

Explained in another way…

G Lydian is the fourth mode of D Major:

D, E, F#, G – 1, 2, 3, 4th mode: G Lydian

This is what the G Lydian scale would look like if we created chords from the notes of the G Lydian scale, G, A, B, C#, D, E, F#, and G.

I – G Major (GBD)
II – A Major (AC#E)
iii – B Minor (BDF#)
ivº – C# Diminished (C#EG)
V – D Major (DF#A)
vi – E Minor (EGB)
vii – F# Minor (F#AC)

Have you noticed what’s going on here?

G Lydian has the exact same notes as the Key of D Major.

Because we raised the fourth degree of the G Major scale, it turned the IV chord, into a Diminished chord.

ather than the notes being C, E, G, which makes a C Major chord, it’s now a C# Diminished chord, because it has the notes, C#, E, and G.

The reason why the Lydian mode sounds the way it does is the raised fourth degree.

If we wanted to create a Lydian sounding progression, the tonal center of the progression, the G note, and its corresponding chord, would really help us create a Lydian sound.

Playing a G Major chord, an A Major, and an F# Minor chord would be a Lydian sounding progression, but only if we focus mainly on the G Major chord.

Then, if we wanted to add some more instruments and notes to it, we would have a guitar or whatever instrument you want of your choice, play notes belonging to the D Major scale, and voila! you’d have a very Lydian sounding piece of music.

Another example of a modal progression…

Let’s build a Dorian sounding progression from the G Major scale.

Showing the G Major scale once again:

G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, and G again.

I – G Major
ii – A Minor
iii – B Minor
IV – C Major
V – D Major
vi – E Minor
viiº- F# Diminished.

If we wanted to build a Dorian sounding progression using the Key of G Major, we would use the second chord, A Minor, as our tonal center, but using the chords of G Major to build the progression.

Starting on the note A, from G Major, now we have the tonal center, so let’s build chords from it.

A, B, C, D, E, F#, G, and then A again.

i – A minor
ii – B Minor
III – C Major
IV – D Major
v – E Minor
viº – F# Diminished
VII – G Major

If I wanted to make a Dorian sounding progression, I would use A Minor as our tonal center.

Playing the A Minor Chord, the B Minor Chord, and then the C Major chord together as a progression would be a Dorian sounding progression.

If I wanted to solo over this in the Dorian mode, I would just have to play the notes from G Major, G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, and G again, and it would sound very Dorian.

I hope you can understand what’s meant by the “musical context” and “tonal center” now.

Playing the notes of G Major over an A Minor, B Minor, and C Major, would sound Dorian.

If we were to play those exact same notes from G Major, but over a G Major, D Major, and an E Major, it would sound Ionian.

Hopefully, if you’ve really taken the time to read this article carefully, you’ll understand that the reason for why our solo would sound Ionian, is because we’ve changed the underlying chords, or the tonal center, or the musical context of the music.

That’s It!

Anyway, that’s all for now.

I really hope this helped you out.

Make sure to share it on your social media to all of your music producer friends.

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