Free Downloadable PDF Files
The downloadable PDF files below provide the notation for the 12 major scales (which is the foundation for modal study) and the major and melodic minor modes in all 12 keys. Be careful not to become over reliant on the notation. You should be analysing each mode in terms of the accidentals from the major scale – more info on this below.
The 12 major scales provide the foundation for further scales study. Learn these scales thoroughly so that you can play them by memory.
A mode is essentially a scale with an exotic name. We can derive 7 modes from the major scale which can be used for improvisation in major keys.
Also known as the ‘jazz minor scale’, these modes are exotic sounding scales that can be substituted in place of less interesting harmonies.
Some Modes Are More Important Than Others.
The following 9 modes are by far the most useful and practical:
- Ionian (major scale) – used for playing over major chords
- Dorian – used for playing over minor chords
- Lydian – used for playing over maj chords and maj#11 chord
- Mixolydian – used for playing over dominant chords
- Locrian – used for playing over -7b5 chords
- Melodic Minor – can be played over any minor chord
- Lydian Dominant – used for playing over dominant chords (particularly dom chords with #11 alteration)
- Locrian Natural 2 – an more ‘exotic’ sounding alternative to the Locrian mode for playing over -7b5 chords
- Altered – used for playing over dominant chords (particularly dom chords with b9s #9s #5s)
These 9 modes will equip you for 90%+ of all chords you will come across on lead sheets and so learning these modes first is a good idea.
Pick a key such as C and then play through the modes above. Start with C Ionian then C Dorian then C Lydian etc..
Always think of the formulas and how these relate to the major scale. This will give you a functional understanding and the formulas can then be applied to all keys. Remember to think numbers not letters.
I cover this in more detail in the modal theory tutorials…
- Dorian is major scale with b3 & b7
- Lydian is major scale with a #11
- Mixilydian is major scale with a b7
- Locrian is major scale with a b2, b3, b5, b6 & b7
- Melodic Minor is major scale with b3
- Lydian Dominant is major scale with a #11 & b7 (or just mixolydian with #11 if you prefer)
- Locrian Natural 2 is major scale with a b3, b5, b6 & b7 (or just locrian with a natural 2 if you prefer)
- Altered is flat everything (b2, b3, b4, b5, b6 & b7 )
How To Practice The Modes
Choose 3 keys, such as C, F & G, and spend a week working through the above exercise.
Then the next week pick 3 more keys. Then in 4 weeks you will have practiced these important modes in all 12 keys.
Don’t spend all of your time doing the above though, maybe 20-30 minutes a day working on this (depending on how much time you practice each day)
Exercise 2 – the more important exercise!!
Now apply your knowledge of modes – this is so important because you are practically using your knowledge of modes instead of just playing them up and down (which i suspect you are doing to much of!)
When you are playing through a jazz standard, always try to identify the corresponding mode and try to use a few of the notes from the mode to embellish or rephrase the melody. Try not to deviate to far away from the melody but just tweak it slightly.
Make note of what works, what doesn’t work, what you like, what you don’t like etc..
This will help you become more familiar and comfortable with the sound of each and also to understand when you can use them.
Choose 1 standard and write down the modes above the chord changes. Then follow the guidelines above to tweak the melody and experiment with the different sounds of the mode.
This is like a smaller step towards improvisation. I do mention ‘Rephrasing The Melody’ in the Tenderly Part 2 Lesson so take a look over that, I also identify the modes for the form of Tenderly. Tenderly is a nice tune to work on with this exercise.