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A definitive guide to practicing modes on piano?

Studio E

Eric Watkins
Can someone point me to a book or otherwise that would give me keyboard exercises for learning modes? I know how to figure out all the modes of the major scale, but I don't really have any exercises to burn them into my muscle memory. Does something like this exist? Scales are fine but I was hoping for something that would push me through more. Thanks.
 
OP
Studio E

Studio E

Eric Watkins
You know that modes are scales starting from a different key?
I do indeed understand that, but I'd really like something like I had years ago that was an exercise book for all the major and minor scales with fingerings, only for modes and alternate scales. Figuring them out isn't really difficult, but I'd like something to follow that would help me drill them into my head. A book or an app would be fine.
 

thesteelydane

Senior Member
I'm of the firm conviction that exercises you make up yourself, for yourself, to solve a specific problem are infinitely more beneficial than anything from an exercise book. Of course you have to be past the completely beginner stage to be able do that, but I know you are, so why not come up with your own fingerings for every mode, and practice them in every key? In the long run it will be infinitely more beneficial,as it will engage much more of your brain.
 

mikeh-375

old school
I'm of the firm conviction that exercises you make up yourself, for yourself, to solve a specific problem are infinitely more beneficial than anything from an exercise book. Of course you have to be past the completely beginner stage to be able do that, but I know you are, so why not come up with your own fingerings for every mode, and practice them in every key? In the long run it will be infinitely more beneficial,as it will engage much more of your brain.
Eric, I'd definitely go along with this above and add that you might also benefit from making your own scales/modes up too. You might well replicate existing modes, but it'd be really instructive if you then make up more unusual harmonic shapes within the modes and play around with them. It's amazing how much music you can find when using technique like this in a kind of search mode...(no pun intended).
 

TimCox

Active Member
I practiced modes by learning how to change any given major scale into the mode vs. using (x) scale over (a) key because I wanted to be able to fly into a mode without any hesitancy.

So:

Ionian - Normal Major
Dorian - b3, b7
Phrygian - b2, b3, b6, b7
Lydian - #4
and so on...

Not revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination but I found it helped me.
 
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halfwalk

Member
In my opinion, one way to practice the modes is to write new music with them. Like TimCox touches on above, each mode has it's "flavor" tone(s). Dorian, for instance, has that major 6th; otherwise, it is just a minor scale. So, it's entirely possible to write something in natural minor (Aeolian mode) and have it be indiscernible from Dorian mode if you never hit that major 6.

So I think it's important to focus on those "flavor" tones, and maybe craft some new lines that really emphasize them. As you know, the major scale modes are just starting a major scale from a point other than the tonic. But as the Dorian vs. Aeolian example illustrates, it becomes entirely about context. If you aren't working those "flavor" tones, then you aren't really using the modes. So you just have to drill into your head which tones give which mode its flavor.

Also, I like to go to something like YouTube and search for (e.g.) "G Mixolydian jam track" or whatever and just play along to it til I'm sick of it. The user "Quist" has a bunch of these tracks with different keys and modes, for instance. A lot of them seemed aimed at guitar players, but work just as well for any type of instrument, provided you don't mind playing along to whatever genre they happen to be in. This way, you can practice learning a certain mode/key, as well as practicing your improvisational chops and your ability to adapt to different genres/styles, and you also get a feel for which harmonic context is appropriate for which mode and stuff like that.

It's also worth noting how the modes and keys relate to one another. For a simplistic example, if you're trying to play D Dorian, you can basically let your fingers fall into those comfortable C Major positions, and simply adjust your mental contextualization of that familiar pattern. Same with E Phrygian, F Lydian, etc, they're all those same C Major positions you already drilled in. So if you think about it like this, once your fingers are comfortable with each major scale, then they are (by extension) comfortable, to an extent, with all the modes of that particular key, provided you can learn to flip that mental switch.

Your mileage may vary, but I find this helps my fingers get a feel for each mode, without getting into that whole boring rote memorization tactic of just playing the modes up and down by themselves. But I'm no instructor or professional by any means, and everyone is different.
 
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Montisquirrel

Active Member
In my opinion, one way to practice the modes is to write new music with them. Like TimCox touches on above, each mode has it's "flavor" tone(s). Dorian, for instance, has that major 6th; otherwise, it is just a minor scale. So, it's entirely possible to write something in natural minor (Aeolian mode) and have it be indiscernible from Dorian mode if you never hit that major 6.

So I think it's important to focus on those "flavor" tones, and maybe craft some new lines that really emphasize them. As you know, the major scale modes are just starting a major scale from a point other than the tonic. But as the Dorian vs. Aeolian example illustrates, it becomes entirely about context. If you aren't working those "flavor" tones, then you aren't really using the modes. So you just have to drill into your head which tones give which mode its flavor.

Also, I like to go to something like YouTube and search for (e.g.) "G Mixolydian jam track" or whatever and just play along to it til I'm sick of it. The user "Quist" has a bunch of these tracks with different keys and modes, for instance. A lot of them seemed aimed at guitar players, but work just as well for any type of instrument, provided you don't mind playing along to whatever genre they happen to be in. This way, you can practice learning a certain mode/key, as well as practicing your improvisational chops and your ability to adapt to different genres/styles, and you also get a feel for which harmonic context is appropriate for which mode and stuff like that.

It's also worth noting how the modes and keys relate to one another. For a simplistic example, if you're trying to play D Dorian, you can basically let your fingers fall into those comfortable C Major positions, and simply adjust your mental contextualization of that familiar pattern. Same with E Phrygian, F Lydian, etc, they're all those same C Major positions you already drilled in. So if you think about it like this, once your fingers are comfortable with each major scale, then they are (by extension) comfortable, to an extent, with all the modes of that particular key, provided you can learn to flip that mental switch.

Your mileage may vary, but I find this helps my fingers get a feel for each mode, without getting into that whole boring rote memorization tactic of just playing the modes up and down by themselves. But I'm no instructor or professional by any means, and everyone is different.
Thank you for taking the time to write all this. Really helpfull. The idea of learning the flavor of each mode instead of just playing them up down seams logical and fun. I gonna try it.
 

NoamL

Winter <3
I practiced modes by learning how to change any given major scale into the mode vs. using (x) scale over (a) key because I wanted to be able to fly into a mode without any hesitancy.

So:

Ionian - Normal Major
Dorian - b3, b7
Phrygian - b2, b3, b6, b7
Lydian - #4
and so on...

Not revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination but I found it helped me.
this is how I think of them too!

although from what I've read when you get to the more advanced modes like modes of melodic/harmonic minor, and especially their use in jazz and advanced 20th century tonality like JW, Horner, Goldsmith etc that kind of music, it can be helpful to be conscious of the parent scale.

But as far as the music I write, I'm never conscious of E Lydian as "a mode of B major" it's always just E major with a #4.

Those flavor tones are by far the most important note in each scale. If the melody or harmony doesn't feature them, the mode isn't actually implied.
 

Gerhard Westphalen

Scoring Mixer
I'd suggest looking into jazz books and learn it from that side of things. I'd recommend The Jazz Piano Book and Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine. They'll give you a great application of modes.
 

TimCox

Active Member
this is how I think of them too!

although from what I've read when you get to the more advanced modes like modes of melodic/harmonic minor, and especially their use in jazz and advanced 20th century tonality like JW, Horner, Goldsmith etc that kind of music, it can be helpful to be conscious of the parent scale.

But as far as the music I write, I'm never conscious of E Lydian as "a mode of B major" it's always just E major with a #4.

Those flavor tones are by far the most important note in each scale. If the melody or harmony doesn't feature them, the mode isn't actually implied.
Definitely! I often find the heavier modes (melodic/harmonic minor modes) require me to be more left brained in my approach
 
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