Friday, 11 May 2012

Modes 101

Guitar players always seem to want to one up the other guy by playing in modes (lets be honest, most girls don't care).  We arrogantly advertise that we know what is going on even if we don't have a clue.  Then we run home to search for a comprehensive guide to modes on Google but often the explanations are nearly impossible to understand.  I'm here to try and save you.  Here is the most basic way I can explain what modes are.

If we take the C major scale we find that the notes are arranged like this:
We can break that scale down to a series of half and whole steps like this:

C - D is a whole step, also called a whole tone
D - E is a whole step,
E - F is a half step, also called a semitone
F - G is a whole step 
G - A is a whole step
A - B is a whole step 
B - C is a half step.  

By looking at what makes up a scale, we should be able to see a pattern emerge. In the case of this major scale, we see this pattern:  Whole step, Whole step, Half step, Whole step, Whole step, Whole step, Half step.  Now here is where the fun comes in.  The different modes that we use are just this pattern beginning and ending at a different point.  Let me illustrate.
Here is the pattern for two octaves of a major scale, also known as the Ionian mode: (W stands for Whole step and H stands for Half step)
W W H W W W H - W W H W W W 

If we begin this seven part pattern on the second degree we get something that goes like this:
W H W W W H W  (starting on the second W of the above pattern)
This is called the Dorian mode.  This is a very neat minor sounding mode to play in.  Think Halo splash screen...

If we start on the first H of the pattern we get this:
H W W W H W W 
This is the phrygian mode.

The Lydian mode starts on the next degree:
W W W H W W H  This one sounds a little like a major on the bottom end of the scale and a little minor on the top

The Mixolydian mode begins like a major scale and is major all almost the way through.

The Aeolian mode uses this pattern:
W H W W H W W  This one will sound familiar to most guitar players since it is also known as the natural minor scale and the majority of rock and blues is built on this mode.  The seventh degree of this scale is often raised in order to strengthen the pull back to the tonic pitch.

This last pattern is an interesting one.  Because it has two naturally occurring tritones in it, many music theorists consider it to not be a mode at all, however it is almost indispensable for a jazz player.  Here is the Locrian mode:

An Irish guy (and one of the better human beings around) told me a little saying to remember the order of the modes and it goes like this:

I          Don't    Play       Like     Most           Average Lads
Ionian Dorian Phrygian Lydian Mixolydian Aeolian Lochrian

And that's that!  Good Luck!

Friday, 13 January 2012

Study Stragities for Musicians

A friend of mine posted a link to this on my wall... I bet that many of you who read this will find it interesting.

The Piano Player Confessions
I recently received a message from an accomplished piano player. Let’s call him Jeremy.  This is someone who majored in piano performance at music school, where he was one of the top two students in the major. He won state-level competitions throughout his college career.  Jeremy wrote in response to my recent article on the surprisingly relaxed lives of elite musicians. He told me that post agreed with his experience.  “I, and the other strong students in my department, did practice less than the weaker students,” he said.  He then went on to explain exactly what he and the other strong students did differently as compared to their less accomplished peers.  I reproduced his explanation below (I added the headings and edited the text slightly), as I think it offers profound insight into the difference between the type of work most of us do and what it actually takes to become so good they can’t ignore you.  As you read Jeremy’s strategies, ask yourself what it would mean to apply these same ideas to your livelihood, be it as a writer, programmer, consultant, student, or professor. When I performed this exercise I was embarrassed by the gap between what I should be doing (if I want to maximize my ability), and what I actually do. Good food for thought as we roll toward a new year…
Jeremy’s Strategies for Becoming Excellent…
  • Strategy #1: Avoid Flow. Do What Does Not Come Easy.
    “The mistake most weak pianists make is playing, not practicing. If you walk into a music hall at a local university, you’ll hear people ‘playing’ by running through their pieces. This is a huge mistake. Strong pianists drill the most difficult parts of their music, rarely, if ever playing through their pieces in entirety.”
  • Strategy #2: To Master a Skill, Master Something Harder.
    “Strong pianists find clever ways to ‘complicate’ the difficult parts of their music. If we have problem playing something with clarity, we complicate by playing the passage with alternating accent patterns. If we have problems with speed, we confound the rhythms.”
  • Strategy #3: Systematically Eliminate Weakness.
    “Strong pianists know our weaknesses and use them to create strength. I have sharp ears, but I am not as in touch with the physical component of piano playing. So, I practice on a mute keyboard.”
  • Strategy #4: Create Beauty, Don’t Avoid Ugliness.
    “Weak pianists make music a reactive  task, not a creative task. They start, and react to their performance, fixing problems as they go along. Strong pianists, on the other hand, have an image of what a perfect performance should be like that includes all of the relevant senses. Before we sit down, we know what the piece needs to feel, sound, and even look like in excruciating detail. In performance, weak pianists try to reactively move away from mistakes, while strong pianists move towards a perfect mental image.”

 CLICK HERE.  It is the link to the page that this was originally on

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Brian May built a guitar too!

A while ago I built a guitar and I was so proud of myself that I posted all about it.  Now the other day, a buddy of mine posted this video on his wall on Facebook and I just have to share it with you.  It turns out that I'm not the only person who has built a guitar and documented it.  I already knew that Brian May (guitar player for Queen) was involved in guitar building because he has written a forward in my 'how to build a guitar' book, but I didn't know that it was his first guitar.  It's nice to have it all laid out nicely in short-video form too.  So I hope you enjoy as much as I did!

Click HERE  for the video.

its on which is a fine way to waste a day so after you are done watching this video, click 'random video' near the top of the page and enjoy!  Its like someone took only the best videos from youtube and made a website about it!

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