Adding Modes to Your Scale Routine

Most of us musicians or music students wear “many different hats” in terms of our musical activities. Often those widely varying facets of our musical studies or career can overlap in a few select areas, and capitalizing on those overlaps can be extremely beneficial to us, both in terms of available time and an enhanced skill set. I myself, as a percussionist, music theory teacher, and jazz ensemble director, recently realized one of those overlaps and have started encouraging my students with two easy approaches to incorporating four modes (major, minor, Dorian, and Mixolydian) into a typical scale practice routine. Given the availability of this blog, I figured I might as well share the ideas with you as well!

Option 1: Using one-note alterations to create parallel modes

  1. Play a major scale as you would normally (one octave, two octaves, “Green” scales, … whatever is your “normal”).
  2. Lower the 7th scale degree (i.e. in C Major, lower the B to B-flat) and play again … you’ve just played the parallel Mixolydian mode.
  3. Next, also lower the 3rd scale degree (i.e. in C Major, in addition to B-flat, lower the E to E-flat) and play again … now you’ve played the parallel Dorian mode.
  4. Finally, lower the 6th scale degree (in C Major we’d now we have B-flat, E-flat, and A-flat) and play again … you’ve just played the Aeolian mode (or natural minor).
  5. Repeat this process with all twelve starting notes (or at least those for which you know the major scale).

Option 2 involves simply changing or being more consciously aware of scale starting notes to more intentionally play relative modes. In reality, when you play a major scale, you are simultaneously playing all the relative modes (the six other modes that share the same key signature). In order to do so a little more deliberately, you can practice an extended major scale that specifically changes direction on the bottom and top note of a variety of modes. Here’s my best description of the process using the “template” of C major:

  1. Begin by playing the ascending C major scale.
  2. When descending back towards C, continue just a few extra notes down to A (the sixth scale degree) before beginning to ascend again. As many octaves as you played for C major, play for the relative A minor (or Aeolian) and return back to the starting A, but don’t stop yet!
  3. Ascend again to D (the second scale degree) and continue up to play as many octaves of the relative D Dorian as you did for C major and A minor.
  4. When you return back to the low D, change directions again, ascend to G (the fifth scale degree), and continue up to play as many octaves of the relative G Mixolydian as you did for the other modes. Once you get back to G, simply continue down a few more notes to your original C (first scale degree or “tonic”).
  5. Repeat this process for all twelve starting pitches (or again, at least those for which you know the major scale).

I hope you enjoy this slight variation and extension to your normal scale routine!