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I created a little loop with the following two intervals:

D A and C G

Listen here: https://tinyurl.com/ybsukagd

In looking at what scale to use to solo over that simple progression, I thought D minor scale would be the obvious choice. However, I found that the B♭ in that scale was clashing and ended up using the A natural minor scale - which to my ear, sounded "best".

I'm working on learning theory and I'm looking for the rule that tells me to solo in A minor over those two intervals (which might as well be Dm and C chords).

Any pointers much appreciated!

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  • It's a bit vague saying 'the A minor scale'. Reason is simple - there are three different A minor scales! There's A natural, A harmonic and A melodic - and that's before we consider A Dorian and A Phrygian...Each one has slightly different notes! – Tim Jun 10 '20 at 5:58
  • Related to this question: music.stackexchange.com/questions/52028/… – Albrecht Hügli Jun 11 '20 at 5:51
  • I think it's worth noting that when learning theory to remember that it's not really about rules per se, but rather descriptions as to why certain composition or improv techniques work (sound "good" within western canon) – sxmrxzxr Jun 16 '20 at 15:15
  • Try Phrygian mode D mayor. Let me know if it works. – SNR Jul 5 '20 at 15:03
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You are playing B naturals in your C chords, making them Cmaj7 chords. The Am scale contains the notes of a D minor scale but with a B natural instead of B flat. That is why it sounds better than the D minor scale.

Learn about modes. Modes are in a nutshell a way to extract 7 different scales from one by starting and ending on different notes (D to D, E to E, etc.)

In your example the A minor scale (Aeolian mode) is actually a mode built on the 6th degree of the C major scale (Ionian mode) The D Dorian mode (the scale I mentioned in the first paragraph) is built on the 2nd degree of the C Ionian scale.

So in closing the A minor scale contains the C major scale and the D minor scale with the major 6th, or B natural. That is why it works so well and is a great choice for creating melodies and improvising on that harmony.

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There are so many options available when using that particular 'chord sequence'. You could have easily included an F♯ and it would have a different sound. Try it.

With the information you have given, there's insufficient. Saying 'the A minor scale notes' narrows things down a little - but not enough. There are three main A minor scales - natural - A B C D E F G, melodic - A B C D E F♯ G♯, and harmonic - A B C D E F G♯. All slightly different in the notes used, therefore the feel given.

Then there are a couple of minor modes _ A Dorian - A B C D E F♯ G, and A Phrygian - A B♭ C D E F G. Called minor as they possess m3 above their roots.

You could have used pretty well any of those 'scales' as your bank of notes - and each one would give a different feel. That's before we venture into D Mixolydian - which also happens to contain D A C G (your ostinato notes). D Mix. gives a major feel to it all, with a tinge of Blues. The Beatles used it in several songs.

Hopefully, given this 'explanation of a rule' you'll have more ideas that you can use. The main one always being 'if it sounds good...', but when you try out my other suggestions, you may realise there's not only one 'sounds good'.

And finally, my students are all aware that any note, at any time in any piece, in any key will fit - once they know what they're doing..! Maybe that's the 'rule'?

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  • Tim, is the only way to get to the place you mention in your last sentence - to memorize every mode for each of the 12 notes (i.e., C, C#, D, D#, etc...) and every triad in each of those? As in, 12 notes x 7 modes x 7 triads = 588 positions? – LionCX Jun 11 '20 at 3:55
  • I agree that we should always know what we’re doing and be aware in which key we are in. But when improvising it will be o.k. just minding the parent key and let the fingers play their patterns. – Albrecht Hügli Jun 11 '20 at 5:48
  • @LionCX - not the best way to regard it! Some see each and every mode as a separate entity, and learn them as such. I see each mode of one key as extensions of those scale notes, so for C Ionian, D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian etc, I see one set of notes, not seven. Also it's instrument dependent - on guitar, patterns are easier to see, but on piano, not so much. And triads relate directly to scale /mode notes, so there's not all those positions to be counted. – Tim Jun 11 '20 at 6:42
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If you play Dm-C-Dm you are in D dorian and there you have the same tone resources like a minor. Of course also the D-dorian scale will fit well.

When you play with the thumb on A this is the 5th of Dm and playing all your fingers up your passage leads to E which is the 3rd of C major.

The 5th and the 3rd are the most essential intervals additional to the root of the chords Dm and C. All other non chordtones are passing tones and as you play quickly they sound fine.

But if you play any other scale or mode than Dm or Am these scales will be less congruent with DA and CG ... you probably hear D,F,A and C,E,G as you mention Dm and C major.

Edit:

I had to practice for some years all scales in all keys on the piano and on brass instruments, but just the major scale, melodic and hormonic minor scales and the triads. And today I’m getting more trouble concentrating and minding the stuff. I need to make a warming ups: transposing a piece to C major, playing the certain scale of the piece and all triads.

But there are shortcuts: You don’t need to learn all the modes. The scales are built of identical tetrachrds and If you know the scalesyou are able to play all modes like in your example: you don’t have to mind D dorian and A aeolian. This is only theory. In practice you can play in. any key and think the l.h. the chords are ii-I-ii and the r.h. plays in the same key whereby the vi degree is the root. Read here Tim’s and Michael’s answers:

How to learn the modes

Btw. John Belzaguy gives a similar explanation here.

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  • Albrecht, does the knowledge that "if you play Dm-C-Dm you are in D dorian" come from learning all the modes? It seems like a herculean task to learn each mode's scale and then every chord in that scale. (12 notes x 7 modes x 7 chords = 588 positions to memorize?) But maybe that's what I have to do to get where I want to be? That's really the question I'm asking. And by "where I want to be," I mean being able to improvise some progression and then know what my options for soloing over it are. – LionCX Jun 11 '20 at 3:47
  • This is probably the way for many of us ... inclusive me. I had to practice for some years all scales in all keys on the piano and on brass instruments, but just the major scale, melodic and hormonic minor scales and the triads. And today I’m getting more trouble concentrating and minding the stuff. I need to make a warming ups: transposing a piece to C major, playing the certain scale of the piece and all triads. – Albrecht Hügli Jun 11 '20 at 4:59
  • But there are shortcuts: You don’t need to learn all the modes. The scales are built of identical tetrachrds and If you know the scales you are able to play all modes like in your example: you don’t have to mind D dorian and A aeolian. This is only theory. In practice you can play in. any key and think the l.h. the chords are ii-I-ii and the r.h. plays in the same key whereby the vi degree is the root. Read here Tim’s answer : music.stackexchange.com/questions/52028/… Btw John B. gives a similar answer here. – Albrecht Hügli Jun 11 '20 at 5:07
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I appreciate all the great responses from which I determined that learning modes is a big part of the answer to my question. Along those lines, I finally cleared up enough brainpower to take this on and realized that learning modes is not hard at all. I created this chart:

enter image description here

What I realized is that, if you know your major scales, it's only necessary to memorize the variations on the major scale (Ionian mode) that appear in the red box. If you practice and learn those variations in the key of C, you'll absorb them and can then practice applying them to other keys.

Intuitively, my sense is that the next step in answering my question is that by learning these modes, I will begin to "see" the chords in each mode. That will take time and is a next step from just learning the structures of the modes.

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