NOTE: This question CANNOT be deleted by me (Ethan Cannoy). I was going to delete it, but since it has answers what happens to it is out of my hands. I would request, however, that you do not downvote this question, as there is nothing I can do about it.

I don't really understand modes, but I think they are like variations of keys. So, for instance, C Dorian is the Dorian version of the C key?

Anyways, I can't seem to figure out if there is a use for modes during performance. Let's say I'm on stage, about to start playing the first song of a gig. Would modes matter while I was playing that song (choose whatever song you think would work best for the situation), or are they just for conversation and practice?

EDIT: The other question involves a specific situation and is about the usage of modes as a whole. This question is about the use of modes during performance.

  • I wonder if the question "what's the value" encompasses the question "what's the value during performance." I posted an answer to the question, and in it, I discuss performance. I don't think these two questions are seeking substantially different information. Practical value (which I asked about) includes advantages and usages during a performance (which you ask about). – jdjazz Jul 24 '17 at 21:21
  • @jdjazz, thanks! I actually didn't see your answer and that is why I asked this question. I'd remove the question, but that's against the site rules. – Ethan Cannoy Jul 24 '17 at 22:49
  • Let's say I'm on stage, about to start playing the first song of a gig - A lot would depend on your material: If you're playing a carefully timed set of 10 rock and pop tunes, then during the performance, modes probably won't be particularly relevant, unless you've learned a song through leveraging modes to nail it. But if you're about to start a jazz set, or maybe 'jam rock', knowledge of modes would be constantly relevant to your improvisation. – Stinkfoot Jul 25 '17 at 1:42

Answering the first part, C Dorian uses Bb as its parent scale. Dorian is based on the second degree of the major scale, which in this case, is C, the second note in Bb major. Thus, it uses all the Bb major notes, but is centred around C, rather than Bb.

There's a whole can of worms involved in the other part of the question, which was aired recently by jdjazz, entitled 'What's the value of modes?' And I'm thinking there will be more enlightening answers than we have already.

There are many songs/pieces which are categorised as modal. In fact, the vast majority of early religious pieces were such. Take some Celtic music, which on the face of it appears to be in a minor key. However, listening carefully, it becomes apparent that there are occasions when a note played/sung doesn't really belong in a 'normal' minor key. It's often because the song is not actually in a minor key, but a minor mode - usually Dorian.

This isn't going to help you much, as you start your gig. Mainly because the songs are probably in major or minor keys. Except that both are regarded as modes anyway, Ionian and Aeolian respectively. It will, of course, depend on what kind of music the gig involves. In a jazz gig, one may well be thinking modally far more often than in a pop, blues or punk gig.

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  • not actually in a minor key, but a minor mode...Dorian | Dorian was their 'normal minor key' -and probably their normal key (and perhaps their only key). The music you're talking about pre-dates the period when Ionian became the de-facto reference mode - there was no clear concept of "major and minor" - different cultures had different systems, probably the result of the different ways they had of making music and also their own cultural traditons. See @mcdtracy 's answer. – Stinkfoot Jul 26 '17 at 6:44

Modes developed historically because some instruments had fixed pitches and could not be changed quickly.

Think of a small handheld harp. The strings might be tuned to what we'd consider a C Major scale: C D E F G A B C

How could such a tuning accomodate a song needing a minor feeling. Modes hold the key. Base your melody around D, E or A and you will create a minor sounding tune. Support that tune with 3 note (every other string) combinations around the selected root and you'll hear: D-F-A = D minor E-G-B = E minor A-C-E = A minor

Historical examples of folk songs in these minor keys abound, for example:

Greensleeves - D Dorian - D dorian What Child is This? - A Aeolian * The melody and scales differ by the position of the 1/2 steps in the scale: Dorian has 1/2 steps between the 3-4 and 6-7 notes Aeolian has 1/2 steps between the 3-4 and 5-6 notes

E minor - Phrygian scale is common in "spanish folk music" like Malaguena Play an E monor chord followed by an F major chord and back to Em and you'll be inspired to a flamenco improvisation.

So, the modes create cultural references for us and can be used to generate fresh melodic ideas and solos. On stage they can be a use tool for a working musician but only if you want to extra spice of the less well worn paths of musical expression. Major and Minor scales will make you sound perfectly western and as I was once accused of being: "the whitest soloist in the band" because I just didn't know any blues scales on the flutist.

It would be very difficult to play modern pop music without a resoanble facility for the blues scale or at least pentatonic scales as a subset.

Pentatonic uses also come from historic instruments with fixed pitches that emerged in all the major cultures around the continents. Pentatonics also allow for the focus on a root that generates a major chord reference and a minor chord reference depending upon the start and end points of a melody and the selected chords chosen from the available set.

As an artist you can choose the tools and colors you paint with that express your aesthetic. There are no rules... just choices.

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