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Noodling with scales


How many useful scales are there ““ or how many would be of interest to me? Modes are one set of scales that seem to get an inordinate amount of attention from fingerstyle guitar players (and others) these days. I guess it’s their folky and archaic sound world. Arabic and other eastern scales have been explored by others, notably Davy Graham. There are dozens of the things derived from traditions world-wide and invented. I reckon that all the possible sequence of intervals have been written down and explored. A scale, after all, is simply a stepwise sequence of notes from a root to its octave; how many notes and what intervals are between them are arbitrary to the definition.

For what purpose would I immerse myself in exotic scales? Well, it’s a toughie to answer coherently; I suppose in a way similar to my exploration of harmony, I’m trying to see what all this additional musical vocabulary would do for my writing.

Now, no way would I take (say) a Jewish scale with a view to writing a Kletzmer tune; I would, on the other hand, like to hear what colours I could bring to my writing with this scale on my palette. Also, notwithstanding that I’ve questioned the notion of “modal chords”, I wonder what juxtaposition of chords I might stumble across while noodling around with some of these scales (in a sort of free-association sort of way). That doesn’t appear much like a structured approach, I know, but I have no desire to over-systematize this because I think it would inhibit that curious faculty of intuition which is the precursor of useful musical ideas. Neither do I want to study traditional, cultural or historical use of any of these scales, lest I end up making up pastiches of pre-existing forms. No, this is all about what these scales might mean to me in my writing.

So there it is. I’ll either let you know here how I get on, or I won’t – depending on how successful it all turns out.

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Modal chords!


Now this is a term that crops up quite often on internet forums and even printed publications. I’ve even seen tables constructed in Microsoft Excel correlating chords to modes. Modes are cool and their use as a basis for melodies will provide exciting possibilities particularly if the desire is to evoke a “folky” or archaic flavour.

But modal chords? Bah! Gimme a break. I’d like to know what difference there is between chords which are diatonic to the scale of the Dorian mode on D with those diatonic to the C Major scale. Etcetera. Many of my songs are modal in character ““ but in each case that’s because the scale upon which the melody is based has a root and intervals which coincide with a particular mode. It has nothing to do with the harmony or chords used apart from their being diatonic to the scale.

One caveat:; I’ve read about the use of certain modes being used by jazz players as a basis for improvising over certain chords, but this is in context of the chromatic tensions inherent in this music ““ it’s not an attempt to claim that certain chords are modal per se.

Triads are built upon major scales. Again – and in contrast – modes are melodic; their names corresponding to the roots around which melodies gravitate.

“Modal chords”? Oxymoron.