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Tom Quayle Modern Guitar Part 12: Creating Modal Grooves Using Lydian Chords

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 37 **

Hey guys and welcome back to my guitar lesson column for issue 37. For this lesson we’re going to be looking at a rhythm guitar concept that was shown to me back in my days as a Jazz guitar student by a great teacher I had at the time. This idea was pretty amazing for me at the time, giving me a fantastic way to create major scale based modal guitar chords and grooves with just a couple of chord voicings. There a quite a few well known guitar players that utilise this concept of moving a select few shapes around the fretboard to create all manner of other chord types against different bass notes and the concept is both powerful and efficient so let’s get started!

By creating a modal chord or groove I mean that the sound we end up with will sound exactly like a particular mode with the specific notes that define that modal area. For example, a Lydian chord will contain the Major 7th and #11th, a combination that is specific to only that mode and therefore couldn’t be mistaken for any other major scale mode. Phrygian chords will have to contain the b9 and b6 and Dorian chords will need to 13th and b3 for example. These particular chords can be names by their related mode since that would be the only scale you could play over them.

In order to learn modal chords and utilise them in a groove it would seem that we would need to learn a few voicings for each mode in the major scale, let’s say three voicings per mode, giving us seven modes with three voicings each - a total of 21 chord voicings. However, this is not actually necessary as a very interesting thing occurs when we take the Lydian chord and play it in a specific place above all of the root notes for each mode we want to create. If placed correctly above a bass note, the Lydian chord gives us all of the choice notes for each of the other modal chords - we just need to learn where to place it in relation to the bass note for each of the modes. Now, let me get one thing out of the way at this stage. We are not going to be creating a ‘modal’ voicing for the major scale or Ionian scale as it is otherwise known, since a basic Major triad or Major 7th chord will more than suffice for this scale. For each of the other six remaining modes, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian, we’ll be learning where to place these two Lydian Voicings in order to get the sound of each of these modes in a chordal sense.

In the accompanying video and TAB file I teach you the two Lydian voicings you need to achieve this goal. Learn these two chords on the middle four and top four strings, since the shape will change because of the way the guitar is tuned (in the video I am using my 4ths based tuning, so my chord shapes are the same wherever I play them). If you check out each voicing you’ll see that they all contain the #4/#11 and major 7th intervals we talked about earlier, hence the reason we call them Lydian voicings. Once you’ve learned these two voicings on the two string sets we can check out where we need to place them against a specific bass note in order to achieve each modal chord. For the examples in this lesson I use a C bass note for each modal chord.

Here is a chart to show you where you need to place each voicing to achieve the sound of each mode against this C root note: -

Dorian – place voicing up a minor 3rd from the root note

Phrygian – place voicing up a minor 2nd from the root note

Lydian – place voicing on the root note

Mixolydian – place voicing up a minor 7th from the root note

Aeolian – place voicing up a minor 6th from the root note

Locrian – place voicing up a b5th from the root note

Check out the TAB for this lesson to see these voicings written out against these root notes. I recommend playing these against a C drone so that you can hear and learn the sound that these voicings create, since they may be more dissonant or darker than you are used to.

Once you’ve learnt where to place these voicings to create each modal sound you will start to see them as unique shapes for each mode and not have to think in this two-step process any more. It’s very powerful to be able to play a cool modal version of a chord without having to learn a ton of unique chord voicings, so I hope you find this useful in your own playing for creating grooves and writing pieces.

Until next time, have fun guys!


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