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Tom Quayle: Using Modes to Expand Our Chord Voicings Part 4

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 9 **

In my last three guitar lessons we’ve been discussing the use of modes within a diatonic scenario to enhance and add extensions to existing chord progressions. Hopefully you’ve managed to learn the 9th, 11th and 13th chords from previous tutorials and understood their use in a diatonic chord progression. In this guitar lesson we’re going to look at how we can use these ideas in a modal or non-functional context, something that is much more prevalent in the Fusion and Jazz guitar world.

To start, let’s just reiterate the difference between functional or diatonic harmony and non-functional or modal harmony. Diatonic/Functional Harmony is based around a key centre, be it major or minor. The majority of the chords in the progression will be derived from that key centre with perhaps a few substitutions thrown in for colour.

Modal/Non-Functional Harmony is not based around a key centre but rather each chord in the progression is from a different key or mode. We can combine any chords from any key together as long as we like the sound of the end result. When we play modal progressions we tend to see each chord as coming from a particular mode rather than a key centre. Any mode can be followed by any other mode - we simply use our ears as a guide.

The idea of matching modes to each chord within a key and using them to work out which extensions we can use on the chords can be applied very easily to non-functional harmony. In the video provided I take a very simple approach to coming up with a modal chord progression. I start by choosing four root notes, G, F#, F and Ab. These root notes need not be related in any other way than you find them interesting or they sound great together. There is no theoretical basis for this choice.

Once I have my root notes in place I can assign a mode to each of them. I could choose the same mode for each one or a different one for each note. The choice is yours and should be guided by your ears and your imagination. The whole point of modal harmony is that you aren’t trying to stick to a key or tonal centre. In the video I assign the modes as follows: -

G – Dorian

F# - Lydian

F – Mixolydian

Ab – Mixolydian

The modes that I have assigned to each root note will determine the basic chord type that I give them and also the possible extensions I can put on each chord - you can use the formula for each mode to figure out which extensions will fit on the given chord.

You can choose ANY chord/mode followed by ANY other chord/mode in your progressions - simply use your ears to find out what you do and don’t like.

In the video I assign a Gm7 to the G Dorian chord, an F# Major7 to the F# Lydian chord, an F7 to the F Mixolydian chord and an Ab7 to the Ab Mixolydian chord. Once I have this basic progression in place I can add extensions to each chord to give more colour and fine-tune the progression to my tastes.

Here are the formulas for each of the modes I’ve used: -

Dorian – 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7

Lydian – 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7

Mixolydian -  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7

Remember that the 2nd, 4th and 6th are the same as the 9th, 11th and 13th respectively.

In the video I end up with the following progression based on using the formula of each mode to pick extensions that I liked: -

Gm11, F#maj7#11, F13sus4, A13sus4.

You’ll find the specific voicings I used in the TAB section at the end of the magazine. Once the progression is in place and I like the voicings I’ve picked, I can then solo over the top of it or write a melody using the relevant mode for each chord.

Good luck writing your own modal chord progression and I’ll see you next lesson!


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