(Portions of this post are taken from my book “Take Control:for
guitar”, available on Amazon). In the last post, I explained the
basic concept of modal harmony (modes are the same scale/key
but based around different degree roots). Although the concept
of getting 7 different sounds from one key is great, it’s not
very practical in actual use. This is because the song itself needs
to be written in the desired mode to really get the modal sound.
Since most popular songs are written in either major(Ionian),
minor(aeolian), or blues keys, it seems the rest of the modes
are useless, unless you come across the rare popular song
written in a different mode. However it is possible to solo with
exotic sounding modes over “normal” songs by superimposing
them (a fancy term for “dump on top of”). This is because all
modes, even the exotic ones, are considered basically major or
minor in tonality (except Locrian which is diminished). The table
below list the 3 common modal song tonalities; major, minor
and blues followed by the other modes that fit those categories.
I have done this for an E root, since E is a popular key in rock
music. Since modes are just major scales played from a different
root, I put the related major keys in parentheses along with the
scale degree number to play toget the modal sound. In the
table below, “E lydian (B/4)” means you need to play a B major
scale from its’ 4th note (E) to get a Lydian sound. You could
just jam on a B major scale and get decent results, but your
riffs will sound better centered around the E root. Also since
blues harmony contains both major and minor tonality you
get twice the fun! This means you can solo in E mixolydian
(A/5) over a song in E blues like Purple Haze or Pride & Joy!
A word of caution, once you superimpose modes you are
playing a scale that is outside of the original key, whether this
sounds cool or ugly is subjective. Until you do this enough to
get a sense of what will work and what won’t (Lydian is not
good for most country music) I would save this concept for
E Major E major(E/1) E lydian(B/4) E mixolydian(A/5)
E Minor E minor(G/6) E dorian(D/2) E phrygian(C/3)*
E Blues All of the above, but I have the best luck with
dorian, mixolydian and minor modes.
* Although phrygian is nominally a minor mode, its’ sound is so
distinctive/weird that you can try it over anything, the same with
E Locrian (F/7). Who knows until you try?
To sum up the above table, if your song is in E blues tonality,
besides playing an E blues scale, you can also try; D,A, and G
major scales (hopefully centered around the E root). While
none of this is guaranteed, it does open up a lot of possibilities.