[Smt-talk] Jazz Modes

Michael Morse mwmorse at bell.net
Fri Aug 23 07:10:15 PDT 2013

Thanks to M. Meeùs for the thoughtful comments on mode. I spent a good time this summer reading the excellent Cambridge History of Western Music Theory, and finally realized not only how poorly I understand "mode," but also why; among the prominent contenders for "basic" theoretical terms, such as "tone," "scale," chord," "measure," or "key," every one of them formidably resistant to definition, "mode" stands out as especially baffling. As Nicolas's comments suggest,  "mode" is not merely ambivalent, it is used to embrace outright contradictory phenomena. Even something as anodyne as "a regular group of tones" is, well, no more helpful than calling all of the Boy Scouts, Spanish anarchists, a tupperware party, Central Park corner vendors, Arctic explorers, and klezmer musicians all "groups of people."
Despite the narrative clunkiness and more than clumsy musical historiography, the locus for jazz theory, including modal theory, is doubtless still George's Russell's Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization. Russell delivers a conception of mode in jazz that is doubtless more elaborate and complex than most jazz players deploy. And it doesn't include directly all of the practices they do engage, such as creating secondary dominants for each scale degree, thus introducing extra-modal chromatic harmony--[passing] E7 to precede the second degree of G mixolydian, the tone 'A,' for example. But it does explain both the specificity and flexibility of mode for jazz players

Perhaps no theory could ever engage the full intellectual range of possibility brought to bear on "mode" in jazz; again, Russell comes impressively close, the more so because modal jazz didn't exist when he wrote his book! In that sense, jazz experience melds nicely with the longer history of the concept, which is eternally rich with contradictory bedevilments and fascinations.
MW MorseTrent UniversityOshawa, Peterborough
Date: Fri, 23 Aug 2013 10:30:40 +0200
From: nicolas.meeus at scarlet.be
To: wguerin at indiana.edu
CC: lschwartzmusic at gmail.com; smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Examples of Modes

    It seems to me that CHURCH modes are historical
      by nature and that the modes in jazz cannot be termed 'church
      modes'. If this usage exists (I am not knowledgeable enough in
      jazz theory), it should be changed! The jazz modes considered here
      are DIATONIC modes, i.e. all based on the diatonic scale and
      differing from each other by the reference tone. There are seven
      diatonic modes (as there are seven notes in the diatonic scale)
      and eight church modes (making use of only four reference tones).


      Church modes traditionally are identified by their final (which is
      their reference tone) and its position within the overall range.
      But they also are based on a limited number of melodic formulas,
      probably originating in the formulas of psalm tones. This is
      highly characteristic of an oral tradition, where one rearranges
      known formulas in various combinations. One may argue that the
      formulas have a pentatonic origin – the background scale, in the
      conventions of traditional notation, being D F G A C or its
      permutations. Church modes cannot be reduced to mere scales: they
      also are sets of formulas.


      Jazz modes probably are much more difficult to define because they
      originate in harmonic colours. For instance, playing the chord of
      II as a major chord in major may result in an apparent Lydian
      mode; playing the chord of V as minor may result in a Mixolydian
      mode; etc. The number of combinations is endless, contrarily to
      the situation in the case of church modes, especially if one does
      not feel constrained to strictly keep to one single mode. Jazz
      'modes' should probably better be described as scales (as many of
      the modern 'modes', e.g. Messiaen's 'modes' of limited
      transposition). One may define each of the seven diatonic scales
      by the specific set of chords that they form. It would soon appear
      that the set actually is determined by the diatonic scale itself,
      forming a succession, say, of triads that may be described as

    ... M  m  m  M  M  m  dim  M  m  m 
        M  M  m  dim  M ...

    and within which the various 'modes' would again differ by the
    choice of the reference tone or chord, taken as tonic. A similar
    succession of sevenths would again produce an unique result (I mean,
    one is which no two different reference tones would result in the
    same arrangement): this indicates the remarkable dissymetry of the
    diatonic scale. Different modes of the same tonic result from
    transpositions of the background diatonic scale, while different
    tonics within the same diatonic scale result in 'modes' sharing the
    same notes.


    A nice topic to end the summer...


    Nicolas Meeùs

    Université Paris-Sorbonne






    Le 22/08/2013 21:09, Guerin, William
      Brian a écrit :

      Dear Luke, 

      Excellent question!  There are probably two ways to answer
        it, depending on whether you're more concerned with the
        historical Church modes, or with the modes as thought of by jazz
        musicians (that is, as rotations of the major scale without
        concern for things like range, typical intervallic gestures,

      In the latter, case, I don't know of any single source — a
        lot of elementary jazz theory books  diagram the modes, but they
        don't seem to give examples from the literature.  However,
        looking up each individual mode on Wikipedia gives some
        examples, which should probably be verified of course! :-)

      As far as the historical Church modes go, yes, you could pick
        up one of the Catholic chant books and hunt at random according
        to the mode numbers, but p. 141 of Willi Apel's "Gregorian
        Chant" (Indiana University Press, 1958) gives some examples of
        each of the modes that he claims to be typical and to meet all
        the theoretical requirements. They seem to!  Page numbers are
        for the 1961 "Liber Usualis", which any decent-sized music
        library will have, but since it's in the public domain you can
        also access the massive 115+ megabyte download here:


      This is in traditional chant notation, but if a 5-line staff
        and modern noteheads are more appropriate for your students you
        can hunt around for the 1923 version of the Liber Usualis and
        consult the index for the page numbers.

      Anyway, here are the examples.

      Dorian: Viderunt omnes, p. 410
      Hypodorian: Ego sum pastor, p. 439
      Phrygian: Gustate, p. 1015
      Hypophyrigian: Quod dico, p. 1173
      Lydian: Dico vobis, p. 984
      Hypolydian: Exsultavit, p. 352
      Mixolydian: Dicite, p. 337
      Hypomixolydian: Modicum, p. 824

      Hope this helps (if not you then someone else!)


              Candidate, Music Theory, Indiana University
            Developer, Web Systems
            Information Technology Services
            University Jacobs School of Music
          wguerin at indiana.edu

          From: Luke Schwartz
          <lschwartzmusic at gmail.com>

          Date: Saturday, August
          17, 2013 11:12 PM

          To: <smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org>

          Subject: [Smt-talk]
          Examples of Modes



                am in search of examples of all church modes. I'm sure
                this has come up before, but it seems as though there is
                not an easy-to-find solid source or textbook with
                examples from literature for all the modes. Any
                suggestions out there for sources or individual examples?
                Thanks for your time! 



                  P. Schwartz, Composer/Guitarist

                  Music Faculty - Kaufman Center - New York, NY

                  LSchwartzMusic at gmail.com




          Luke P. Schwartz, Composer/Guitarist

            Music Faculty - Kaufman Center - New York, NY

            LSchwartzMusic at gmail.com






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