What is the point in Modes?

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I just don't get it. Apparently, Phrygian Mode is different to Mixolydian Mode or Ionian Mode or .....  But they all use the same notes! So what gives?
   Don't misunderstand, I believe I know what the various modes are, i.e. simply playing the same 7 (or 8) notes in the same order but starting on a different one. My question is why? i.e. what is the point? Since there's so many people referring to these modes I'm assuming there is a point, I'd like to know what I'm missing.
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  • FuengiFuengi Frets: 781
    Context. The modes relate to the key you are in and gives a particular flavour.

    For example, David Gilmour uses Dorian quite a lot and that gives his playing a particular accent. 
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  • BellycasterBellycaster Frets: 2676
    edited December 2018
    My interpretation is that it relates to the note that the tonal harmony resolves to. So F Major and G dorian have the same notes, but if you play a solo over a piece of music suited to "G" Dorian and you focus on the F as the note to resolve to, it won't sound as natural to the ear as it would if you focused on the "G" Note as your tonal centre.

    I'm also assuming that the chord progression dictates the mode that fits best.

    @viz might be best to explain, but I think I'm in the right ball park

    Edited 5 times for accuracy...sodding Modes :)
    Conformity is the new Rebellion.
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  • The key to the sound is the underlying harmony. For example if you’re in C and you’re playing over the chords C-Dm-G-C it will sound like C Ionian regardless of what mode of C you play, particularly if you’re resolving phrases to the chord tones properly. You can play the scale pattern of D Dorian, E Phrygian etc but you’re not really playing in those modes, it’s still C Ionian. To play in say D Dorian you would need to play over a D Dorian chord progression.
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  • Think mood rather than mode
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  • John_PJohn_P Frets: 2265
    It helps if you think about the root note of the mode as the note (or chord) you are playing over not the note it starts on.  
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  • Certain modes have certain flavours, major and minor intervals, etc. Its basically your major scale starting on different notes to give different sounds as the intervals change. Makes your playing less boxy and boring, if you're going to use pentatonics all the time, although Mr Clapton doesn't seem to care...
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  • Perhaps thinking about it in a different way might help? For example, a melody from a song in A minor might use the "same notes" as the melody of another song in C major, right? Your ear quickly recognises the minor nature of the first melody, and the major feel of the second, in the context of the harmony of the song. 

    That's really as complicated as it gets. A (natural) minor is a mode of C major, and vice versa. The first melody uses notes from the A Aeolian scale; the second draws it's melody notes from the C Ionian scale. 

    Although these two modes use the same notes, the intervals which make up the scale are in a different order. A is the "home" note in the first melody, while C is home for the second melody. This difference is what gives each scale it's characteristic sound.  Another melody in E Phrygian might also use the same notes; but E is now the home note, and the scale could perhaps be described as having a Spanish, or Flamenco sound.


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  • It's most important in modal jazz improvisation:
    There are a set of rules that you can learn that determine which mode of which scale is recommended for soloing in for each half-bar, bar, pair of bars in a piece, based on the main melody and the chords.
    Learning it is a bit like seeing how magic tricks are performed, you originally think "wow they must be an inspired genius", then you discover it's a clever trick. A very complicated and splendid trick though, but with less inspiration than you thought.

    I assume that this is why you often see jazz musicians playing with the sheet music in front of them, even if they know the piece, since they need to know what scale and mode is needed for each bar

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  • vizviz Frets: 5150
    edited December 2018
    Thanks Stomach. Yes, as people have said. This is my take on it:


    I think the first two modes to look at are Ionian (or ‘major’) and Aeolian (or ‘natural minor’). 

    “Ionian” = major
    “Aeolian” = minor. 

    We rightly think of them as keys or scales. But they are also modes of each other. 

    We know A minor is the relative minor of C major. In fact it is a minor 3rd below C. Therefore it’s a major 6th above C, and it uses the same notes. ABCEDFGA.

    So, minor is the 6th MODE OF MAJOR. And major is the 3rd mode of minor!

    But major and minor are totally different. For example, C major sounds totally different from C minor.

    You see, when we think of modes as SCALES instead of modes of each other, each scale has its own unique flavour. 

    We can also think of modes in a relative way (like A minor is the 6th mode of C major, and D Dorian is the 2nd mode of C major), etc; but it’s really important also to consider ‘modal music’ in an absolute way, where we use a certain mode as a foundation to base our music from, like C minor, or C Lydian, or C Dorian, irrespective of how they relate to Ionian. 

    Flying in a blue dream is written in Lydian, not Ionian. It is not the 4th mode of anything, it just IS Lydian. 

    Greensleaves is written in Dorian, not Aeolian. It’s not the 2nd mode of Ionian, it’s just Dorian. 

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  • I find things like Modes fascinating. The fact that you can take a set of notes, and change the way they sound depending on how they interact with each other, and with the chords you play them over, holds a certain long term magic for me.
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  • RolandRoland Frets: 2273
    Steve922 said:
    ... My question is why? i.e. what is the point? .
    Modes are a theoretical construct which allow you to name different collections of notes. Many people find them very useful. Personally I don’t, but accept that other people do.
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  • People think about this backwards.

    Each mode is just a scale / key. Using that scale/key gives a particular tonality (feeling) to what you play. The fact that you can construct them from the same set of notes but starting in a different place is a convenient coincidence, that's all. 
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  • I prefer to think of them as slight variations on the major and minor scales. You get a slightly different vibe from Dorian compared to Aeolian for example.

    Twisted Imaginings - A Horror And Gore Themed Blog http://bit.ly/2DF1NYi


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  • When I was teaching myself some lead guitar, I learned the names of the modes to refer to the shapes of positions of the major scale.

    These days the same thing is called CAGED system.
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  • BranshenBranshen Frets: 965
    edited December 2018
    It's most important in modal jazz improvisation:
    There are a set of rules that you can learn that determine which mode of which scale is recommended for soloing in for each half-bar, bar, pair of bars in a piece, based on the main melody and the chords.
    Learning it is a bit like seeing how magic tricks are performed, you originally think "wow they must be an inspired genius", then you discover it's a clever trick. A very complicated and splendid trick though, but with less inspiration than you thought.

    I assume that this is why you often see jazz musicians playing with the sheet music in front of them, even if they know the piece, since they need to know what scale and mode is needed for each bar

    This is the significance of modes to me. It is simpler and more practical to think in modes where the tonal centre shifts very quickly (i.e. every half a bar at 200BPM). So when reading a chart with lots of modulations, if I see D7, I will think D myxolydian, instead of trying to compute that to G major and playing the corresponding scale. 

    Personally, I don't find it useful for songs (pink floyd or otherwise) that have a single tonal centre. As you have pointed out, C ionian and D dorian have the same notes. To me, I am just playing a C major scale.

    However, I can accept that some people have learnt to play using modes and their phrasing depends on what mode they think they're in. You could play the exact same thing using a major scale, without thinking in modes. If there isn't a difference in the music in the end, is there really a difference?

    This is my simple understanding of it. It goes alot deeper than this (see viz's post) but this is what has worked so far for me.
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  • BranshenBranshen Frets: 965
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SINl5JY7LhI

    @viz I had a listen of the Satriani track flying in a blue dream. This is a track with shifting tonal centres. It is definitely easiest to play the corresponding lydian scale over the chords, since the harmonies imply lydian.

    Would you say that it is wrong to play G-major over the first chord, instead of C lydian? I see the benefit of thinking in modes, but since there is no difference in notes, one could think in ionian only and adjust phrasing to emphasise on the 4th note more giving it a lydian quality?
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  • BranshenBranshen Frets: 965
    People think about this backwards.

    Each mode is just a scale / key. Using that scale/key gives a particular tonality (feeling) to what you play. The fact that you can construct them from the same set of notes but starting in a different place is a convenient coincidence, that's all. 
    Wow, ok! This is a completely new angle to me and something to ponder.
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  • vizviz Frets: 5150
    edited December 2018
    Branshen said:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SINl5JY7LhI

    @viz I had a listen of the Satriani track flying in a blue dream. This is a track with shifting tonal centres. It is definitely easiest to play the corresponding lydian scale over the chords, since the harmonies imply lydian.

    Would you say that it is wrong to play G-major over the first chord, instead of C lydian? I see the benefit of thinking in modes, but since there is no difference in notes, one could think in ionian only and adjust phrasing to emphasise on the 4th note more giving it a lydian quality?
    Hey @Branshen. When you say ‘the first chord’ do you mean the initial feedbacky-swirling around in C, or the actual first plucked chord, which is the D major (II chord)?

    If you DO mean the D major, then no you can’t play a G major instead, because the whole point of this C Lydian song is to play that II-I progression. Whenever you get a major II chord in a major piece it’s Lydian (apart from when it’s used as a secondary dominant of course), and that’s the whole point of the harmony. 

    If you mean can you play a G triad instead of the C triad, then well, no you can’t really, because as the piece is in C (the tonal centre), you do really have to play a C chord when the C chord is wanted. Of course, the C triad itself doesn’t actually tell you it’s Lydian, because a triad lacks the 4th anyway (you only know it’s Lydian from the II major chord and the melody, which has a very noticeable F#), but nevertheless you can’t really just play the V instead of the I.

    The progression does go to the bVI and even the ‘bIV’ (F natural chord) but returns to the C Lydian home soon enough. I wouldn’t quite say that’s shifting tonal centres, just as a progression. 


    Branshen said:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SINl5JY7LhI


    Would you say that it is wrong to play G-major over the first chord, instead of C lydian? I see the benefit of thinking in modes, but since there is no difference in notes, one could think in ionian only and adjust phrasing to emphasise on the 4th note more giving it a lydian quality?

    When you play in Lydian, you basically ARE thinking in Ionion with sharp 4. So you can think in C Ionian with a sharp 4, but you ‘shouldn’t’ think in G, if that makes sense. Even though it may have one sharp written in the key signature. 




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  • Play a chord. Play a single note with it. If you like the way they work together, use it again, if you don’t then don’t. Apply that theory to everything you play and you’ll never have to worry about modes again. Don’t play scales, build relationships. 
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  • BranshenBranshen Frets: 965
    edited December 2018
    viz said:
    Hey @Branshen. When you say ‘the first chord’ do you mean the initial feedbacky-swirling around in C, or the actual first plucked chord, which is the D major (II chord)?

    If you DO mean the D major, then no you can’t play a G major instead, because the whole point of this C Lydian song is to play that II-I progression. Whenever you get a major II chord in a major piece it’s Lydian (apart from when it’s used as a secondary dominant of course), and that’s the whole point of the harmony. 

    If you mean can you play a G triad instead of the C triad, then well, no you can’t really, because as the piece is in C (the tonal centre), you do really have to play a C chord when the C chord is wanted. Of course, the C triad itself doesn’t actually tell you it’s Lydian, because a triad lacks the 4th anyway (you only know it’s Lydian from the II major chord and the melody, which has a very noticeable F#), but nevertheless you can’t really just play the V instead of the I.

    The progression does go to the bVI and even the ‘bIV’ (F natural chord) but returns to the C Lydian home soon enough. I wouldn’t quite say that’s shifting tonal centres, just as a progression. 

    Right. This is my analysis of the chord progression. Tell me if I'm completely wrong. 

    CMaj#11 to CMaj (0:14 - 0:59), AbMaj#11 to AbMaj (1:00 - 1:06), CMaj#11 to CMaj (1:07 - 1:15), GMaj#11 to GMaj (1:16 - 1:18), FMaj#11 to FMaj (1:19 - 1:22), CMaj#11 to CMaj (1:23 - 1:30)

    So to me, because of the #11 in all of the chords, C lydian, A lydian, G lydian and F lydian are the tonal centres (or keys) at different points of the song over the respective #11 chords. (I hope I'm making sense here).

    edit: I've just reread my post and see where I've confused you (i.e. my incorrect usage of "G major"), what i meant was G major scale/ G ionian.

    viz said:

    When you play in Lydian, you basically ARE thinking in Ionion with sharp 4. So you can think in C Ionian with a sharp 4, but you ‘shouldn’t’ think in G, if that makes sense. Even though it may have one sharp written in the key signature. 
    I think this is exactly the OP's question. C lydian and G Ionian have the exact notes (C, D, E, F#, G, A, B.), why shouldn't we think in G?
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  • BranshenBranshen Frets: 965
    Steve922 said:
    I just don't get it. Apparently, Phrygian Mode is different to Mixolydian Mode or Ionian Mode or .....  But they all use the same notes! So what gives?
       Don't misunderstand, I believe I know what the various modes are, i.e. simply playing the same 7 (or 8) notes in the same order but starting on a different one. My question is why? i.e. what is the point? Since there's so many people referring to these modes I'm assuming there is a point, I'd like to know what I'm missing.
    I faced this exact difficulty early on and I think you're saying that C ionian, D dorian, E phrygian, F lydian, G myxolydian, A aeolian, B Locrian all have the same notes, so why not just think in C major and start on a different note? 

    I've just had a little breakthrough and the answer is that although they may all have the same notes, they each have a distinct flavour. As mentioned by fishfingers above, a song in C major (ionian) and in A minor (aeolian) all have the same notes, but they will sound very different.

    Branshen said:
    I think this is exactly the OP's question. C lydian and G Ionian have the exact notes (C, D, E, F#, G, A, B.), why shouldn't we think in G?
    @viz, I think i answered my own question above... but would appreciate any further input from you. 

    Apologies all for rambling and thinking aloud..
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  • vizviz Frets: 5150
    edited December 2018
    Branshen said:



    I think this is exactly the OP's question. C lydian and G Ionian have the exact notes (C, D, E, F#, G, A, B.), why shouldn't we think in G?
    Ah. I see what you’re asking. It’s a fundamental question and really needs to be understood 100% before exploring modes. The answer is simply:

    Because G is not the tonal centre or ‘home’ note. So the song is not “in G”, because “in G” means “the tonal centre, or home note is G”. 

    Here is the hierarchy of how to approach the question of a key in a piece of music. You really have to answer these questions in order:

    1) What note is home? That gives you the Tonic, or 1st degree of the scale. 

    2) Is the piece major or minor? (listen to the Mediant, or 3rd degree of the scale).

    3) Is it ‘modal’? - ie if the 3rd tells you it’s major and it has a perfect 5th, does it have a raised 4th (Lydian) or a lowered 7th (Mixolydian)? If it’s minor, does it have a raised 6th (Dorian) or a lowered 2nd (Phrygian)? Otherwise it’s Ionian (major) or Aeolian (natural minor). 

    4) If none of the above then you’ve either got Locrian (unlikely), or a non-diatonic piece (entirely possible). 

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  • BranshenBranshen Frets: 965
    viz said:
    Ah. I see what you’re asking. It’s a fundamental question and really needs to be understood 100% before exploring modes. The answer is simply:

    Because G is not the tonal centre or ‘home’ note. So the song is not “in G”, because “in G” means “the tonal centre, or home note is G”. 

    Here is the hierarchy of how to approach the question of a key in a piece of music. You really have to answer these questions in order:

    1) What note is home? That gives you the Tonic, or 1st degree of the scale. 

    2) Is the piece major or minor? (listen to the Mediant, or 3rd degree of the scale).

    3) Is it ‘modal’? - ie if the 3rd tells you it’s major and it has a perfect 5th, does it have a raised 4th (Lydian) or a lowered 7th (Mixolydian)? If it’s minor, does it have a raised 6th (Dorian) or a lowered 2nd (Phrygian)? Otherwise it’s Ionian (major) or Aeolian (natural minor). 

    4) If none of the above then you’ve either got Locrian (unlikely), or a non-diatonic piece (entirely possible). 

    Very nice breakdown. This is great! Thanks Viz. 
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  • I think the significance of the modes is easy to overlook in pop and rock music because so much of it comes from the blues, which was largely modal in the first place. We are all so used to hearing modal music that it sounds perfectly natural.

    When classical composers of the 19th century were confronted with modal folk tunes for the first time they found them alien and strange. As Viz says, the key difference between G Mixolydian and C major is that the home note is G rather than C. This means that if you try to harmonise a melody in G Mixolydian, you can't use a V-I cadence -- an absolutely fundamental building block of classical harmony -- to accompany the return to the home note. 
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  • vizviz Frets: 5150
    edited December 2018
    Stuckfast said:
    I think the significance of the modes is easy to overlook in pop and rock music because so much of it comes from the blues, which was largely modal in the first place. We are all so used to hearing modal music that it sounds perfectly natural.

    When classical composers of the 19th century were confronted with modal folk tunes for the first time they found them alien and strange. As Viz says, the key difference between G Mixolydian and C major is that the home note is G rather than C. This means that if you try to harmonise a melody in G Mixolydian, you can't use a V-I cadence -- an absolutely fundamental building block of classical harmony -- to accompany the return to the home note. 
    True - I had the same experience having been brought up on a diet of renaissance, baroque and classical. 

    The way I guess they made sense of it was by allowing V-I cadences regardless, thus deviating from the diatonic and allowing a major 3rd on the V, just like had been made common with harmonic minor centuries before. 

    The V7-Ib7 in blues is a classic example of this, as you say. 
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  • carloscarlos Frets: 1520
    There are a set of rules that you can learn that determine which mode of which scale is recommended for soloing in for each half-bar, bar, pair of bars in a piece, based on the main melody and the chords.
    Huh? Jazz musicians think in terms of chord tones. Modes are cute and all, but only make sense if the whole composition is based around them, which to be honest most won't be. I can guarantee you that no jazzer will think in modes for a half bar, like "this bar is C Mixolydian for the first half and then A phrygian for the second half". That would be really hard to parse and play in real time. It's much easier to just look at the chord and think about what notes matter in that chord. So if it says C13 and Am7b9 I'm thinking C (root), Bb (flat 7), E (major 3rd) and A (the 13 in the chord) for the C13 and then A (root), G (the flat 7), Bb (the b9 in the chord) and C (minor 3rd) for the Am7b9. Note that they share a lot of notes, but the chord will tell me what notes matter in that context. If I was thinking C Mixolydian to A Phrygian I'd be handling a group of 7 notes followed by another group of 7 notes with no clue as to which notes matter and which ones don't. Not practical.
    I assume that this is why you often see jazz musicians playing with the sheet music in front of them, even if they know the piece, since they need to know what scale and mode is needed for each bar
    The reason you play with a chart is because a repertoire of 20 tunes or so will have hundreds of chords to memorise. Sure, you will know a lot of tunes by heart, but usually learning the melody is much easier than memorising all those chord sequences. Plus you never know what you might play. The Real Book volume 1 (current edition) has 400 tunes in it! A cynic would say it's just II-V-I's over and over, but surely it's nice to actually have the chords in front of you.
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  • BradBrad Frets: 215

    I guess I'll stick my oar in too. This subject can get pretty deep and there is already some great advice here, but I’ll try to be succinct in the hope I don’t confuse things more...

     @Steve922 I think the problem lies in how we are introduced to learning modes and it seems you’ve only looked at them from one angle perhaps?

    There are generally two approaches to looking at modes - derivative and parallel (there are other ways though). Both have pros and cons regarding getting to grips with this stuff. It appears you’re taking the derivative approach, which is fine. Just to clarify...

    Derivative - To get all the modes from a parent scale so the modes are all the same pool of notes. C Ionian, D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian etc are all just the C major scale as you know. 

    Parallel - To get the modes from a fixed note so you have to change the formula for each mode. How does C Ionian differ to C Dorian, C Phrygian or C Lydian and so on...

    Knowing how modes are constructed and where they relate to is really important but is only one part of the equation. The other is the relationship with chords as each mode works with particular types of chords. It’s really pretty important to have a decent knowledge of diatonic theory and chord construction. 

    For example, Cm7 can use either C Dorian, C Phrygian or C Aeolian. 

    But for something like Cm6, it’s a little more exact so you’d want to go for C Dorian. I won’t go into why, but Cm6 comes from the Bb Major scale. So how can we find C Dorian?

    Derivative - What major scale is C the 2nd note of? Yep Bb major and with Dorian being mode 2 you could just think Bb major but from C to C. 

    Parallel - how do you turn C Ionian to C Dorian? If you know how modes are constructed you know to flatten the 3rd and 7th of a major scale to get Dorian. So C D Eb F G A Bb C (1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7) which is still Bb from C to C. 

    Same result but different ways of getting there. But what shouldn’t change is thinking and playing in C Dorian. 

    Derivative was my way in for getting my head around modes, but much I prefer the parallel approach as it allows me to clearly hear and understand the differences between the modes.

    Additionally it’s really important to be aware of the colour notes of each mode, how they sound and how to handle them. The natural 6th of Dorian is a great note to sit on, but the b6 of Aeolian much less so etc. Play Dorian, Aeolian and Phrygian in this order, to a min7 vamp and see how different each one sounds. 

    I remember being puzzled by this stuff for ages, but it does get there so stick with it.  

    So much for being succinct...

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  • BradBrad Frets: 215
    As for jazz, well it’s universally accepted that Kind Of Blue ushered in the era of modal jazz so since then, modes and modal thinking definitely have their place in jazz.

    For me, whether I’ll think modally or just chord tones depends on a few factors. How many changes are in the tune and how fast the tempo. Even with a tune with a lot of changes and difficult chords, if the tempo is slow enough then modes can be explored. Pretty much anything with a fast tempo I’ll likely stick to chord tones, enclosures etc.. 
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  • vizviz Frets: 5150
    I’ll just throw my beautiful scales compendium in at this stage to reflect Brad’s derivative method. If you open the file on a pc you can click on each scale to hear it. 

    http://www.guitaristtv.com/Downloads/Modes%202014_02_18%20-%20for%20GTV.xlsx
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  • sev112sev112 Frets: 411
    So scales , modes and notes etc etc etc .............
    And yes, you can play a minor chord over the Dorian , Phrygian and aeolian, 7th over Mixo... etc

    Q1
    But can someone simply say how one determines what mode a chord SEQUENCE is in please?

    eg
    C E (maj) Am F - what mode is that in ?
    I’ve thrown that one in because the move from G to G# in the first 2 chords, as well as the A natural in the last 2 chords.  And no 3 consecutive semitones appear in any of the 7 modes scales ?

    Or 
    Q2.
    simple 12 bar blues E A and B
    How can you play an Emin Pentatonic over that, as most people do - ie derived from the Aeolian of G major , which has a G natural in it; whereas the E major chord has a G# in it ?
    Maybe that’s a completely different question however.



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