Modal playing is a very distinctive style for a jazz pianist. It "opens up" your playing, using the entire range of the piano. It increases your harmonic knowledge. This step-by-step lesson gives specific analysis, instruction and exercises to develop modal playing into your personal style. This is a very intensive lesson with eight videos, downloadable PDFs, text, playalong with Band-in-a-box and reference to modal tunes.
I'd love to hear your questions and feedback regarding this lesson.
To learn the modes, first find a scale. That scale is defined by having an specific arrangement of half steps and whole steps. For instance: the major scale has half steps between 2&3 and 7&8. A dorian mode (starting on the second degree) has half steps between 2&3 and 6&7.
- Ionian 1-1
- Dorian 2-2
- Phrygian 3-3
- Lydian 4-4
- Mixolydian 5-5
- Aeolian 6-6
- Locrian 7-7
The best way to think of the modes is to think off of chords. Every chord suggests a mode. For instance: a D minor 7 chord suggests using the dorian mode. The best way to think and hear the modes is from the bottom note of the mode. For instance: think of the D dorian mode as a D major scale with a flatted 3rd and 7th.
- Ionian: 1-1 Major Scale
- Lydian: 4-4 Sharp 4
- Mixolydian: 5-5 Flat 7
- Dorian: 2-2 flat the 3 and 7
- Aeolian: 6-6 flat the 3, 6 & 7
- Phrygian 3-3: flat the 2,3,6,7
- Locrian 7-7: flat the 2,3,5,6,&7 (also think up a half step to the major scale)
Step #4: Pentatonic Black Key Improv Exercise
In this exercise, you use only the black keys. That gives you a pentatonic scale (1,2,3,5,6). The main problem with improvising only on the pentatonics that that there is not a lot of tension. The tension notes, aka "leading tones" are not there. You do not have a tritone or a V7 to I. How do you make sense with your improv when you don't have tension? You have to study all the other parameters of music. Parameters are the elements which create music. You must create drama. Drama is created by first having a "there there". You must set up a premise . . . and then manipulate the premise. First analyze the parameters of music.
- Melodic Sequences
- Phrasing and Touches
- High and Low
- Dense or Sparse
- Modes or Chords
One of the most important progressions to help your modal improv is the diatonic turnaround progression. This is a IIm9, V9/13, IMa9, VIm9 or the IMa9, VIm9, IIm9, V9/13. Learn this progression in all keys and all inversions. Play with the bass root note and chord in RH and also chord in LH (sing the root). Play around the Cycle of Keys in 4ths and 5ths. Also, play up and down chromatically.
1) Core Voicings: Sometimes we can be too random in choosing voicings. This results in voicings that we may not want to use. Here are a couple of ideas to strengthen your voicings. First, use "Core Voicings". You can find some of these core voicings in the Diatonic Turnaround Progression. Play the closed position voicing and then add in additional diatonic notes from the major scale. Use your ears to determine the choices that you like. You can also play the core voicing in the right hand and add in the additional notes in the left hand. You can also use the additional notes as melodies. 2) Using 2nds and 4ths: Play fourths in the left hand and add in 2nds in the right hand. You can also do the reverse: play the fourths in the right hand and add the seconds in the left hand. Do this by ear. 3) "So What Voicing": Another idea for strengthening your voicings is to use the "So What Chord". This is a prominent chord used throughout jazz. The intervals from the top down are 3, 4, 4, 4. This chord is ambiguous and can be used as a major 9 (add a root a major 3rd below), Minor 11 (the root is the bottom note of the "So What Chord", and Sus chord (add a root a major 6th below). Play this chord all over the piano. Think melodically.
- You should be a competent pianist.
- You should already have knowledge of jazz and playing jazz piano.
- How to use modes in your jazz piano playing.
Martan Mann is a highly respected jazz pianist, teacher and author. He is the author of an intensive online jazz piano course, JazzSkills for Piano. He also presents individual jazz piano courses under the title: JAZZ MASTERCLASS: Step-by-Step.
Martan has a Master's Degree in Music from San Jose State University and has authored three books on jazz piano improvisation, including: "Jazz Improvisation for the Classical Pianist", "New Age Improvisation for the Classical Pianist", and "Improvising Blues Piano". He has extensively performed solo and trio jazz piano in California and Hawaii. He has been teaching jazz and classical privately for 50 years. Martan has been musical director for many musicals and is a frequent accompanist for top jazz vocalists. Martan performed for 25 years at The Garden City, San Jose's premiere jazz club.