Guitar Techniques - - Contents -

David Mead an­swers your mu­si­cal ques­tions.

Post your play­ing posers and tech­ni­cal teasers to: The­ory God­mother, Gui­tar Tech­niques, 30 Mon­mouth Street, Bath, BA1 2BW; or email me at info@david­ - ev­ery wish is your God­mother’s com­mand!

A La Mode? Dear The­ory God­mother

I’ve been tak­ing a side­ways look at the modes re­cently and have formed the con­clu­sion that a more prac­ti­cal way of learn­ing them is to treat them almost like chords and call the Do­rian, for in­stance, a ‘mi­nor 7, nat­u­ral 6th’ scale. That way, you get an idea of what the scale might sound like and per­haps even a clue as to where you could use it, rather than have the orig­i­nal Greek names which don’t re­ally give too much away. I’d be in­ter­ested to know your thoughts.


It’s handy to know which mode is which by un­der­stand­ing the dif­fer­ent names. But you get a far bet­ter idea of what they sound like by tak­ing the path that you’ve out­lined, Sid. In fact the modes of the Mi­nor scales are of­ten treated this way as only a few of them seem to have been ‘of­fi­cially’ named.

So if we look at the modes of the Ma­jor scale and de­scribe them in the way we would chords, we find the fol­low­ing: the Io­nian would be a straight Ma­jor, the Do­rian a Nat­u­ral mi­nor with a ma­jor 6th, the Phry­gian a Nat­u­ral mi­nor with a flat 2nd, the Ly­dian a Ma­jor with a sharp 4th, the Mixoly­dian a ma­jor scale with a flat 7th, the Ae­o­lian a Nat­u­ral mi­nor and the Locrian a Nat­u­ral mi­nor with flat 2nd and flat 5th (Ex 1). It helps to sep­a­rate them into Ma­jor and Mi­nor scales too, so that the Ly­dian and Mixoly­dian are vari­a­tions on the Ma­jor scale (Io­nian) and the rest are de­rived from the Nat­u­ral mi­nor (Ae­o­lian).

So much for the nam­ing con­ven­tion, though. I still think it’s best to re­mem­ber that the true sound of each of the modes only comes into be­ing when you hear them in their con­text – for ex­am­ple, when you hear the Do­rian mode over the ap­pro­pri­ate mi­nor chord (Ex 2). I’ve also found that it helps peo­ple if they are en­cour­aged to de­scribe the sounds that they hear for them­selves and make their own cat­e­gori­sa­tions. For in­stance, I al­ways tend to think of the Do­rian and Ly­dian modes as the ‘sweet and sour’ scales. The Do­rian has that mi­nor feel to it, but the pres­ence of the ma­jor 6th seems to lift it some­how and give it a sweeter edge. The Ly­dian, on the other hand, is ba­si­cally a Ma­jor scale with that slightly dis­so­nant sharp 4th to spice it up. The Phry­gian has a Span­ish edge and the Ae­o­lian a rocky, blues feel. Th­ese are per­sonal def­i­ni­tions and have helped me re­mem­ber the nu­ance of each mode in the past. So, once you are happy with what­ever you want to call them, run them all through with a back­ing track and try to sum them up in terms of how they sound to you, too.

A Gen­e­sis Rev­e­la­tion Dear The­ory God­mother

I’ve al­ways been a fan of Phil Collins era Gen­e­sis and re­cently de­cided to learn a few of their tunes on the gui­tar, but I’ve hit a bit of a brick wall. The song­books I’ve found aren’t re­ally much help as they are a bit ba­sic and don’t re­ally sound much like the records. But even when I watch a video and freeze frame what Mike Ruther­ford is play­ing and match it note-for-note on my gui­tar it still sounds wrong. Some­one sug­gested that he is us­ing an al­ter­na­tive tun­ing and I won­dered which one?

Pete My un­der­stand­ing of the tun­ing sit­u­a­tion is that, in the early days of Gen­e­sis, Mike had a dif­fer­ent tun­ing for vir­tu­ally ev­ery song and of­ten had dif­fi­culty re­mem­ber­ing them from one tour to the next. So after Peter Gabriel left the band he de­cided to con­fine him­self to a sin­gle tun­ing which is the un­ortho­dox be­hav­iour of tun­ing his first string down to a D.

This was con­firmed when I in­ter­viewed Gen­e­sis’s tour­ing gui­tarist Dar­ryl Stuer­mer back in the 90s: “He's been do­ing this now for years - the first string tuned down to D.”

So, if you take another look at your Gen­e­sis videos with a gui­tar de­tuned the way out­lined above, you might find you’re get­ting more of a per­fect fit.

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