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 email@example.com - 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.