From: Larry Mysz -
Date: Wed, 10 Jan 1996 05:14:09 -0600
Subject: An intro - and a few thoughts on modes

Hi, all. My name is Larry Mysz. I play bass at St. Agnes Church in Chicago Heights, IL. I went to grade school there, and have made music in that same church for about 25 years. For the last 20 years it has been exclusively on bass. At the moment, the church ensemble has 7 vocalists, piano, flute, drums, and bass. Music selections range from old traditional hymns, to Gospel, to songs from current liturgical composers like Haas, Haugen and Joncas.

In addition to playing in church, I play in a Chicago style blues band, gigging 6 to 8 nights per month, and I play in at least one other ensemble 'thing' every year. I'm 53, married, with 4 grown kids and 5 grandkids. By day, I'm a self employed software designer.

I liked Michael Lloyd's mnemonic for the church modes ... never heard that one before.

Personally, I love the modes, and can't imagine playing bass without using them over the chord changes. I don't mean to be disagreeable, but I don't think that modes, properly played, ever cause train wrecks.

The combination of the key signature and the 'current' chord always implies a mode or scale. While that chord is sounding, the root of the chord is the root tone of the implied mode. The third and the fifth of the chord are the third and fifth degrees of the implied scale. If the chord has more than 3 notes, the other chord tones correspond with implied scale degrees. The remaining notes in the implied scale come from the key signature of the song. As long as the chord is sounding, any note in that implied scale will 'work'.

There are other ways to think about playing over changes, but playing the appropriate implied mode over a particular chord is one sure fire way to get creative and absolutely 'correct' lines. And they're guaranteed never to destroy the harmony of the song, or interfere with anyone else's playing ... as long as they're not too busy or rhythmicly disruptive.

I'd like to cite one example of using implied modes that results in a scale that is not one the usual church modes. Reuben Rubio alluded to a similar scale in his message. Imagine a song in the key of E natural minor. The key signature has one sharp. All of the chords, save one, have chord tones that fit the Em key signature. The last chord in the verse is a B7. Then it's back to an Em chord for the chorus. Most people would consider a song like this to have a Middle Eastern or Jewish character.

Chord tones in the B7 chord are B D# F# A. That D# is 'outside' the Em key signature. The implied scale during the B7 chord is B, C, D#, E, F#, G, A. You could use that scale in a bass line by walking from the B7chord to the Em chord with something as simple as B, C, D#, E. And that *really* emphasizes the Middle Eastern character of the song.

I've seen several names for that scale. One is the 5th mode of a harmonic minor scale. It is also a real, living, mode in to people in the Eastern Mediterranian ... those into Rembetica (Greek blues) would call it Hitzaz. Those into Jewish folk music would recognize it as the scale for Hava Nagila. It is also listed in a few places by my favorite mode name of all time ... Spanish Gypsy.

Peace to all

Larry Mysz

From Chip Chapin -
Date: Wed, 10 Jan 1996 14:09:15 -0600

Larry Mysz wrote:
> Imagine a song in the key of E natural minor.  The key
>signature has one sharp....
>Chord tones in the B7 chord are B D# F# A.  That D# is 'outside' the Em  key
>signature.  The implied scale during the B7 chord is B, C, D#, E, F#,
>G, A.
Please help me to understand fully why the "implied scale" is as above and not B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A. So the question is C vs. C# and G vs. G#. I understand that the former tones are the ones from the key signature, but latter tones would seem to be more consistent with the scale implied by the B7 chord itself (i.e., that's the scale I would use if I just saw "B7" on the page and nothing else). Seems to me that the C# or G# could be used just as well, though certainly imparting a different harmonic feel.

Is your point that the implied scale you suggest represents the least perturbation to the harmonic feel of the song?

Thanks for your comments. I'm pretty ignorant on this topic...


From: Larry Mysz -
Date: Fri, 12 Jan 1996 14:12:39 -0600

Chip Chapin  writes:

>Please help me to understand fully why the "implied scale" is 
>[B, C, D#, E, F#,G,A] and not B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A.  ...

> So the question is C vs. C# and G vs. G#.
> ... [the]  latter tones would seem to be more consistent with the
>scale implied by the B7 chord itself (i.e., that's the scale I would
>use if I just saw "B7" on the page and nothing else).  .....
>Is your point that the implied scale you suggest represents the least
>perturbation to the harmonic feel of the song?
Hi, Chip. I pray this explaination clarifies more than it confuses.

Yes, that was essentially my point. First, let me agree with you that other scales could work. But I think there is more to this than just harmonic feel. There is an issue of maintaining the scale of the song. This discussion started with a question about how to use modes without causing train wrecks. Maybe it becomes a question of just how far outside the scale of the song you can play before most people hear it as a train wreck.

Any chord, all by itself, explicitly states 3 or more notes in a scale (depending on the number of notes in the chord). You can't tell what the rest of the scale is until you put the chord into the context of a song. The song has it's own scale which has an influence on which notes, other than chord tones, 'make sense' during the chord. A 7th chord frequently appears in a context where mixolydian mode fits, but a 7th chord does not *automatically* imply mixolydian mode ... you have to look at how it fits into the song.

Your suggestion that a B7 chord ( B, D#, F#, A) implies B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A (mixolydian mode *on* B) is absolutely true in two situations. If the song is in a E major, B7 is the V7 chord ... a dominant seventh chord ... a 7th chord on the 5th degree of the scale. There is a perfect match between the notes in mixolydian *on* B and a major scale *on* E. That's the classic case, and the one you encounter most frequently. The other classic case is when the song is in C#m,(natural minor scale *on* C#). B7 is the bVII7 chord .. just a seventh chord on the b7 degree of the scale. Again, mixolydian mode *on* B is a perfect match with a natural minor scale *on* C#. Those are examples of the classical match between church modes and major and minor scales ( If anyone is interested, I can post a table of which church modes fit well over different chords in major and natural minor scales.)

But mixolydian mode doesn't necessarily fit so well when you drop that B7 into songs which use expanded scales or which change scales from one measure to the next. Suppose the song was in F#, and the chords are F#, F#7, B7, C#7. Those are I, I7, IV7 and V7 chords. Regardless of the key signature, the chords themselves constitute an expanded scale ... F#7 and B7 each has a chord tone outside of what one would expect in a song in a major scale *on* F#. This particular scale would have a Gosple or blues feel ... the chords are 'typical' for Gosple and blues. The B7 is acting as a IV7 chord ... a seventh chord on the 4th degree of the scale. The chord tones in B7 are (B, D#, F#, A). From the scale of the song, we would draw C#, E#, G#. (B, C#, D#, E#, F#, G# A) is lydian mode *on* B.

Going back to the original example of a song in E natural minor (plus D#), the B7 chord is acting as a V7 chord ... a 7th chord on the dominant degree of the scale. The B7 also adds the D# to the scale. Mixolydian mode would not be my first choice for improv over the B7 because mixolydian on the 5th scale degree has too many notes that are outside the natural minor (plus major 7th .. the D#) scale of the song. The pitch collection for the song is (A, B, C, D, D#, E, F#, G). During the B7, it has to be D# rather than D.

Mixolydian *on* B is (B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A) The C# and G# are both out of the scale. The scale you get from looking at the union of the chord tones and scale tones, (B, C, D#, E, F#,G, A), has *everything* in the scale of the song. And it does preserve that Middle Eastern flavour. Of course, if we play only chord tones, or limit ourselves to (B, D#, E, F# A) the whole issue goes away.

I hope that helped ... at this point, I'm not sure if I explained anything or just re-stated my previous message.

I must also admit that the ultimate test for any line is how good it sounds, not how well it fits into a particular theoretical model. There are many different ways to play over a chord ... some inside and some *way* outside of the chord and scale. And there can be some very good reasons for changing the harmonic feel of a song.

Especially in a worship ministry, there may be additional considerations. For example, my ensemble exists *primarily* to support congregational singing. We rarely play interludes or arrangements for instruments only. If anyone in the ensemble plays too far 'outside', or gets too busy, the congregation clams up and listens. While that's very flattering, if the congregation is listening instead of singing, the ensemble is falling short in it's ministry ... regardless of whether or not it's making good music.

Clearly, those playing in different environments are subject to different constraints.

It should also be made explcit that all this theory belongs in the practice room. It gives you some ideas on what might work . Play-it-live is not the time to start thinking working out this sort of stuff. You can only play what you can hear in your head, and can reach with your fingers. To use modes effectively you have to hear the songs in them first. And that does take a little practice.

Joy to all.

Larry Mysz

Date: 06 Feb 96 17:59:04 EST
From: Christian Renz
Subject: Re: Modes

So here's just a suggestion for something that might be interesting to
discuss a bit.
That's a great idea. I like music theory very much.

As you may know, medieval music is largely based around modes rather than
I also have made experiments with scales, but I thought that those modes you mentioned are scales, too. Would you please explain the difference, because my theoretical basics are not too great...

Anyway, I discovered an interesting "arabic-sound" scale I like to improvise with (I don't know if you can use it for accompaniment). Based on C, it would run like:

C / C# / E / F / G / G# / A# / C
You could build phrases like: C C# E F E C# C

How do you like this scale? I don't know if it yet exists or if it has a name.

Have fun & improvise,

- Chris

Date: Wed, 7 Feb 1996 17:45:19 -0600
From: Larry Mysz
Subject: Re: Modes

IMO, Chris Renz' post really captures the essential features of modes -- church modes, as well as 'natural' modes.

They *are* scales. That is to say they have a tone center, and they have a collection of 'motives' -- intervals and short riffs -- that real people use to make real songs. Ultimately, a mode is the stuff that songs are made from. In that sense, you can consider a mode (or scale) as a condensation of ...or a generalization for ... all the songs you can make from it.

Chris lists his mode, C / C# / E / F / G / G# / A# / C, then proceeds to show one of the songs ... C C# E F E C# C. For people raised with western music ... west, say, of present day Pakistan and China ... when Chris' song gets to that F, it just *has* to go somewhere else ... it wants to move on. Carrying it back to the C not only releases the tension, but *really* establishes the tone center on C.

Way to go Chris!

We were just discussing that particular mode in ChurchBass digests 85 thru 89. It is not one of the seven church modes from classical music theory, but it is a mode used by real people to compose real songs. It's listed in different sources under names, like: the fifth mode of a harmonic minor, and Spanish Gypsy (positively my favorite mode name of all time). In modern Greek folk music, it's called Hitzaz, or Hitzakar. It is also the mode for Hava Nagila. I've been unable to determine if its' origin is Arabian, Greek, or Jewish. In any case, you certainly have it pegged right as having an Eastern Mediterranean sound.

Joy to all,

Larry Mysz

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