In my last column, in the August/September issue, I discussed “Voicings for Mallets,” where I described briefly how to construct triadic chord voicings. In this article, I’ll discuss the connection between chords and their chord scales.

A brief review of the modes is necessary to understand chord scales. There are seven different modes, each with different Greek names. There are, to be sure, more than just seven modes that are used as chord scales, but we will concentrate first on these seven modes. Each mode, or scale, is a series of whole and half steps. Each scale has two half steps and five whole steps. Take for example the first mode—the Ionian mode (or major scale). This scale has half steps between scale degrees 3-4 and 7-8 (each of the other scale degrees is a whole step apart). Knowing the whole and half step formula for each mode enables you to start on any note and play any of the seven modes. The following is a list of where the half steps occur in all seven modes:

Chord Scales 1

Practice these modes in both of the following ways:

First, play each of the modes starting from the lowest root position on your instrument to the highest note on the instrument in the same mode, i.e.: a G aeolian mode would start on the G below middle C and would go up to the highest note on the instrument in the G aeolian mode (F) and then back down to the starting note.

Second, play each mode starting from any note other than the root up to the highest note in the mode on the instrument and then back down to the starting note. Remember that the purpose of this is that you learn the sight and sound of each mode and that you can start any mode on any note.

As you start learning these modes you will start to hear that each mode has its own distinctive quality which can imply a specific harmony. Here is a list of each mode and its corresponding harmony:

Chord Scales 2

For our purposes here we will be dealing with just major and minor triads, so we’ll be concentrating on the Ionian, Lydian, Dorian, Phrygian, and Aeolian modes. Record the following progression six times:

Chord Scales 3

Now take the three minor-sounding modes—Dorian, Phrygian, and Aeolian—and practice them while listening back to the recorded progression, changing scales each time the chord changes. At first, just use one of the minor modes for all the different chords while playing constant eighth notes:

chord scales 4

Now take each of the minor modes and practice it through the progression. Once this feels comfortable try switching the modes for each chord.

Chord Scales 5

Now record the following progression six times:

Chord Scales 6

Now take the two major modes—Ionian and Lydian—and practice them while listening back to the recorded progression, changing scales each time the chord changes. At first, just use one of the major modes for all the major chords while playing constant eighth notes. Then take the other major mode and practice it through the progression in the same way. Once this feels comfortable try switching the major modes for each of the major scales.

Try writing your own progressions combining both the major and minor chords, record them, and then try practicing the appropriate modes over the progressions. Your goal should be to create melodies over these and other progressions by choosing notes that sound “right” to you from the modes that fit the chords.