Six tracks from Jim Funnell’s Word Out latest album Spirit of the Snail (2015) were aired on Radio Robert on April 30, 2020. The Parisian station, created during the COVID-19 pandemic and operated by the team at 59 Rivoli (a venue known for its exhibitions, performances, and artists-in-residence programs) notably offers playlists and podcasts. Their daily jazz show “Jazz non scientifiquement prouvé, la playlist du Pr Raoult” airs at 7PM GMT+2.
Six tracks from AfuriKo’s latest album Tao (2019) were aired on Radio Robert on April 27, 2020. The Parisian station, created during the COVID-19 pandemic and operated by the team at 59 Rivoli (a venue known for its exhibitions, performances, and artists-in-residence programs) notably offers playlists and podcasts. Their daily jazz show “Jazz non scientifiquement prouvé, la playlist du Pr Raoult” airs at 7PM GMT+2.
If you’ve ever had a go at analyzing a standard and/or figuring out what scales to use on each chord, the question “So, what exactly is the deal with modes?” might have popped up in your mind. This very question certainly did arise recently during an online conversation I was having with a student of mine, who further developed his concern: “In the key of C for example, all of the modes are made up of the exact same notes (the white keys on the piano)… So why bother learning them!?” That is indeed a good question…
As musicians, we have to remember, and above all experience, that each mode has a distinctive flavor, or color, and conveys a particular mood or feeling. A mode’s particular color is conferred to it by the specific arrangement of intervals within the mode, and the resulting relationship each tone in the mode bears with its tonic. Some tones play a more important role than others in giving a mode its unique color. We call them “characteristic notes.” So let’s have a look in more detail at each mode of the major scale, and see if we can figure out what the characteristic note(s) are for each of them.
The modes of the major scale above are ordered from the brightest or most “major sounding” (Lydian’s intervals are all major or augmented, with the exception of the perfect 5th), to the darkest or most “minor sounding” (Locrian’s intervals are all minor or diminished, with the exception of the perfect 4th). The root C being common to all seven modes, it is not considered a characteristic note (or part of a pair of characteristic notes) for any mode.
- Lydian is the only mode that has #4, which is hence the sole characteristic note for this mode. In order for you to hear the different modal colors, I recorded a short improvisation for each mode. This first one is in C Lydian (otherwise known as mode IV of the G major scale): Now, when we lower #4 (F#) to 4 (F), we get the Ionian mode.
- Ionian and all subsequent modes have 4, but Ionian is the only mode that has the pair 4 & 7, which are characteristic notes for this mode. The short improvisation below is in C Ionian (aka mode I of the C major scale):Lowering 7 (B) to b7 (Bb) gives us the Mixolydian mode.
- Mixolydian and all subsequent modes have b7, but Mixolydian is the only mode that has the pair 3 and b7, which are the characteristic notes for this mode. The improvisation below is in C Mixolydian (mode V of the F major scale):Lowering 3 (E) to b3 (Eb) gives the Dorian mode.
- Dorian and all subsequent modes have b3, but Dorian is the only mode that has the pair b3 and 6, which are the characteristic notes for this mode. The improvisation below is in C Dorian (mode II of the Bb major scale):Lowering 6 (A) to b6 (Ab) gives the Aeolian mode.
- Aeolian and the remaining two subsequent modes have b6, but Aeolian is the only mode that has the pair b6 and 2, which are the characteristic notes for this mode. The improvisation below is in C Aeolian (mode VI of the Eb major scale):Lowering 2 (D) to b2 (Db) gives the Phrygian mode.
- Phrygian and the last remaining subsequent mode both have b2, but Phrygian is the only mode that has the pair b2 and 5, which are the characteristic notes for this mode. The improvisation below is in C Phrygian (mode III of the Ab major scale):Finally, lowering 5 (G) to b5 (Gb) gives the Locrian mode.
- Locrian is the only mode that has b5, which is hence the sole characteristic note for this mode. The improvisation below is in C Locrian (mode VII of the Db major scale):Lowering the root by a semitone would give the Lydian mode, but this time constructed with the note B as the new tonic (down a semitone from C). We could go through the same cycle again, outlining all seven modes from the brightest to the darkest, based on B as the new modal center if we wanted to… But by now, I’m sure you got the point!
Just like I did for the recordings above, spend some time with each mode, improvising with it in free rhythm (no regular pulsation necessarily needed here). You can explore melodic ideas in the right hand while sporadically holding down two Cs an octave apart in the left hand. Spend 5 to 10 minutes (or more) with a particular mode during each session, and practice different modes based on different tonics every day. Eventually, all 7 modes in all 12 keys (84 in total!) should become familiar musical terrain, but take it easy… day by day and one step at a time! The goal is to internalize them deeply, and fully assimilating one mode in one key will help you assimilate other modes (in the same or different keys) faster.
Then of course, you can start applying them in the context of tunes. Modal jazz tunes such as So What, Impressions, Cantaloupe Island, etc. are a great starting point because they usually feature a slow harmonic rhythm (the same chord spanning a large number of measures) and few different modes/tonic centers.
Visit http://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/ for detailed information about lessons or click on the image below to book your lesson today:
◀️ Clicking on the image to the left will take you to a low resolution JPG file (1st page only). If you’d like to purchase complete sheet music (higher resolution PDF) for “Nicaea,” please visit the Funnelljazz catalogue page.
A homemade recording of “Nicaea” has been published online (2020). Enjoy the video below! 🔽
◀️ Clicking on the image to the left will take you to a low resolution JPG file (1st page only). If you’d like to purchase complete sheet music (higher resolution PDF) for “Oleleko,” please visit the Funnelljazz catalogue page.
A recording of “Oleleko” has been released on Tao (2019). Enjoy the audio/videos below! 🔽
📣 Students and musicians: check out this post if you feel like delving deeper into the music: deriving tetratonic scales from the “new notes” on Oleleko.
◀️ Clicking on the image to the left will take you to a low resolution JPG file. If you’d like to purchase sheet music (higher resolution PDF) for “Echoes of Cyan,” please visit the Funnelljazz catalogue page.
A recording of “Echoes of Cyan” has yet to be released… In the meantime, enjoy the videos below! 🔽
One of the four public radio stations (and the youngest one) belonging to Radiodifusión Nacional del Uruguay, Babel broadcasts instrumental music 24/7 in the whole country (97.1 FM in Montevideo and 100.9 FM in Maldonado) and worldwide through its website. Focusing on jazz, fusion, and world music, its motto is “Quality music to drop prejudice.”
During the festival held in Mercedes in January 2020, their program “Jazz a la Calle especiales” covered the live shows with music and artist interviews. AfuriKo was featured on 14 January 2020, alongside two Argentinian bands: Ingrid and the Córdoba Jazz Orchestra.
Improvisation can sometimes feel daunting, even to the best musicians. Questions like “where should I start?” or “is what I am playing any good?” are indeed uttered far too often, when in fact there is no right or wrong… Everyone is capable of improvising (we all do it in speech for example), but even so, blockages often remain when put on the spot in a musical situation that requires “in the moment” creativity. So how does one go about asserting her/himself musically?
Drop all forms of self-judgment and self-criticism
If you chose to walk the path of true freedom in music, you’ll quickly realize that most of the work is of a psychological nature rather than a musical one. Sure, it’s still a great idea to practice on a daily basis and by all means, I encourage you to do so! But instrumental technique should only be viewed as a means to expressing yourself, not as an ultimate goal: virtuosic display is only relevant when backed up with a good story, a message, earnest feeling and emotions… No one really wants to hear a continuous string of loud and fast notes void of meaning…
The good news is: regardless of your technical ability on your instrument, you can always channel that heartfelt storytelling into your music. Don’t judge yourself, play with conviction, and drop all self-criticism. Often, what might initially be a “mistake” can turn into a beautiful thing: in his book Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, Stephen Nachmanovitch talks about how oysters eventually make pearls out of grains of sand that inadvertently fall into their shells…
Don’t try and play anything groundbreaking
I remember Greg Hopkins, professor of jazz composition at Berklee College of Music, telling the class something along these lines: “Don’t try to be original. Write what your hear and you will be original.” The same goes for improvisation, and the “less is more” approach is definitely recommended to begin with: simple ideas are often beautiful! Play few notes with strong time and feel and let the music come to you. The more virtuosic stuff will come naturally after a while if you stay humble and committed to playing what you actually hear (as opposed to running scales up, down, and sideways just because you theoretically know that they fit a given chord…)
Let’s have a look at a practical example: a seven note scale (such as the major scale) is sometimes too cumbersome for beginner improvisers to use, so breaking it up into two tetrachords (groups of four notes that usually span the interval of a fourth) can work wonders. Spend time exploring and internalizing each tetrachord (C to F and G to C in the case of the C major scale for instance). With four notes at your disposal, there is still a lot to do… Remember that your melodic motives can go up, down, or be a combination of both. Repeated notes are also an option. Generally speaking, being creative with the rhythm is a great starting point when the range of useable notes is limited. Experiment with different limitations and find your freedom within the boundaries that you set for yourself.
In his book Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within, jazz pianist Kenny Werner explains how to establish a direct connection from your true self to your instrument using four guided meditations (also available in audio format for convenience). I thoroughly recommend them as a ritual that will relax your body, calm your mind, and give your self-confidence a boost.
There are plenty of other things you can do on a daily basis to help you on the path to musical freedom, that don’t even require purchasing a book, or using any accessories or instruments. The great Austrian writer Rainer Maria Rilke emphasizes the importance of three themes in his Letters to a Young Poet: childhood, nature, and friendship. Spend time recalling places, events, and the emotions and feelings of your childhood in great detail. Improvisation is akin to child play… And for fresh inspiration, wander in nature and socialize with dear friends. I might also suggest regularly remembering your dreams and writing them down or sharing/discussing them with somebody (a person you can trust). All these activities will dramatically improve your creativity and general well-being.
In the end, it’s all about being open and having fun tapping into the great subconscious “pool” of musical ideas. Taming the ego and being able to let go of all preconceptions and expectations are crucial parts of the process. The journey can be a rough ride, but it is absolutely worth embarking on. True magic will happen along the way. You will no longer play the music… Become the instrument and let the music play you!
Nachmanovitch, Stephen. Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art.
Werner, Kenny. Effortless Mastery: Liberating the Master Musician Within.
Rilke, Rainer Maria. Letters to a Young Poet.
Visit http://funnelljazz.eu/lessons/ for detailed information about lessons or click on the image below to book your spot at the “Demystifying Improvisation for Classical Musicians” workshop today:
The class will meet for four live sessions on Wednesdays, October 23, 30 and Nov. 6, 13, 2019, from 8-9 pm ET.