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Lesson 10: Modal Jazz

The Modes

The modes ( of the major scale) are:

  • Ionian
  • Dorian
  • Phrygian
  • Lydian
  • Mixolydian
  • Aeolian
  • Locrian

Use the C major scale and change the starting note - this is called the derivative way:

You can also build each one of the modes from C to C - this is called the parallel way:

Modal Jazz

In modal jazz one or a few of the modes can be used for an extended time. This gives the soloist more freedom to develop melodies without having to think about a lot of changes.

Example 1: So What by Miles Davis

The best known modal tune is perhaps So What by Miles Davis ( you may want to check out my transcription of Miles' So What solo).

The changes of So What go like this:

|Dm7   |      |      |      |
|      |      |      |      |
|      |      |      |      |
|      |      |      |      |
|Ebm7  |      |      |      |
|      |      |      |      |
|Dm7   |      |      |      |
|      |      |      |      |
The Dorian mode can be used over the entire form in this way:
Dm7 - D Dorian
Ebm7 - Eb Dorian

Another tune written on these changes is John Coltrane's Impressions.

Example 2: Milestones ( new) by Miles Davis

One of the first modal tunes was Miles Davis' Milestones from his 1958 record with the same name.

The changes of Milestones go something like this:

A part:
|Gm7Am7|Bb Am7|Gm7Am7|Bb Am7|
|Gm7Am7|Bb Am7|Gm7   |      |

B part:
|Am7   |      |      |      |
|      |      |      |      |

The form is AABBA
Modes that are used are:
A part - G Dorian
B part - A Aeolian

More Examples - Other Important Modal Tunes

Listen to the following tunes:

  • All Blues by Miles Davis
  • Cantaloupe Island by Herbie Hancock
  • Flamenco Sketches by Miles Davis and Bill Evans
  • Footprints by Wayne Shorter
  • Invitation by Bronislau Kaper
  • Joshua by Victor Feldman
  • Maiden Voyage by Herbie Hancock
  • Recordame by Joe Henderson

2004 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.