Recently a few people have asked about the difference between “derivative” (or “relative”) and “parallel” modes, so here’s a little video I put together to explain it.
When we discuss “derivative” modes, we’re referring to a group of modes that come from the same “parent” scale. The most common “parent” is the Major Scale which has a Whole-Step/Half-Step arrangement that goes: WS WS HS WS WS WS HS
When we talk about “Derivative Modes” of a scale, we’re simply talking about a scale that starts on a different note within that existing structure. For instance, the C Major scale contains the notes “C D E F G A B C” and seven modes can be derived from this scale:
The first mode is the “C Ionian Mode”
The second mode of C Major is “D Dorian”
The third mode of C Major is “E Phrygian”
The fourth mode of C Major is “F Lydian”
The fifth mode of C Major is “G Mixolydian”
The sixth mode of C Major is “A Aeolian”
And finally the seventh mode of C Major is “B Locrian”
Notice that we didn’t change any notes so far. These modes were all “Derived” from a C Major Scale, but each “Mode” had a unique Whole-Step/Half-Step arrangement.
Now what if we want to play all of these modes starting on the note C? We would be building what we call “Parallel Modes” and each one would be derived from a different major scale.
So for instance C Ionian won’t change. It’s still C Major,
But C Dorian is the second mode of Bb Major and contains 2 flats:
C Phrygian is the third mode of Ab Major and contains 4 flats:
C Lydian is the fourth mode of G Major and contains 1 sharp:
C Mixolydian is the fifth mode of F Major and contains 1 flat:
C Aeolian is the sixth mode of Eb Major and contains 3 flats:
And finally C Locrian is the seventh mode of Db Major and contains 5 flats:
This may seem like a lot of information, but after you get used to thinking this way, it actually becomes pretty easy. Of course, it also really helps to know all your major key signatures really well (if you need to review these, I highly recommend the Key Trainer at classic.musictheory.net).
How to Practice the Modes
Of course for any of this information to do you any good, it really needs to be thoroughly memorized. I think the best way to do this is print out the pdf file below and transpose and write out the Derivative and Parallel Modes in all 12 keys. Then practice playing them, one key at a time.
I think you’ll find that practicing the modes will help your ears, improve your technique, and enable you to use these sounds in your improvisation.
Until next time; keep practicing and stay tuned!
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