Sunday, August 2, 2009

Golly, modes aren't so scary after all... Part Four, ionian mode

This is the FOURTH of several posts devoted to a VERY SIMPLE beginner level review of how to play in the most common modes.

Remember, the first mode we used in this little series of posts was the mixolydian mode. In the mixolydian mode, key of D, your Do-Re-Mi scale starts with the D tonic "1" note on the OPEN (zero fret) of the melody strings. Your strings were tuned DAD to be in mixolydian mode in the key of D.

The second mode we tried in this little series of posts was the aeolian mode. In the aeolian mode, key of D, your Do-Re-Mi scale starts with the D tonic "1" note on the FIRST fret of the melody strings, not on the open string as in mixolydian. Your strings were tuned DAC to be in aeolian mode in the key of D.

As we go through the four common modes one at a time, we are doing it in a logical order by moving our tonic "1" note, our 'home base' note, up the fingerboard a little more for each mode. We are staying in the same key of D, but are locating our 'home base' in different places on the fretboard, where we will have varying fret patterns in our scale.
That's why I started with mixolydian scale, where the 'home base' tonic note is on the open string, also known as the 'zero' fret...then i went to the aeolian mode
where the 'home base' tonic note is on the first fret.

Now we will tune to the ionian mode,
where the 'home base' tonic note is on the third fret...

The four modes have the following places where their 'home base' tonic note is:
Mixolydian mode= 0 fret (open string)
Aeolian mode= 1st fret
Ionian mode= 3rd fret
Dorian mode= 4th fret

Talking now in the key of D where the D note is your tonic 'home note'- to make the tonic D note's location be on a higher fret, you have to lower the pitch of the string. This is an important concept- read that sentence again.

Starting in mixolydian DAD, where the melody string's D is on the open string... if we want to change to ionian mode and have the tonic D note on the third fret instead of the zero fret, we must LOWER the tuning of our open melody string from D to A. Use your electronic tuner, and lower your melody string from D to A. See this chart for how your dulcimer will be tuned in ionian mode for the key of D:
Now you are tuned DAA (the last A being your melody string or strings). Notice again we are not changing the tuning of your other (drone) strings at all. I'll talk about why that is at the end of this series of posts- it's easy!

Now, if you would, go back and re-read my post about playing in the ionian mode: Why I Like DAA Tuning So Much. That post pretty well explains why ionian mode tuning is probably THE most useful and easy tuning of all if you play in traditional style with a noter. Ionian is the mode that Jean Ritchie's father Balis Ritchie of Viper, Kentucky always tuned to on his dulcimer. Ionian mode gives you those extra low notes below the tonic note that mixolydian mode can't. The majority of traditional folk tunes require these several low notes, so if you are tuned in ionian mode, why then you can magically pull them out of your sleeve! ;D

Try playing Liza Jane in ionian mode, DAA tuning:

And now that you can tune to DAA ionian and play Liza Jane in ionian mode, if you want to gain a real working understanding of how the modes work, retune your dulcimer back to DAD mixolydian mode and play Liza Jane again but in mixolydian mode, as shown in this older post: Liza Jane in DAD mixolydian mode.

To review-
We've now gotten through three of the four most common modes: mixolydian based on the zero fret, aeolian based on the 1st fret, and ionian based on the third fret. Only one more mode to go!
Notice if you will that among those three modes, ionian sounds the most 'cheerful', aeolian sounds the most haunting or mournful, and mixolydian sounds fairly happy as well. The last mode we will look at will be the dorian mode, which again has a haunting sound. I'll discuss this more later.

For now, rejoice in your new ability to retune back and forth between three modes on your beautiful dulcimer! Go back to earlier blog posts here and try out your new have broken through the barriers!

Remember, when looking over the tabs I have written, it doesn't matter what key I wrote tabs in. If the tab says ionian mode then you can tune to DAA and play it just the way the tab is written. If the tab says it's in aeolian mode, then you can tune to aeolian DAC (or aeolian mode in any other key as well) and play the tab just as written.
Even if the tab is written for a 'reverse' tuning, you can still tune to the simple same mode and play the tab just as the frets numbers are written. For example: here I tabbed Black is the Color in the key of G, aeolian mode, in a DGF 'reverse aeolian' G tuning. Never fear!- see how it says aeolian?- that means you can use ANY aeolian tuning, even good old DAC, and still play the tab exactly the same way it is written on the page!!!
This is why playing by mode is so logical and simple once you 'get' the main concept of moving your tonic note/home base higher up or further down the fretboard.
The mode name simply tells you where your home note or 'key note' will be on your fretboard.
The key you want to play in tells you what that tonic/home note will be- a D note, or a G note, etc.

So, when playing in mixolydian mode in the key of G for instance, you know your open melody string will need to be a G note. When playing in ionian mode in the key of D, you know that your third fret on the melody string will need to be a D note.
...Enough brain strain for now!

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Strumella and all, I just found this site & it is GREAT! I have looked & read about modes etc..until faint. But still dont quite get it.
    This has helped ALOT!
    I play at a jam...and tune DGD if the tune called is in the key of G.
    I had NO IDEA of what else to do & after seemed to sound OK.

    SO I am still pretty it seems one can tune for G or other several ways. There ( seems?) there is no RULE..that I have found stated, anyway.
    Well...they say ' ignorance is bliss!...I guess Im proof of that!
    Thanks again for a great site and a bit of help in my confusion!
    Play on!