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Frequently misused musical terms and jazz myths

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    Posted: 07 Mar 2016 at 4:29am
This thread seeks to correct musical terms that are often misused in the popular press. One of the most misused is the term MODAL.

What does "MODAL" actually mean?

A mode is a scale, when jazz players are said to be playing in a modal style, they are improvising to one scale, instead of following chord changes that may employ many scales.

The arrival of modal jazz was a reaction to be-bop. In bop, the chard progressions can move at a rapid pace and many players became tired of dealing with that and preferred to stretch out in one key without having to deal with the changing scales that come from following chord changes.
In this sense, playing modal jazz meant a return to the blues for many players.


Edited by js - 07 Mar 2016 at 7:46am
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote js Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Mar 2016 at 4:33am
Modal music was not invented by jazz musicians, instead, most non-western music throughout the world can be said to be modal.
Chord progressions and harmonic movement are something unique to western/European music.

An example of modal music taken to great heights can be found in the ragas of Indian music.
In today's music, the classic rock guitar solo is a well known modal language based around the minor blues scale.
Likewise, there are strong similarities to extended psychedelic rock jams and modal jazz.


Edited by js - 07 Mar 2016 at 7:47am
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote js Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Mar 2016 at 4:38am
Although most musicians would agree that playing modal, or to one scale, is easier than following complex chord changes, playing a really good long line solo in one scale presents its own set of challenges.

Some masters of the long line modal solo include:
John Coltrane
Kenny Garrett
Brad Mehldau
Herbie Hancock
Carlos Santana
Duane Allman
Pharoh Sanders
Ravi Shankar



Edited by js - 07 Mar 2016 at 4:44am
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote js Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 07 Mar 2016 at 4:43am
On the other hand, playing to a set of chord changes presents challenges in not only getting the right scale to the right chord, but you also must build your solo, much like the modal player.

Masters of building a solo while navigating fast harmonic changes would include:
Charlie Parker
Eric Dolphy
John Coltrane (again)
Joe Pass
Art Tatum
Bud Powell
Barney Kessell
Phil Woods
Joe Lovano
Sonny Rollins
Bill Evans
Dizzy Gillespie


Edited by js - 07 Mar 2016 at 7:48am
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote js Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 Mar 2016 at 12:47pm
Along with TONAL (functional harmony, chord progressions) and MODAL (one scale), the other major approach used by jazz artists is what is usually called ATONAL.

Atonal means that all 12 notes of the scale are being used and no particular note is considered a tonal center. In true atonal music there is no harmonic movement or chord progressions.

Keep in mind that there is not always a strict dividing line between tonal, modal and atonal. Artists such as Dave Douglas, Greg Osby, Jason Moran and others often blur the line between atonal and tonal and purposefully try to disguise what they are doing in an attempt to make their music more interesting.

In many respects, atonality has a lot in common with modality in that the atonal approach is limited to one scale, the 12 note scale. While some musicians enjoy the freedom of playing atonally and not having to follow a chord progression, other musicians find using the 12 tone scale a limited approach that easily lends itself to repetition. As is the case with so many things in life, one man's ceiling is another man's floor.

Masters of the atonal solo include:
Albert Ayler
Archie Shepp
John Gilmore
Matthew Shipp
Cecil Taylor
Sun Ra
Ivo Perelman
Sonny Sharrock


Edited by js - 09 Mar 2016 at 1:06pm
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