Music theory moments

Yo all,

So i come from playing it by ear…but would like to know more.

So Im reading, youtubing and getting apps. Im writing on piano and thats what im trying to learn, playing a little bit and getting into harmony.

Wondered if any would care to share some aha-moments with me with regarding to really getting the basics? For instance, understanding what modes are, and how «really using» modes means relying on conventions and familiarity (by that i mean an unconventional mode will just sound like the relative minor/major unless you establish mode particularity clearly) really opened some things for me. In this, Rick Beato´s videos I find really great, though over my head frequently.


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Haha, trying to tell me something? :slight_smile: If I might ask - how did this become practically useful for you? Did you understand something that helped you realibly write to scale, use scale changes greatly or make great big chord progressions?

I’d keep working on training your ear, and practicing your technique. Regardless of whether you are into modal music as opposed to tonal, it might not be a bad idea to start working on sightreading. Much western music before 1600 was based on modes, so pick up some of that. Move ahead to modal jazz and smooth jazz and maybe some non-western genres that utilize modes. If you aren’t good at sight-reading, well there is only one way to improve, and that is to slog your way through pieces. And then do it again.

The biggest “aha” moments for me usually come during practice, all the sudden, I’m doing and hearing and understanding something I couldn’t before. My fingers are moving with accuracy and fluidity I didn’t have a month ago etc. If you aren’t a prodigy (and I am not) it takes many, many years to build a foundation of true musical aptitude. Stick with it, play your piano every day, and you will improve. One day your wife/GF/kid/mom will be like “whoa…when did you get so good?” at this point thank them for enduring your ear-splitting practice sessions for so long. Good luck!


I found a shortcut to getting these kind of comments is to just play slap bass. Instantly impresses everyone. Thunk p-pop!

As far as music theory goes I’ve been playing music (guitar,bass, dabbling in electronic) for like 20 years and only just recently learned how to do chord progressions, inversions, the I, II, III etc. So there you go, that’s my big aha moment.

If you have an iOS device, the Music Theory app on there is good (from my limited experience with theory in general) for getting a focused coverage of the basics. I forget exactly how the name shows up in the app store but it’s the one that’s tied in with

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the linked document is something I use to pick out which mode I aim to use for a track.

I used it and a old description of the sentiment for scales to make a spreadsheet to determine which scale is most appropriate for my intentions

  • Any chord can go to any chord using modal interchange but not every chord progression will sound good to you. I think this is very relevant when composing electronic music. And the weirder the chord progression is the more it will benefit from good voice leading.
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Thats a good practice - I found this site recently, which puts a lot of things right there


Thats very interesting…i think i intuitively get what you mean…examples?

Haha, the slap bass stuff is great.

The best part is it’s not even a joke :wink:

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Sounds like where you might want to head is getting the music theory into your fingers.

Start out playing all combinations of I V and IV chord triads in all keys.

Start in root mode for the I chord and play the IV and V with a minimal hand movement, which would be the second inversion for the IV and the first inversion for the V. The IV chord goes up slightly the V chord goes down slightly. Do this with both your right and left hand. Bounce around some I, V, I, IV, V, I , …

(A spaced repetition program like Anki is good for setting up a system to drill with every day.)

After you can do this in all twelve keys (this will take a while), then start adding in starting from different inversions and playing the closest triads. So for instance play the I triad in first inversion etc.

So work around until you can play all thirty six. (Twelve keys in all three inversions).

Then start the same thing with the minor triads, same deal through all 36.

Then start changing things up. Put the IV chord or the V chord in the middle and do that.

After a while start adding other chords. You can do this with four note chords – in this case make sure the V chord is a V7 chord. Or add other chords into the mix like a vi chord, or a iii chord, etc.

ii V I IV are great at this point. Again be mixing inversions. Really get this in your fingers, you shouldn’t ever need to figure things out with your brain.

Start adding when playing chords with one hand play melodies that flow (use you ear) with the other hand that match up with the triad or chord. Try to put some rhythms with this. Again cut back to just I IV V for a while until you get the combination. Cross you hands over particularly to play melodies with your left that are above your chording right hand.

Also become aware that if you play a minor chord with your right hand there are bass notes that make this a major chord. For instance C minor becomes Ab major with the Ab in the bass. The same goes with switching major triads to minor too.

Really start feeling the chord transitions that happen in a key and how that can match with a melody, After a lot of repeated practice this starts to get more and more into you fingers.

There are other exercises too, but i’ll leave it to you the music adventurer to discover these.

But here’s one. Play a tritone These two notes are the 3rd and 7th from two separate 7 chords if you play the bass note that is a whole tone above either of these notes. Moving that tritone up a half step makes the 3rd and 7th for the bass note up a perfect fifth from the bass note you played before. Moving the tritone down a half step plays the 3rd and 7th for the IV chord. This is like a core concept for jazz, and leads to the whole idea of tritone substitution. If this last paragraph is unclear – tough – you’ll have to work through it.

ADDED: Fixed typos.


Wow that is a ton of useful info.
I might not be the OP but I thank you anyway for writing all that out, as a random bystander I’ll be making use of this!

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Thank you very much indeed!

Switch between chords from different modes. For example C major and Cminor: CMajor7 (from C major) to EbMajor7 (from C minor). I really don’t think functional harmony is that useful for most electronic music. The exception being mainstream EDM or any other style close to traditional pop music. Here they usually use 3-4 chords of diatonic harmony. Most groove based music is modal or semi modal…

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I can feel with you :slight_smile:

A quite good resource for chord progressions is:

You need to follow the “All” link for a single progression to see the exact progression details. Quite interesting and inspirational especially because they cover so much progressions from beginner up to advanced.


Modes are trippy things… They are way more related to each other than they might seem, in fact they are all using the same relationship of spacing between notes just starting from different points. I’ll try to explain.

Western music is comprised of 12 notes. The modes use a group of seven out of the twelve notes. Take the basic major scale. Let’s use the sound of music…

do re mi fa so la ti do

That’s 8 notes but as you see there are two "do"s, the last one is an octave up from the first one, so really there’s seven notes…

Do is the root note of the major scale which is actually the Ionian mode.
What it is is a pattern or spacing between notes you play. Each note in the scale is either a 1/2 step(the very next note) or a whole step(skip one note) from each other. With C as the root it goes like this:

C major(Ionian)
(Root)-whole step-whole step-half step-whole step-whole step-whole step-half step

What the modes are is instead of starting on do and ending on do, you start with re and end with re, start with mi and end with mi, etc… But using the same spacing of whole steps or half steps for all.

If I were to start with re and end with re, that is the Dorian mode… Re would be the root, and it would go like this:

D Dorian
(Root)-whole step-half step-whole step-whole step-whole step-half step-whole step

Starting with mi and ending with mi would be the Phrygian mode, and go like this:

E Phrygian
(Root)-half step-whole step-whole step-whole step-half step-whole step-whole step

So there you have the first three modes based off of a root of C…
The rest are fa to fa, so to so, la to la, and ti to ti…

As you can see they are all the exact same notes. C major(Ionian), D Dorian, and E Phrygian are all the exact same notes and relationships between them, just starting and using a different root for each one. Same for the other 4 modes that I didn’t write out…

It helps a lot to understand this, and it gets more complicated, but I won’t go there right now. You can learn them as patterns on instruments and with enough practice they sink into your brain until your fingers just play them.

Personally, again personally, I like to know a bit of theory because it really helps a lot, but I don’t like to know too much as I play by ear too and am always ready to break any rules, it can be easy for trained musicians to get sort of “locked in” to rules, although this is certainly a generalization, but in my experience I’ve seen that a lot with trained musicians I’ve played with.

Hope this helps, it’s a bit mind boggling at first but once you get the relationship of the spacing and how each of the seven modes are all the same notes, there’s a lot you can extrapolate from it, meaning you can figure out more about it just by understanding the primary stuff…

As a side note this is why the A4 and OT arps can play the same scales as the Digitone which I’ve posted charts about how to relate them. They are all the same really, just starting and using a different root for the scale…


Thanks for sharing! OK so modes - but do you find yourself choosing a particular scale (together with mode) for particular reasons having to do with harmonic opportunities or such? U want a phrygian sound but in Ab, like?

With the modes you can change the root note, so in the example I used C Ionian(major) and then wrote out the next two modes. There are seven for each key so there’s four more I didn’t right out for C, but with the information I gave you can actually figure out the rest, you just won’t know their names…

You can move the root note and still use the same relationships of spacings, all in all there are seven modes for each of the 12 notes…

Ab Phrygian would be the third mode of E Ionian(major)…
If in the above example if you used E Ionian instead of C like I did, the next one would be F# Dorian, and the third would be Ab Phrygian…

Ab Phrygian
(Root)-half step-whole step-whole step-whole step-half step-whole step-whole step

So above is the Ab Phrygian mode, as you can see it’s the same spacing relationship as the E Phrygian mode I used in the first example, just using a different root note and then determining the other notes in the mode by the same spacing relationship…

Each of the modes has a different sort of vibe or mood it creates. Generalized, major is happy, minor would be sad, Phrygian sounds almost Egyptian or something like that…

I often use major, minor, dorian, and mixolydian, but I use the other ones too. They create different vibes. I learned all the modes as patterns on guitar 25 years ago and have been playing them ever since. At this point my fingers just play them and I don’t have to think about it at all, that comes with much practice. When I was 14 to 16 years old I would play guitar for maybe 6 hours a day every day, and part of it was always practicing the modes…

There’s lots of other scales too like major and minor pentatonic which are heavily used in blues, rock, funk, etc… It’s possible to add different notes to the modes or remove certain ones… At this point the modes still play a major part in how I play music, but after years and years of practice you can combine scales and sort of switch through them as you play, to create interesting other vibes or moods… I don’t think about this at all on guitar because I’ve been doing it for 25 years, my fingers just automatically do it and just sort of express the feeling I have at the time, but they are being used…

Keyboard however I have not practiced nearly as much so my fingers don’t just play the notes, but knowing them from guitar I can imagine the guitar patterns and sort of apply them to the keys, it requires brain activity though so for that there is something in between me just expressing my feelings, but I can still do it just not nearly as fluidly as with guitar. If I were to practice the modes on the keyboard over and over this will go away after some years, which is something I plan on doing…


Thanks again great Mike, ill now go study.

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