Dorian superposition and the bottomless pit of melodies

So, let’s talk about modal superposition, shall we? I guess there were a lot of relatively technical (to avoid the word boring) posts in the recent time where I was mostly talking about scale practice and left hand patterns and whatnot — let’s take a break from that and look at composition.

I adore modes. They’re pure math that lends itself very well to the creative process (which is normally the opposite). They help you widen your composition framework and explore new areas. The cool thing about them is that you don’t have to master them in order to start using them. It’s kind of counter-intuitive as most jazz books assume that you’re familiar with Dorian scale in every key to such extent where you can improvise and harmonise without any effort. That scares a lot of people (me included), so they get stuck and spend years diligently running all the scales and memorising chord qualities, never really getting to the actual application. But that’s wrong!

You can start applying modes right away. The key is, it’s not about taking a particular Dorian scale and blasting it over a minor 7th chord at lightspeed. Instead, it’s more about picking E Dorian key and then adjusting your tools to match its colour.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:

Screenshot 2019-07-07 at 1.03.10 PM.png

Here, I chose to play the 3rd degree of the harmonised Dorian scale (the III∆7 chord) in different shell voicings over the tonic (which is the i7, in this case, represented by a simple 5th chord). The same pattern is played in 3 keys: E, A and D Dorian.

I guess I’ve already mentioned the usefulness of jazz chord voicings like 7-3-5 or 3-7-9 or 3-7-6 — you name it — but I’ll do it once again: they are great material for improvisation, and they are extremely simple to play, because all you have to do is just arpeggiate the shapes you’re already familiar with (if you’re not, practice them harmonically first, I’ve got tons of workouts for that plus there are jazz books).

So, by superimposing G∆7 (Dorian III∆7) over Em7 (Dorian i7) we get a really nice and interesting sound — and that’s already a starting point for a song or improvisation. Cool, right? You don’t need to master Dorian mode in all 12 keys (or — 30 keys, you geeks) to start coming up with great ideas.

Let’s improve the piece above and add some more patterns to it:

Screenshot 2019-07-07 at 1.00.57 PM.png

It’s the same melody, only the left hand now plays full minor 7th arpeggio and switches to chord shells every second bar. See what I’ve done here? The right hand uses the arpeggiated version of the chord shells as the material for the melody, and the left hand plays the same shells harmonically as an accompaniment. Check out how it sounds:


Fun fact: one of the tracks from my coming piano EP is based on this workout, so — stay tuned if you’d like to hear the full version! 🤓 (In the meantime, you might want to check out my new album that landed just two days ago.)

That’s it for today, wishing you a nice and productive week, practice hard, harmonise till it hurts, talk to you next time! 🤙🏻

Piano practice (1h 45m)

Scale studies

  • All Lydian scales
  • All Ionian scales
  • C, F, Bb Lydian in grand form
  • All Lydian scales over moving Lydian DNA
  • Dissecting Phrygian scales over arpeggiated inversions (E, A, D, G) — sheet music link coming soon

Jazz voicings + left hand

  • iim9 — V13 — I∆9 | iiø — V7b9 — im9 (format 2) from Jazz Piano Voicings (C thru F#). Left hand:
    • Blocks
    • 10ths + octave blocks + b7-1-5 run on iiø


  • Minor blues scale — quick recap in all keys

How to practice modal scales in all keys and not slip into practicing mindfulness

I love modal scales. I mean, technically, all scales are modal, but you know what I mean. There is just no such things as standard fingering for C Dorian or D Phrygian, which means, you’re pretty much free to invent your own without feeling “incorrect”, plus — the sound of the full scale, when you play it, is not that beat-up solfège drill (compared to major or minor), so it does not immediately evoke in your mind depressing images of conservatory class full of virtuoso players where even the worst one is ≈1039 times better than you.

But, as always, I find mechanical scale runs a bit of a shit approach. It’s great for learning fingerings, but as soon as fingerings are there, you better add some thought process.

One way is to run scale against the common progression of the mode (aka modal DNA), for example, i — IV7 for Dorian here:

Screenshot 2019-03-27 at 21.32.30

I tend to add bits of improv as well.

Next, you can take modal DNA and break it into intervallic patterns — for example, my favourite — broken 10ths:

Screenshot 2019-03-27 at 21.25.00.png

This way you can also work on hand independency. And, of course, get familiar with modal scale degrees! IV7 of F Dorian? Bam — Bb! Plus, it sounds super nice.

Another slightly more academic way to jazz up the one-hand modal scale practice is to play the scales as you normally would, but instead of doing it to a root chord, change the chords that you play with the left hand to the next scale degree as you switch keys. So, you go: E Phrygian to i, A Phrygian to bII∆7, D Phrygian to bIII7, etc.

Screenshot 2019-03-27 at 21.38.56.png

It’s pretty tricky if you think of it, as you have to keep in mind both key signature and modal formula (or harmonise on the fly). But on the plus side — you (kind of) get rid of this awful sound of endless transposition. You know? I hate it. E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E… Now same shit up the fourth… A-Bb-C-D— 😖 I want every key to sound different! I mean, I know it’s not the case — but this hack will get you close enough to not to get lulled into meditative state. (Unless it’s what you’re using your practice time for! 😄)

I’ll come back with even less boring scale runs soon. Harmonise ’till it hurts! 🤙🏻

Practicing arpeggios and extensions in modal context

I love combining different workouts in one so that I don’t spend two hours just doing arpeggios and then another two hours trying to make them work with right hand patterns. My approach is to work on both hands at the same time by putting emphasis on one of them and keeping the second busy with something super simple and minimally technical, yet still meaningful in terms of theory. But, there’s also a possibility to pack one more thing in an exercise — and that’s when you make it modal!

For this one a picked the classic Mixolydian progression: I7 — bVII∆7 and played it it using 7th chord arpeggios with left hand and doubled intervals in the right.

Stuff I improve while practicing this:

  • Modal DNA
  • Arpeggios
  • Diatonic intervals

Screenshot 2019-03-16 at 18.43.06.png


Sure enough, you can transpose it to any key or apply to any modal progression like Dorian i — IV7 or Phrygian i — bII∆7, etc.

Piano day (1h 40m)

Jazz voicings + left hand

  • Dominant +13 to Major +9 w/ harmonic 6ths and 9ths in LH
  • Fourthy modal structures over blanket scale — “Jazz Improvisation for Keyboard Players”, Dan Haerle (Book 2, Lesson 7) ⭐️
    • Blocks
    • Arpeggiated
      • C Dorian
      • C Lydian
  • 7-3-5 modal structures over G Mixo blanket scale
  • Alternating modal voicings over constant phrase

Scale studies

  • Whole-tone — getting to know the scale / improv over augmented chords in C through Bb


  • Crazy (Gnarls Barkley) — C, Bb
    • RH — inversions: R, 1, 2
    • LH — broken 10ths, 1-5 shells

Piano day (1h 30m)

Left hand + moving shells

  • Combining moving shells with LH patterns
    • Minor to Dominant (skill 37c from Jazz Piano Voicing Skills) + LH: [1-5][1-7][1-1’][1-4-5]i — 1-5-10-1’-5’-6’IV7
    • Dominant to Major (skill 38a from Jazz Piano Voicing Skills) + LH: 1-5-10-6 to 1‘-1I7 + desc arpeggio + 6IV

Scale studies

  • Concurrent Ion + Lyd 1-octave scales (in 2 forms)

Soloing + comping

  • All Love is Fair Focus on 3-7-9 shells in LH and major / minor scales in RH


Try constructing 3-7-9 voicing in LH from 9 down!

Piano day (1h 40m)

Jazz voicings + Left hand

  • Combining cycling shells with left hand patterns
    • Minor to Dominant (Dan Haerle, Jazz Piano Voicing Skills, Skill 37c) + LH: [1-5][1-7][1-1’][1-4-5]i — 1-5-10-1’-5’-6’IV7

Scale studies + Left hand + Shells

  • Combining blues scale improv with moving extension shells
    • RH: minor blues scale, LH: 1 — [3’-7’-9’]
  • All Aeolian scales
  • All Locrian scales