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:

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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:

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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.

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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! 🤙🏻

Piano day (1h 30m)

Scale studies

  • All Phrygian scales
  • All Aeolian scales
  • All Phrygian scales in 3rds with moving chords (DNA)

Left hand + jazz voicings

  • Skill 44 from Jazz Piano Voicings by Dan Haerle (ii — V9 — I∆7 — IV∆7 | iiø — V7b9 — i) with left hand playing 10ths & triad arpeggios octave above in all keys (all keys mate!)

Bass day (1h 45m)

  • Scale studies
    • Scale dissection
      • Minor blues: R, b3-4-#4, 5, 7 (recap)
      • Major bebop
        • R-5, b6-6, 7-R
        • 7-R (below), 4-5, b6-6 (above or below), 7-R (all chromatics) — COOL!
  • Walking bass / chord tones
    • Voice leading / connecting inversions with passing tones (Phil Mann exercise) over All of Me in G
  • Reading
    • Afro Blue
    • Afternoon in Paris
    • Airegin

Observations

Just found another very effective way of internalising a new scale. Instead of going up and down the neck, you can first figure out all chromatic intervals in it and them play only them, memorising their position relative to the root. Semitones are normally the simplest to memorise and visualise on fretboard (like, major 7 below — root), therefore there’s a big chance that you will get familiar with them really quickly, and afterwards it will be much easier to learn the rest of the scale. In the case of major bebop, the chromatics are: 7 below — root, M3 — 4, b6 —6 and 7 — R (above). I played them around the cycle of 4ths in all keys, sometimes playing b6-6 run below — because it is quicker to find — and must say that I’m definitely feeling much more confident with this scale!

Bass day (1h 30m)

  • Scale studies
    • Scale dissection
      • Lydian pentatonic: R, #4, 5
      • Major blues: R, 2-b3-3, 6, 5
      • Minor blues: R, b3-4-#4, 5, 7
    • Cycling scale degrees
      • Minor blues: b3, 4, 5 (above), b3, 5, 4 (below)
  • Walking bass / chord tones
    • Voice leading / connecting inversions with passing tones (Phil Mann exercise) over All of Me in G

Piano day (2h)

  • Improv + scale studies
    • 2-octave Locrian scales in all keys
      • Both hands
      • In harmonic thirds + 1-5 shells in LH
  • Jazz voicings
    • Dorian fourthy voicings (D, G, C, F) — man I needed it so badly!
  • Left hand + technique
    • Intervallic patterns
      • 1-5-10 (all m & M)
      • 1-5-10 — (5) — 1-5-10 over ii — V — I – IV + iiø — V7b9 — i (major + parallel minor) in shells in RH — KILLER!