Ted Greene – Musicians Institute Seminar [1]

Dorian doesn’t exist. Yet there are things that are “dorian“? It’s just a descriptive word for a quality, as compared to a thing or device, something tangible to acquire. This statement is not about semantics – a given way of perceiving specific aspects drives how these are being interpreted and applied to stretch towards one goal or another.

So, how are your modes? 

The added notation is intended to illustrate Ted’s talking points, also to emphasize some of the more subtle sonic hints that might be missed otherwise. It is less of an interpretation / comment or attempt to impose a translation of his teaching. Simply a couple of perspectives to chose from, e.g. to arrive at ways how to ‘think’ about one sound or another; meaning: 

1. to develop personalized strategies to find, reproduce and come up with a given sound on the musical interface (your guitar)

2. to know common practices how these sounds are being referred to and to d i s t i n g u i s h between learning arbitrary terms, concepts and methods vs. the true character of the thing itself and which aspects determine its structure.

Ted quotes a typical notion of one of his students (“Working on ‘my’ modes”) and points out the use of the word ‘my’ in this context. Based on the following demonstration it’s fair to say that while he suggests that a “Dorian” sound does exist, it’s not to be confused with a static pattern, a thing that can be simply found within a scale shape / fingering, to be acquired and added to one’s musical toolbox, e.g. like how it’s the case with an actual physical instrument, effects, instruction manuals etc. .

His playing examples show that a Dorian sound – or any other sound of the “harmonic rainbow” – is that what constitutes in between sonic relationships, defined by context. This becomes especially apparent when he establishes one minor sound, to then switch it over to another one – borrowed from another key. The terminology can be: modal interchange. The more important aspect however, other than words, is that of musical intend, contrary to aimlessly meandering in learned scale patterns that go by ‘Dorian’, or “Fractolian” 😉  

He simply knows which note to change and where to find it, in order to evoke a specific musical mood. 

Since music happens in the moment, this hardly works comfortably or reliably by thinking intellectually. The sound has to be internalized first.

What does internalize mean though? 

To definitively answer the question if one does have to learn ‘music theory’: well, which theory?

We’re pretty good at “figuring things out” in one key [‘feel the music(al relationships)’] ; some amazingly so, seemingly effortless, even without theory baggage like knowing the ‘proper’ terms or even just the note names. 

One ‘odd’ out of key chord or note on the other hand can create too much guesswork, or worse, scale math in your mind and on the fretboard, just to find ‘fitting’ notes in passing.

Really difficult to make this sound musical –

Music theory learning, assigning terms, developing theories are among the – while only preliminary – yet still crucial steps towards application. These steps still have value after the latter has been achieved, e.g. to communicate with fellow musicians of various traditions, for research applications in musicology, to develop new learning concepts, to find new sounds […]. 

Beyond that, systems of measurements for intervallic relationships like “the modes”, “CAGED”, “Jazz Theory” etc. are mainly relevant for the DESIGN of an individual learning process:

Once it is reliably known where the note pitches are on the instrument (e.g. via scale patterns of modes, CAGED, your own system) and which sounds can be actually created by way of combination (knowing what the notes can ‘do’, in context), a system of conceptualization is still required to ‘teach’ one’s hands to access these sounds in the moment. 

This ‘muscle memory’ is based on the same principles like our language faculty, mostly subconscious processes. Our active knowledge about these inner workings is still very limited but its general mechanics, e.g. suggested by observations of language learning in children, require a ‘translation’ from perception of a sound towards true recognition in context, before it can be reproduced in a meaningful way. This works by assigning terms and more importantly, by adding meaning to these, by way of contextualizing. 

So, thinking in numbers vs. words as a shortcut – during the learning process -, e.g. moving from TAB (a translation of the sound into fretboard numbers – for spatial orientation only), to chord numbers (what is the specific sonic event made up of, how can it be changed), to key numbers (how is the sound situated in context = how the sound is created), then, optional:  add / change new sounds by intellectual / conceptual ideas.

That’s why a plain statement like “knowing scales and modes is key” probably holds most of its truth in its last word.

Questions like the following might be inspiring in conjunction with Ted’s explanations:
How do I superimpose a Dorian sound over this chord? Which note combination creates a sound  xyz?

There’s no pressing need to learn any of the number relationships (or colors) by heart or to think about or through them, during a musical moment. Knowing aspects like that the ‘dorian’ 6 of a ii chord also happens to be the 7th degree of the underlying key and pending implications become second nature. That is, the ‘feeling’ of the sound in context.

Music outpaces the mind. If the work is being put forward by focussing on perception and simple principles, playing by ear, with intend, becomes easier over time.

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