"Intro To Modes"
8-week course
with Trey Gunn

The course runs from October 15 to December 8, 2018.

This is a group course where musicians will be working directlywith Trey Gunn on a weekly basis.

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In this 8-week course we will break down one of the basic building blocks of music — the modes — into digestible parts both sonically and theoretically so they can be used with ease.

This course will:

  • help you to immediately find your ground in a piece of music.
  • give you flexibility when improvising.
  • give you greater choices when developing your own compositions.
  • help you grasp command of the core, skeletal material of music.
  • give you a long-term pathway to hear deeper into the relationships of the notes.

    Learn to play confidently while capturing the unique quality of each mode in your improvisations and compositions. This ease only comes from the deep exploration based on how you hear, in your own particular way. This course breaks down that exploration into its core essence, step-by-step.

    When most musicians play by thinking in modes, or scales, they tend towards using all the tones equally and without their full meaning. This results in bland musical lines. Lines that come across like white light where, instead, there could be gorgeous color.

    How a painter uses color is a useful analogy for working with the modes. Any musical idea can be taken and flavored with one of the modes. The idea remains basically the same; but the color of the music changes based on which mode you are using. This course is designed to establish these “modal” differences in your ear.

    Learning about modes isn't about the information. The information is easy. Learning this material, the way I think we should, is about getting to know each tone intimately within its context -- the mode's center of gravity, or tonal center.

    This course will use a progression of practices to develop our sense of each note and how that note fits into the whole. This is an oversimplification; but based on many years of practice, study and playing I have been honing an approach to go directly into the sounds. First, we learn the sounds. The information can come afterward, simply to help us organize.

    This course is part of my work in aiding musicians and artists to speak from their own, original voice.

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      The course will adapt to the people participating and how things develop as we go along. But the general curriculum will be based on the following progression.

      1. General Concepts of Modes [week 1]
      2. Language And Method For The Course [week 1]
      3. Root, Fifth, Octave (+ listening/singing) [week 1]
      4. Thirds (+ listening puzzles) [week 2]
      5. Sevenths (+ extra singing) [week 3]
      6. Sixths (+ playing) [week 4]
      7. Seconds (+ composition) [week 5]
      8. Fourths (+ audiation/memorization) [week 6]
      9. Full Modes (+ pentatonics/hexatonics) [week 7]
      10. Locrian/Pathway to Exotics (+wrap-up) [week 8]

      Cost is $299

      Sign up before October 1 and get 50% off

      "Intro to Modes" 8-week course with Trey Gunn

      The Modes

      What is a mode? A mode is a musical structure of pitches drawn on by composers and improvisers. There are many, many different modes. Each has unique set of feelings and meanings that can be teased out it.

      For example, the minor pentatonic scale is a mode made of five individual notes each with their own character in relation to the key as a whole. When you examine it closely, each pitch will cause some kind of response within you. One of the pitches may have a bluesy feeling for you. Another might call up Joy Division. Another look and you are hearing echos of an African Mbira piece. All of this is hidden inside the musical architecture of that particular mode. Switch everything to a different mode and the music changes radically.

      You will find modes in folk music, jazz, classical music, world music, hardcore punk rock....you name a piece of music and you will most likely find that it is based in one of the standard Western modes. Yes, of course, there are exceptions. My own ear is drawn to these exceptions — more exotic Indian music, Arabic music, Eastern Europe folk music and more. However, even the most exotic tonal sounds can best be opened up through knowing the sounds of the main Western modes. These are our fundamentals. To get into the world of exotic modes (super locrian, an exotic Arabic maqam or 12-tone serialism, etc...) you are simply making a more exotic combination of these same pitches. But you need to start here. Once you have this material inside your ear there is a direct path to anything exotic.

      We are going to examine this material in an extremely close way – delving in deep with the aim of getting a clearer picture of how all the parts relate to each other.


      It is very easy to learn the material here and not learn the sounds. When I was first "taught the modes" I was able to intellectually grasp the structures quite quickly. Because of certain aptitudes I had, the geometry of the main seven modes popped right into place for me. All I had to do was spend a bit of time learning the names of each mode and I was able to appear proficient. However, this was a lie. I did not know the modes. I only knew the information about them. I did not know the sounds. Now, I do. Though it has taken me many, many years of study and exploration to catch up and rebuild a previously faulty foundation. (I am still working on honing the finer details.) My hope with this course is that I can show you a shorter path than the one I took. 

      The only way to truly learn the modes is away from your instrument by singing and listening. Anyone who tries to show you fingerings on an instrument as a way to learn the modes is doing you a terrible disservice. Likewise, anyone who presents the modes as a specific combination of whole-steps and half-steps is leading you astray. Yes, there are fingerings for the various modes. And, yes, each mode can be looked at as a combination of various distances between the notes. But this isn’t what a mode is and it is not the pathway to the inside.

      Musicians who learn a scale or mode without delving into the meaning, and feeling, of each tone tend to improvise by ripping up and down the whole scale. This is akin to a lighting designer using all the colors at the same time. What you end up with is bland, white light, lacking any character. The best way to define the character (identity) of a musical phrase or section is to restrain to only what is needed. Sometimes that might mean using all the notes! But, more often than not, it means using less than all of your options. Picking just the juiciest bits to focus what you are articulating.

      In my experience, the same is true about the process of learning the material. So, we are going to begin by building the modes up a tone at a time. First by laying out the skeletal structures, then slowly flushing these out until we have the full color of each mode.

      Also, don’t worry if you don’t know ANYTHING about any of this material. This course is designed to start from the bottom up. For the experienced players, this method will allow you to locate any gaps in your hearing and give you means to clean them up.

      Email to sign up for the Modes Course