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Start Hearing Modal Color On Your Bass

Kevin Guin

Bass Edu

Start Hearing Modal Color On Your Bass

Modal Color…

If you take your time in music learning there are nice surprises that await your hearing senses. It would seem to be an obvious thing that we learn music because we want to get close to these beautiful sounds. But how carefully are we listening? 

The possibility exists when we are charging through our learning processes that we will miss some of the sonorous byways of sound. As we work to “make the changes” we also run the risk of passing up a different and more subtle part of the musical equation. 

There is a sovereign beauty to each modal sound.

The chords can be voiced in many ways, but the actual sound of the mode itself remains. Can you hear it? 

The purpose of today’s lesson is to give you a few simple ways to get closer to these modal sounds – to begin to truly hear these sounds.

Whether you are more skillful on your instrument or less so, there are things you can do that provide contrast to the basic functional sound of the chord that will help you hear the extensions, the upper structure of the chord – the color!

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In the lesson I use a Major 7th(#11) chord vamp, the Lydian modal sound, with easy to understand activities that help the colorful extensions of the mode stand out in relief to the basic underlying major sound. After all, if you play a simple major triad it’s one thing, but when you start to add the various extensions you start getting into much richer territory. 

One thing I demonstrate in the video lesson is to play a phrase such as a scale fragment that ends on one of the colorful tones in the mode. This highlights that particular tonal color and it’s relationship to the basic major sound. 

But what are the “colorful” tones? 

In a general sense anything that is played can be said to have color. But in the sense of this lesson it means something quite a bit more specific. 

The 1,3,5 and 7th degrees have their own basic sound and function. Especially the 3rd and the 7th degrees. These tones tell you something perfectly functional: is the chord Major or Minor? Is it the Dominant chord – the five chord? 

But what about the 9th, the 11th and the 13th degrees?

When you add them to your 1,3,5,7 you are talking about the so-called upper structure triad (in this case it is a D triad). And it is this diatonic triad that has these colorful tones. 

When you experiment by landing on these tones specifically to highlight their inherent colors you move somewhat beyond the function of the chord. You move somewhat outside of making changes per se. You start adding color for the sake of color – and it sounds great. 

That method of experimentation is easy to do.

Play simple scalar lines and end on a color tone. Try the Lydian fourth-degree first – it’s an incredibly colorful sound. It has tension and color and a little bit of something else all rolled into one! 

Now try the 2nd degree – the 9th. Very nice. Not quite as much buzz in your ear but very pleasing. And what about the 6/13th itself? A remarkable sound that is very open in a major chord. It definitely has less tension. It has a more “open” sound but it is still very colorful in it own right.

Describing the sound of these tones in words might be considered futile or even crass in some circles, but we do it out of sheer appreciation. We do it because there truly is a bit of poetry in the sounds themselves. 

Another method in your search for color is to simply play the bare 1,3,5,7 arpeggio and finish soon on one of the extensions – especially with a long tone.

This way provides a solid contrast for your ear to place the tone in a type of musical color spectrum. First you hear the functional sound of the mode and then…wham, here comes the life of the party!  

The functional sound of the basic 7th chord arpeggio played in contrast to the color tones is probably the most obvious way to experiment in this manner but it is a very effective one, especially if you haven’t yet developed much technique on your bass. 

Building up your appreciation for these beautiful modal colors is a refined task for musicians and will add a sense  of appreciation to your daily practicing and playing, whatever the circumstance. 

I truly hope that you can find more music to play and more music to appreciate and that you can also make many musical friends to help you along on your artistic journey.

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Thanks to all for stopping in.


Remember… if you have any questions, you can always contact me online at | View more of my Bass Musician Magazine Lessons | And check out my Try Before You Buy

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