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The Phrygian Mode — January 29, 2014

The Phrygian Mode

The Phrygian mode starts on the third scale degree and like the corresponding chord is minor in nature.  It has been described as having an exotic sound, sometimes a Spanish feel.

In the Key of C :  C D E F G A B C  the third scale degree is E so we have an E Phrygian in this Key.

E Phrygian:   E F G A B C D E    The intervals are therefore S T T T S T T

If we compare to E Major : E F# G# A B C# D# E  we can see that the Phrygian mode has a b2, b3, b6 and b7 compared to the corresponding major scale.  The b2 and b6 are not that common in Western music and this mode also has perfect intervals in relation to the root which give the distinctive sound.

An example pattern starting on the A string is shown below.  I’ve started on the A string to keep the fingering pattern fairly uniform.  As with all the modes, you definitely want to experiment a lot with playing this pattern in as many different positions as possible (audio here):


If you need a diagram showing the notes on the fretboard, one is available in the Ionian mode (Major scale) post.

How you play these modes is really up to you.  You could use a Phrygian mode all of the time as it will fit with any chord in the key.  For variety you can mix them around a bit, often minor modes will be used over minor chords and major modes will be used over major chords.  The best thing is to experiment with voicings and phrasings to find the sort of sounds that you like.

As an example to get you started, the Phrygian mode is often used over a iii IV progression in heavy metal.  I’ve created a simple Em F (iii IV) chord progression which has the Phrygian mode played over the top of it as shown below.  Ok, it’s only 2 bars but you get the idea.  (Audio here)


A second example uses a C Am Em F (I vi iii IV) chord progression repeated 4 times with a Phrygian mode played over the top of it.  The tab is shown below, audio here : tab in pdf here

PhrygianExample2CombinedGood luck, and the most important thing – have fun!

The Dorian Mode — January 25, 2014

The Dorian Mode

The Dorian mode starts on the second scale degree and like the corresponding chord is minor in nature.  It can help give a jazzy feel to your music, without necessarily having to learn loads of jazz theory.

In the Key of C :  C D E F G A B C  the second scale degree is D so we have a D Dorian in this Key.

D Dorian:   D E F G A B C D    The intervals are therefore T S T T T S T

If we compare to D Major : D E F# G A B C# D  we can see that the Dorian mode has a b3 and b7 compared to the corresponding major scale.

An example pattern starting on the A string is shown below.  I’ve started on the A string to keep the fingering pattern fairly uniform.  As with the major scale example, you definitely want to experiment a lot with playing this pattern in as many different positions as possible:

D Dorian-page-0

If you need a diagram showing the notes on the fretboard, one is available in the Ionian mode (Major scale) post.

How you play these modes is really up to you.  You could use a Dorian mode all of the time as it will fit with any chord in the key.  For variety you can mix them around a bit, often minor modes will be used over minor chords and major modes will be used over major chords.  The best thing is to experiment with voicings and phrasings to find the sort of sounds that you like.

As an example to get you started, I’ve created a simple C Bm F G (I vi IV V) chord progression which repeats four times and has the Dorian mode played over the top of it.  The tab can be downloaded from here  Dorian example  (note the chords are not shown on the tab but there is one chord per bar) and the audio can be downloaded here 

The Ionian Mode (Major Scale) — January 19, 2014

The Ionian Mode (Major Scale)

As I’ve said in previous posts, modes are a very good way to introduce melodies / lead lines / solos into your songs.  I’ll outline each mode and the type of sound or ‘feel’ that each mode has.

As a guitarist, ideally you want to learn each mode in different positions on the fretboard.  This is not an easy achievement.  As I’ve said before, I’m not a music teacher but learning patterns is one way to help you to remember, you just need to be careful that you don’t get stuck in a rut of only using the notes in only that position and being too mechanical. But you need to start somewhere and it can be a good starting point.

One of the main ways to learn is to really experiment with the modes (refer to my previous post on phrasing and developing your own style).  If you play all the notes in sequence up and down each mode you will learn the pattern and how it sounds but you really need to experiment with phrasing to get the most out of each mode.  This is to hear how the notes sound against different chords and intervals between chords, whether notes resolve or raise tension etc. You won’t develop this feeling if you approach them too mechanically.

The Ionian mode is the first mode and is also called the Major scale. It is the most commonly used one in music and would be described as having a happy sound.  You can hear it in pretty much every style of music.

If we take the Key of C, the Ionian mode (aka Major Scale is): C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C   For guitar, if we start on the E string, the basic pattern is as follows:

 c major scale (2)

Of course you are not limited to this position, it can be moved around the fretboard as you want to.  The picture below shows notes on a guitar fretboard so you can of course start the major scale at any of these C notes.

guitar-fretboard-notes-chart-page-0This diagram uses the Helmholtz pitch notation which denotes an octave starting at C and ending at B.  It’s a really useful system as it uses differing notation to represent different octaves.  The octave  C D E F G A B  is two octaves below middle C; the octave  c d e f g a b c  is one octave below middle C; the octave  c’ d’ e’ f’ g’ a’ b’  starts on middle C and the octave  c” d” e” f” g” a” b”  is one octave above middle C.  This is really useful when you start making your own patterns so you know what octave range the note you are using is in.  There is a really good explanation and further details at  which is where I got the diagram from.  The site also has some very good fretboard visualisation techniques which are well worth reading.

Another technique to familiarise yourself with the scale is to play it using a repeating pattern, an example of which is shown below:


On a keyboard, it’s a little easier.  The C Major scale  is all the white notes starting at the C note.


The endless possibilities of sampling — January 17, 2014

The endless possibilities of sampling

Synthesizing sounds in hardware or software synths is great, once you get the hang of it.

But there is another way to make sounds, one that is very personal and unique and needn’t cost any money.

I’m talking about sampling. Not the sort of sampling that involves ripping large chunks of other people’s songs like The KLF did, although I have to say I agree more and more with their philosophy that we don’t want popular culture but it is thrust upon us so we should be able to do whatever we want with it. But that’s another subject entirely.

What I’m talking about has no potential copyright issues and is a process that is best for effects, ambient or percussive type sounds and you can start very easily – you only need your phone’s voice recorder rather than needing dedicated recording equipment.

The possibilities really are endless, limited only by your imagination. Whether it’s a flowing river, rain, traffic noise, conversation, squeaky swing and so on, you can record whatever you want. There are some pretty good collections out there already like the London sound survey  This is a massive repository of sounds from across London over time, including various maps, one of which is a waterways map presented like a map of the underground.  Best of all, the sounds are all creative commons.

I have to be honest, it can be a bit tricky using your phone because the voice recorders often use proprietary formats like .amr but these can easily be converted to wav using an online service like  Bear in mind that the quality of the microphone might not always yield great results and you will be largely be limited by the quality of the original recording.  So if you do get into the technique you may well want to invest in some dedicated recording equipment if you don’t get good results from your phone.

Once you have your wav file you can edit it however you want. This could be basic editing such as fade in / out; amplify; normalise; remove noise or silence; invert; reverse; change pitch or tempo etc. I tend to use Audacity for this type of editing as I’m most familiar with it and it’s also free software.

 You now have your finished samples, or do you? In many ways the fun really starts here because you can now apply effects to your samples. This could be a subtle reverb or EQ or you could give it a proper mangling with crazy filters, distortion, bitcrusher and one or more heavy delays.  You can apply effects in Audacity but it doesn’t support VSTIs and some effects use slider settings but I find it an easier task to do visually as you can see and tweak dials and knobs etc.
There are two options I tend to use, which one depends on the sort of effects I want to apply.
Wavosaur is a wave editor which could probably also do the basic editing tasks as well but to be honest I’m not that familiar with this software yet.  It does allow you to load VSTIs and set up the desired effects and then apply them as a batch process to set of samples or to an individual sample.  It doesn’t seem able to extend the length of a sample so it’s not good for long delays or long reverbs but is very good for EQ, filtering etc.
 The other option is Smack My Batch Up.  This allows you to load up to 5 VSTIs and also allows you apply them as a batch process to a folder of samples.  Unlike Wavosaur this can extend the length of a sample and I have created some great effects from multiple delays and reverbs.  In fact I have created some long and truly weird results from processing an already processed sample a second time.
So now you have made your own unique sample(s).  What will you create with them?
Anatomy of a remix or Synchronicity makes this sort of thing happen quite often — January 11, 2014

Anatomy of a remix or Synchronicity makes this sort of thing happen quite often



The song and this blog post (like a lot of others) only happened because of Synchronicity.

It’s fair to say I’m not a big fan of dubstep.  Until, that is, I heard a Sunday Sessions mix that Elephunk Ghost made.  This introduced me to Phaeleh who produces future garage, or liquid dubstep or chillstep depending on who you talk to.  Whatever label you want to apply, it is best described as the softer side of dubstep, kind of dubstep with an ambient feel.  So this naturally appealed to my ambient side.

Phaeleh has made some brilliant tracks, I really got into that sound straight away.  So I started looking for more.  I found other artists such as Maribou State and Tune-In radio was permanently tuned to the DI chillstep channel.  They played a lot of the chillstep works series by Ideal Noise (who has a lot of those and other mixes available for download on Soundcloud).  Then one day I heard a really beautiful piano track that I wished I’d recorded so when I heard it the next time I recorded it.  Unfortunately I forgot that I had used the rewind function so when I listened back it didn’t start at the beginning.  Even worse, when I cleared the temporary files off my phone I lost the recording so to this day don’t know what it was and have heard not it since.  I also watched a bunch of tutorials on youtube and also started listening more and more to the DI liquid dubstep channel.  I wanted to try and make songs in that style.

In glorious synchronicity, at about the same time I was also having a catch up on Soundcloud.  I listened to some Maya Wolff tracks that I’d been meaning to listen to for ages.  One of these was a beautiful piano track called Summer Dreams which just happened to be available for download.

So I thought I’d have a go at remixing it.  Now remixing is not the easiest task even when you have the individual instrument, vocal samples etc so considering this track was an mp3 I wasn’t sure how it would go.  The first job was to resample the track for use in Caustic 3, also known as chopping it up and saving it as wav files in Audacity.  Because the piano sounded so beautiful and I wanted that type of sound anyway, I knew I needed to be sympathetic to the original and decided to leave the glitchy mangling effects for another day.  I didn’t want to use the whole of Maya’s track and just add a bassline and percussion either so selected certain parts of the song that I could use to remain true to the original but add my own twist.

Luckily the track was pretty much piano only with a few ‘twinkly’ effects in places which meant that editing was fairly straightforward and I didn’t need to isolate vocals or remove other elements.  I say fairly, I needed smallish samples so I could use parts of the song but also had to be careful to make sure that they would all fit back together as seamlessly as possible to make the sequences sound right.

The other really important things to bear in mind when remixing are the tempo and key of the original track.  The tempo was stated on the track properties as 120 – I left it as it was.  The key wasn’t specified.  Someone had put me onto Chordify, which is a website which lets you upload songs and it works outs the chords for you.  I normally do this for myself and wasn’t convinced that Chordify would be very accurate but I gave it a try anyway.  It suggested the key of Ab and associated chords.  To be fair to Chordify, it was pretty accurate.  Keeping the same key and tempo meant that I didn’t have to change the pitch or tempo of the chopped up samples I had created.

So now I had to think how I was going to progress this.  I knew that I needed drums, a bassline and strings to begin with.  I’d recently downloaded a set of Tapetonic drum samples from Goldbaby which I thought would be good so used those for the main drum patterns.  I had an orchestral ensemble preset I’d made from some samples that I thought would be great and used a plucked bass preset from the FM Synth in Caustic.

To my surprise, the orchestral ensemble didn’t really fit in no matter how I tried to EQ or filter the sound.  So I was a bit stuck.  I knew I wanted a strings type sound and remembered that I had made a preset on Caustic’s FM synth so gave that a go and it sounded sort of ok.

I also wanted to use a sound from the subsynth but didn’t want to take anything away from Maya’s piano playing so didn’t want to introduce more lead lines.  I had a simplish lead sound with an LFO that I’d created and that worked really well to provide some atmosphere to the track.

I’d downloaded the sample packs ‘Prism House vol 1′ and ‘Prism House vol 2’ from Rekkerd’s website and used these for the introduction and an extra percussive layer.

I started with a basic string and bass pattern using notes from the chords.  Initially I’d used Maya’s piano without any effects but I wanted the opening to build up gradually so loaded a second instance so I could add a fairly large amount of delay and hint of reverb although this took me quite a while to figure out loading 2 instances was the best option.

The song was taking shape but didn’t sound that great to be honest.  The intro was sorted fairly quickly along with the opening but I was stuck there for quite a while.  I kept coming back but struggled to make any real progress.  I started playing with layering percussive sounds.  I had a couple of repeating patterns and developed the percussive sounds fairly minimally to allow space in the track.  The drums were kept very similar throughout the track.

It needed some effects.  Compression was added to most of the instruments, a low shelf filter and bitcrusher had been used on the second instance of the Prism House samples.  The strings really took shape when I added a high shelf filter.

I got to the point where I was about 2/3 the way through but still thought I was going to chalk it up to experience and unable to finish it.  I had tried and made no progress on several further occasions.  I tweaked the layering a bit and added a choir sound I’d made in Serenity using it fairly sparsely and it really added to the atmosphere.  This helped me to realise I needed to completely rewrite the middle section to make it sound better with the new choir sound and after about a week of leaving it alone picked it up again and came up with the ending.  I added some Ehru sampIes I’d previously made for another extra layer.  I love that sound but try and use it sparingly so I don’t overuse it.  This was the point I didn’t think I’d reach – a finished track that I was happy with.  I made sure that I saved a copy of the file which I don’t normally do but really should.  This was so that I could do the final mastering and if it all went completely wrong I’d still have all the original settings to fall back on.  The mastering involved a lot and I mean a lot of tweaking of different effect and volume levels and adding some automation listening through 2 sets of headphones to compare the difference.  It happened a lot because there was a noticeable difference between the 2 sets of headphones for each of the changes I made.

For instance, when I listened through my Sennheiser HD202IIs I realised that the bitcrusher effect on the Prism House samples wasn’t really working – it sounded ok through the other set.  So I switched it off and it sounded much better.  The mastered song even sounded ok in the car so I decided that it was finished.  Otherwise I could be tweaking it for ever.  I exported from Caustic to wav file, loaded into Audacity to amplify and then exported to mp3.

I was a bit nervous what Maya would think to it but she’d asked for any remixes to be sent to her prior to release.  I did this so she was the first to hear it.  The moment of truth… she quite liked it!  She did point out a timing issue which was a clash between the Tapetonic percussion and piano sample, presumably because I’d chopped it up into smaller parts.  I removed the percussion at this point and also altered the timing of the samples at the end to make it flow a bit better.

She was happy with the result and offered to put it on her Soundcloud as a free download when she reached 1000 followers which was a brilliant gesture.  The only problem was that I sent a dropbox download link which she couldn’t get the file from.  So I ended up downloading it and sending it via email.

That was Thursday afternoon and I didn’t have to wait long, the song was uploaded in the early hours of Friday (10th Jan 2014) and as I write this a day later it has had 177 views, several retweets and some very favourable comments.  Hopefully this will continue over time.

And there is another favourable outcome.  I’ve been playing around with the alpha and beta versions of Caustic since September with a number of projects on the go, none of which I’ve been able to finish.  Having persevered with this track, they are now all of a sudden starting to take shape.

The Soundcloud page for the remix is:

Maya Wolff:      Twitter @missmayawolff

Elephunk Ghost:  Twitter @ElephunkGhost

Tapetonic samples from

Ideal Noise:

Prism House samples from Rekkerd:

Caustic website:

Chordify Website