Modal Soloing


A favourite type of tune I like to solo over is something that has chords lasting for 2 or 4 measures and chord changes which are far removed from II – V – I type progressions.

The tune we are going to be looking at has everything I like in a Modal tune.

In this post, we will be looking at a song from my book, “Jazz Reading Elements.” Full recording with solo below.

This particular piece is very interesting because all the chords use the Mixolydian mode. As you probably noticed, we have many different types of chords. When we think of Mixolydian, we think dominant 7th chords. We have an E7sus4 which looks like a dominant chord but all the others don’t.

The chords in this tune are in fact different ways of expressing the Mixolydian mode. Notice I didn’t say Dominant? Dominant chords have a tritone. None of the chords here have a tritone in them. This is in fact a really good thing in a Modal tune because dominant chords and their tritone want you to resolve them to some other chord whether it be the I chord or something else.

In Modal jazz, we want to use chords for their colours and not necessarily to resolve to other chords. The Mixolydian mode is a colour and there are many way to express this particular colour. I’ve used many slash chords in this song. Each chord is an expression of the many possible ways in which we can create sounds, colours and voicing which give us the Mixolydian mode. Let’s look at a few.

G/A is an A Mixolydian chord. All of the notes of this chord are contained in the A Mixolydian. It’s a G triad with an A in the bass. The notes are G, B, D and A bass. If we look at the A Mixolydian mode below we see that all of these notes are present in our mode.

A Mixolydian Mode

The Bbmaj7/C chord is a C Mixolydian mode. All the notes of the Bbmaj7 chord and the C bass note are contained within the C Mixolydian mode.

In each of the chords in this song, we can find the Mixolydian mode simply by looking at the bass note in each of the slash chords. It is important to note that this is not a general rule for slash chords. There are many types of slash chords which exist that represent many different types of sounds for each of the modes. This includes modes from all of the primary scales: major scale, melodic minor scale and harmonic minor scale. I’ve used only slash chords which produce Mixolydian sounding chords.

As we already mentioned E7sus4 is an E mixolydian chord. The sus4 removes the tritone by replacing the 3rd with the 4th. Again this takes away the feeling that we have to resolve the dominant chord. In this way, we hear more of the mode and less of the feeling that it needs to be resolved to another chord.

All chords in the bridge section of the song are Mixolydian chords. The root note of the mode is the bass note.

The Solo below uses only notes from the Mixolydian mode except for one note in bar 8. (not counting the pickup notes) There is a chromatic passing tone (Ab). Other than that one note, all note are from their respective modes.

Within each mode there are in fact 7 triads. We can form triads from each of the mode’s notes. We can spell chords in thirds from each note in the mode. They are in fact the same triads found in their parent scale but just in a different order.

I use many of these triads in this solo. As you listen, you will no doubt hear them.

Play though the solo and try to visualize the Mixolydian modes for each chord. Try to see and hear how the modes sound and try to appreciate the colour of the mode and how it sounds when you shift from one Mixolydian to the next.

Below are 2 tracks, one with the guitar playing both the solo and the melody and a second track with no guitar. There are 2 bars of click to count you in.

Full track with guitar melody and solo.
Backing track, no guitar.

A special thanks to St├ęphane Jose for his wonderful drum and percussion tracks.

St├ęphane Jose is a French jazz drummer and percussionist. He has been living in Montreal since the 90s where he graduated from the McGill University Jazz Program. He is a jazzman at heart but he is also open to other styles such as funk or Latin music, in small groups or in big bands.

Improv Lesson 1 (Modal Jazz)

Let’s take a look at a simple modal composition. We will concentrate on: finding the scales we need, mapping them out on the fingerboard and working them into a solo.

First, look at the leadsheet below and listen to the recorded example to get a basic feel for the tune.


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