First let’s start with a link to the app because before I even discuss it, and before I even review it, I want to recommend that you get it. :)
Having been a “feel” player for much of my guitar-playing career, a few years ago, I decided that it was high time I looked at my guitar playing a little more academically. It was driven from this sense that I wanted to better understand what I was playing; and perhaps in the process expand my improv vocabulary. So I started buying books on various topics, and watched a lot of videos. All that instruction was great, but what they lacked in many cases was discussions on strategy – when would you apply those concepts. Most take the safe route with “it depends…” Frankly, that’s actually not a bad thing because I’ve found that how I approach soloing at any given time depends on a lot of factors, not the least of which is how I’m feeling at the moment I’m going to be playing a solo.
With respect to modes, I’ve read a lot of articles, and gained a bit of an academic understanding of them. But I’m a learn-by-doing and learn-by-example type of player, and there was always some missing ingredient in the things I read. It wasn’t until I found and watched Rob “Chappers” Chapman’s video on Pitch Axis Theory: Learn Modes in 15 Minutes on YouTube that I started really “getting” modes and how they could be applied.
But even Chappers’ videos weren’t enough. Even though they got me over the top with respect to using a modal approach in my playing, I felt that I didn’t fully understand them. Enter “Modal Buddy.”
Modal Buddy is an iOS app (they say it’s made for iPhone, but I’ve been using it on my iPad with no problems) that will help you learn modes. It’s not just a reference guide, which to me would be utterly redundant. Yes, it has LOTS of reference material, but the meat of it is structured like a step-by-step learning guide, replete with chapters. I REALLY like this approach because it makes it more like an interactive book, and not just something that says, “Here’s the E Lydian mode, where E is the 4th, etc., etc., etc.” There’s discussion AND examples.
The examples are ultra-important in learning modes. What I learned with Chappers’ videos is that each mode has an aural “flavor” if you will, and what I was able to internalize about that is you can evoke certain moods depending upon the mode you apply over the root of a chord progression. And to me, that’s the crux of what modes bring to the table: Moods.
So when I started going through Modal Buddy, I was very keen on seeing if the app discusses this. I’m happy to reveal that not only does Modal Buddy capture that sense of moods, it starts off with that discussion as one of the first lessons and keeps emphasizing that in the examples, so you literally can hear the mood that a mode presents. That’s such a huge thing for me because looking back on how I was first presented with modes, everyone taught the spelling of a mode first. Had they shared the root of it, “moods” first, I would have probably started using and applying modes much earlier. As a result, like many, I was intimidated by modes, or relegated them to the “jazz snobs” who seem to live and breathe modes.
I’ve only gone through the first four chapters of Modal Buddy, and only scratched the surface with the practice stuff. I’m not even sure how many chapters there are. And though much of this initial stuff is stuff I already know, I have already learned a great mnemonic for remembering the mode names “I Don’t Play Like My Aunt Lucy,” with each first letter representing the modes: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. That might be old hat to some, and even though I knew the mode names, I always had trouble remembering which mode went where in the order. That simple mnemonic helps me keep them in the proper order.
So what’s the gist of my first impression of Modal Buddy? I LOVE IT!!! At least from what I’ve seen thus far, Modal Buddy combines the best of both worlds: Theory and Examples in one straight-forward and easy-to-use learning guide. And I will say this: Even before I do a full review and breakdown of the app, I recommend you get it. It’ll be the best $4.99 you’ve ever spent. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned veteran. The examples alone will help train your ear to hear the modes in different settings.
Speaking of “hearing” modes, I was curious to hear the Locrian mode. It seems to be the least presented in the discussions and videos I’ve seen. But when I heard the example, I realized I use the Locrian mode – a lot – especially when I’m playing over minor blues progressions because of that diminished, sad sound you get out of it. I had no idea I was using it until I heard an example in Modal Buddy. By the way, the modes are played over actual backing tracks. That’s HUGE in understanding and internalizing modal theory.
Anyway… GET THE APP!