Jazz Dispatch: Modes & Brightness

In the first jazz dispatch, you might’ve noticed that when it comes to playing/improvisation, I’m not a fan of the modes. I wish I had a more nuanced explanation for you than “I just don’t think they’re practically useful,” but its just that. Music is supposed to be immediate, and unless you’re a genius, you’re going to have trouble expressing yourself naturally when you have to constantly dig through your memory bank for a correct modal “answer” to whatever chord you’re improvising on – as though it were an SAT question.


This isn’t to say that you should avoid the modes – you should learn how they sound, and why they sound that way. It’s all about how you practice them, in tandem with training your ear. If you’ve built up your melodic scale vocabulary, you will be able to access the sound of those modes naturally. Your fingers will find the notes themselves!

But there’s another approach to working on the modes that is new to me, and it all has to do with the concept of brightness. I could punish you with a wall of text about this, but instead, I HIGHLY recommend this video from bassist/composer Adam Neely, who articulates this stuff super clearly.

Adam’s main point that you can move chords according to their brightness – which is quite a different sound from most Western progressions your ear is accustomed to – is an exciting compositional trick. Those progressions he demonstrates towards the end are so cool! Some of these chord movements don’t have the same harmonic power as like, a V-I, but they access a different, more mysterious kind of resolution.

P.S.: Adam has a bonus unlisted video that further elaborates on this brightness concept. If this kind of stuff toots your horn (hehe) then check this one out too!

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Max is managing editor of Gear Gods.

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