Everybody is familiar with the playing of Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. If you were asked on why he sounds so good, you may mention elements such as:
1. His tone
2. His restraint while playing (never too many notes)
3. His note choice and instinct for melody
4. His guitar phrasing, i.e. his use of elements like bends or vibrato
5. Being in the same band as a composer like Roger Waters :) I'm not taking a position in the Gilmour-Waters feud, I'm just saying that these two created great music together!
And yet there is another element, one that few people care to highlight and yet is fundamental in getting those solos sound as emotional as they do.
This element is the choice of modal harmony in the solo. and I can show you just how important that is.
Now, in science we say: "without data you are just another man with an opinion" so let's do a little fun experiment, shall we?
I recorded the solo of "Another Brick In The Wall"... but transposed in major. To provide a meaningful comparison (I'm no David Gilmour...) I also recorded the original version. You will find both of them in the video below.
This way you can hear the difference by yourself. In the video I also explain how I did the transposition and what you need to take care of if you do it yourselves.
You see that the major solo and the original solo do not sound the same, and how much the emotion of the solo changes even if everything else (tone, phrasing, timing) stays the same. This goes to show how important is to know your modes and the right way to use them emotionally.
I'm not saying that everything else is not important - but all those elements do contribute to the impact of the solo and as musician we must take them into account. Think of this next time somebody tells you that knowing your modes is not important.
Tommaso Zillio is a professional prog rock/metal guitarist and composer based in Edmonton, AB, Canada.
Tommaso is currently working on an instrumental CD, and an instructional series on fretboard visualization and exotic scales. He is your go-to guy for any and all music theory-related questions.
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