Mastering Modes: Locrian (Guitar Lesson)


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Kris Norris

Mastering Modes: Locrian

Kris covers the Locrian mode, which is the 7th mode of the major scale. He talks about the target tones of this mode and plays over a backing track.

Taught by Kris Norris in Kris Norris Artist Series seriesLength: 5:48Difficulty: 3.5 of 5
Chapter 1: (01:52) Introduction & About Locrian Following a short improvisation, Kris introduces Locrian, the final mode of the major scale. Locrian was actually not one of the original church modes. The name goes back to the Greek modal system, which was organized completely different from our current system.

NOTE: The video screen Kris references is available in the Supplemental Content section under "The Locrian Mode."

Scale Degrees / Step Pattern

Kris teaches Locrian starting on an E note, giving us E, F, G, A, Bb, C, and D. This grouping of notes produces the following whole and half step pattern: H-W-W-H-W-W-W.

The Locrian mode occurs naturally in the diatonic major scale starting on the 7th scale degree. Using the E major scale (E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E) as the "parent" scale, D# Locrian is built from the seventh degree. This mode is spelled D#, E, F#, G#, A, B, #, D#.

Instability of the Locrian Mode

There is an inherent problem with Locrian: the tonic chord (the chord built on the 1st scale degree) is diminished, which is unstable. Diminished chords function as embellishing or passing chords. Consequently, they are poor chords to resolve to since they are unresolved themselves. Due to this instability, the Locrian mode is used rather infrequently. However, it is worth studying in order to complete your understanding of the modes of the major scale.

Potential Alterations

Similar to the Phrygian mode, the Locrian mode can be slightly altered to be used in rock and metal. In the Phrygian mode, the 2nd scale degree, which is a half step above the 1st (called a b2), is sometimes raised a half step to allow a power chord to be built on the 5th scale degree. For more on this, see Kris' Lesson 20: Mastering Modes: Phrygian. In the Locrian mode, the fifth scale degree above the tonic note is not a perfect 5th (P5, 3 1/2 steps). Rather these notes form a diminished 5th or "tritone" interval (d5, 3 steps). The 5th scale degree is commonly raised a half step to allow a P5 to be built on the 1st scale degree, creating a power chord. The actual b5 of the mode is then used as a root for another power chord. The power chords created in relation to an E tonal center are E5 (E-B, discussed above), F5 (F-C), G5 (G-D), A5 (A-E), Bb5 (Bb-F, the actual 5th of the mode), C5 (C-G), and D5 (D-A).

Examples of this harmonic idea can be found in the intro to "Shortest Straw" by Metallica, the riff after the solo in "5 Minutes Alone" by Pantera, one of the bridge riffs to Pantera's "The Art of Shredding" (with a chromatic passing chord), and countless Southern metal riffs.
Chapter 2: (02:58) Locrian Target Tones The diatonic triads in E Locrian are: Eo (E-G-B), F (F-A-C), Gmi (G-Bb-D), Ami (A-C-E), Bb (Bb-D-F), C (C-E-G), and Dmi (D-F-A). There are no primary triads in the Locrian mode due to its inherent instability.

Kris discusses the problems mentioned in the first scene again, and plays the io chord followed by V (Eo and Bb) to show how their relationship is not like the traditional I to V (in E major, E to B). He even adjusts the 5th of the tonic chord at 0:44 to make it an E5, and plays this back and forth with a B chord to remind you what I to V sounds like. Then he alternates between E5 with Bb5. Notice the lack of an audible resolution. As he states, it almost sounds like the key has changed, since these chords have no relation to each other. In functional harmony, chords have an "urge" to progress in a certain direction, such as a V chord resolving to a I chord. Since the V chord in Locrian is built on a d5 instead of a P5, the urge to resolve no longer exists.

The ear and mind can listen to and accept chord progressions that have no function, but these progressions tend to be considered less "satisfying" than functional chord progressions. Music that uses non-functional harmony is not less valid; it just tends to be less well known and less popular. Functional harmony was used by composers such as Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, whom people could name even without being classical music fans. Non-functional harmony was used more by composers throughout the late 1800s and early to mid-1900s, such as Ives, Stravinsky, and Wagner.

Beginning at 1:29, Kris plays various chord pairs using the diatonic chords listed above. He moves between Eo and F (io an II), Eo and Gmi (io and iii), and Eo and Ami (io and iv). Listen carefully to each chord pair. Make a note of how they sound to you and how you react to each. In addition, try playing them yourself.

NOTE: The fingering Kris uses for Eo is not in the Supplemental Content or the Chord Library. His first finger is on the E note, 7th fret on the 5th string (A). His middle finger is on the Bb note, 8th fret on the 4th string (D). His pinky is on the E note, 9th fret on the 3rd string (G). Finally, his ring finger is on the G note, 8th fret on the 2nd string (B).

As Kris mentions, each of these chord pairs sound unrelated and "come out of nowhere." While being non-functional, this also creates new possibilities and a fresh sound to explore. Just don't expect to write a hit song using the Locrian mode! This mode is more useful for experimental and academic music.
Chapter 3: (00:58) Locrian Playing Example In this scene, Kris improvises solely in E Locrian over a backing track. The chords used can be found in the Supplemental Content section at the bottom of the "Locrian Tab" page. The chord progression is E(b5) (2 mm., with a quick E(b5, add b9) in the 2nd measure.), Bb (1 m.), Am (1 m.), E(b5) (2 m., like before), F (1 m.), Bb (2 beats), Am (2 beats). He solos mostly in what is labeled "Position 2" on the "Locrian Tab" page.

The chord tones are: E(b5) (E-Bb), E(b5, add b9) (E-Bb-F), Bb (Bb-D-F), Am (A-C-E), and F (F-A-C). Try to target notes in each chord as they pass. If you find this too difficult, it is perfectly fine to work out a solo in advance and practice playing it over the backing track.

Notice how Kris uses more chromaticism in this solo than he has in any other demonstration during this whole mini-series on modes. Beginning at 0:24, he circles the 1st and 4th scale degrees with half steps above and below each note. He targets the E note, but plays the D# (not in the mode) and F notes around it, When targeting the A note, he embellishes it with G# (not in the mode) and Bb. These notes are referred to as chromatic neighbor tones. Neighbor tones can either be diatonic, which around the E note would be F and D natural, or in this case, some diatonic and some chromatic. Using this technique helps embellish the targeted note, and gives a solo some additional color. He demonstrates this idea again at 0:50. He encloses the B natural note, which is not in the mode, with Bb and C.


Video Subtitles / Captions





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Member Comments about this Lesson

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rucan2rucan2 replied on June 3rd, 2013

E locrian Over f major chords

erick450erick450 replied on December 2nd, 2010

Can an adanced lesson be posted if it isnt too much trouble id like to get into this mode alot more

kb46kb46 replied on February 7th, 2010

I like the sounds that this mode makes but shall do as you say and sort all the other modes out first. Dont get the backing track, the chords sounded much more interesting than what you played for Scene 3's playing example.

Kris Norris Artist Series

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Kris Norris kicks off the JamPlay.com Artist Series with a wide array of ideas and lessons; from changing strings on a floyd rose, to advanced sweeping / legato techniques and soloing applications.



Lesson 1

Changing Strings - Floyd Rose Style

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Length: 13:43 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 2

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Lesson 18

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Lesson 19

Mastering Modes: Dorian

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Lesson 20

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Lesson 22

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Lesson 23

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Kris explains Aeolian, which is the 6th mode of the major scale. This is also known as the natural minor scale.

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Lesson 24

Mastering Modes: Locrian

Kris covers the Locrian mode, which is the 7th mode of the major scale.

Length: 5:48 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Lesson 25

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About Kris Norris View Full Biography Mr. Kris Norris was born August, 31 1978 in Canton, Ohio. He began playing around the age of 14. Early on the self-taught guitarist took an interest in metal and began playing in a local Virginia metal band. Kris' early influences were rooted in Swedish metal, bands include In Flames, Dark Tranquility, and Edge of Sanity. Norwegian Black metal also played a part in Kris' interest including early Mayhem, Emperor, and Ulver. Kris started Disinterment with future Darkest Hour bandmate Ryan Parrish. Disinterment lasted over 6 years and developed a local following in the Virginia metal by being some of the first players to incorporate Swedish metal and 3 guitar players.

College Days
When Kris was 17 he attended Virgina Commonwealth University School of Music (VCU). He studied Music composition and focused on film with world renowned composer Dika Newlin. Kris also studied classical guitar with John Patykula, prize student of Jesus Silva who was the prize student of Andre Segovia. Kris left the University after 6 years of studies. After college, he began his teaching career instructing private students and giving lessons at Mars Music. Kris' teaching career would eventually be put on hold to join Darkest Hour.

Darkest Hour Days
Kris' first album with Darkest Hour ,Hidden Hands Of A Sadist Nation, the 2005 release was recorded at Studio Fredman in Gothenburg, Sweden with producer Fredrik Nordstrom. Ironically, the same studio facilitated many of Kris' influences 10 years prior.

Darkest Hour's next release, Undoing Ruin allowed Kris to stretch his wings and show what he could truly do on the instrument with the addition of several solos. The record was produced by Canadian metal mastermind Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad, Steve Vai). Townsend was a big part of pushing Kris to his own musical potential on Undoing Ruin and even more so on the follow up record, Deliver Us.

Deliver Us was released in 2007 and debuted at 110 on the Billboard Chart. This would be the last Darkest Hour record with Kris as a member. The album like its predecessor was also produced by Devin Townsend, who was able to take a bigger hand in its production. Devin pushed Kris to experiment with his own playing and to hone in on his strongest abilities.

Kris' career with Darkest Hour spanned 6 years, 23 countries, 4 continents, countless tours, 3 albums, near 200,000 album sales, and many lifelong friendships made along the way. With the birth of his son in 2008, Kris felt he needed to take his career closer to home while still focusing on music and guitar. In order for Darkest Hour to devote 100% to their music and touring, Kris came to the decision to amicably part ways with the band.

His Future:
As of early 2009, Kris has full sponsorships from ESP, EMG, Peavey, DigiTech, InTune, and Morley. Currently, Kris is producing and mixing aspiring metal acts while also working for Final Symphony Studios out of Charlottesville, Virgina. Kris also edits records for James Murphy (Testament, Obituary, Death) at Safehouse Productions. Kris has released his first solo record through Magna Carta Records, entitled Icons Of The Illogical. His solo effort was recorded at Karma Productions with Cory Smoot (GWAR) and features vocals from Lamb Of God frontman Randy Blythe.

Kris is excited to be an addition to the JamPlay Instructor Roster. Lending his metal chops and thorough education to his lessons make him a valuable teacher. Kris is excited to be making lessons for JamPlay and just as stoked to learn new things from our other instructors. Check it out and stay Metal.

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