How to Modify Modes & Make Rare Scales, like Dorian ♭2 ♯4 

Hello revolutionary music makers, we are Kate Harmony and Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony), and welcome to Hack Music Theory. We help you make great music that stands out, so you can move and grow your audience! If that sounds useful to you, then subscribe to our YouTube channel and hit that bell to get notified every Thursday, when we publish our new video. Alright, let’s jump in...

So last week, totally out of the blue, I get an email from the legendary Kerrang! Magazine, saying they’ve selected my charity single “We Are” (feat. Serj Tankian, Ihsahn & Devin Townsend) for a story on metal musicians who’ve done good things for the world. Wow!! I am deeply humbled (and shocked) to be chosen as one of these eight musicians, so thank you Kerrang!, and a very special thank you to Courtney Iseman, who wrote the article. Now, there’s a ton of crazy cool theory in this song, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some with you. Alright, on that note, it’s time to open your DAW to hack music theory. But first… tea!

“We Are” opens with a verse that is dark and dissonant, which is normal for this genre, but the verse’s vibe is unfamiliar and unlike anything we’re used to hearing. Why? Well, the scale Ray used for this section is an extremely rare scale, which is only really found in Indian classical music. However, he didn’t use this scale because it’s rare, the method behind his madness is much more practical, and easy to use. So, Ray started by selecting the mode that would create the nearest vibe to what he wanted, and as he was after a sad but uplifting vibe, he chose Dorian. Next, he simply modified the Dorian mode by tweaking the notes that were preventing him from achieving his intended vibe. These notes were the 2, which he changed to the ♭2, and the 4, which he changed to the ♯4. These two tweaks resulted in the exact vibe Ray had heard in his head. And lastly, regarding a name. While this scale does have a name in India (Sadvidhamargini), in the West it doesn’t, so we just refer to it as Dorian ♭2 ♯4. And this naming method is another great hack for rare scales: simply name ‘em by using the nearest mode, then list the tweaked notes afterwards.

Alright, now you’re gonna learn how to use this theory to make your own version, and what you see in the video is the bass line from the verse of “We Are”. So, start by setting up one bar of 10/4, with your grid set to 1/16 notes, and your tempo set to 80 BPM. And in “We Are”, the key note of the verse is E.

Start by thinking about what kinda vibe you want, then choose the mode that will get you closest to that vibe. For example, if you want a serious sound, you’ll shortlist the minor modes. Then, if you want a positive twist (like I did), you’ll choose Dorian. And by the way, if you’re new to modes, then you can learn everything you need to know about them in three simple hacks, which are in our Songwriting & Producing PDF. This PDF also contains the other essential music making hacks you’ll need, along with MIDI file examples (the link is below).

Now that you’re in the ballpark of the vibe that you’re wanting to create, you can write a melody or chord progression so that you can hear exactly what notes are not right. So, here’s my bass line in Dorian, before I modified the mode. The 2 in Dorian was preventing the vibe from being as dark as I wanted, so I changed it to the ♭2. I then had a mix of Dorian and Phrygian, but it still wasn’t right. The 4 was sounding too predictable, and as I wanted to create an unfamiliar sounding vibe, I changed it to the ♯4. And with that, I had my custom vibe from my modified mode!

Okay, so now that you’ve got one section down, how do you write the other sections? And then, how do you transition between all the sections (especially when they’re in different keys)? And then, how do you structure and arrange your song? Well, these are issues that many songwriters and producers struggle with, and that’s exactly why we made our online apprenticeship course. So, if you wanna overcome these obstacles once and for all, then our course is definitely for you!

Kate & Ray Harmony (AKA Revolution Harmony)
Music Teachers & Producers in Vancouver BC, Canada


Level 1 - Read our free book (below) & watch our YouTube videos
Level 2 - Read our "Part 1" book & "Songwriting & Producing" PDF
Level 3 - Practice making music using our lessons (PDF+MIDI+WAV)
Level 4 - Learn our secret art of song-whispering & finish your music

Hack Music Theory is a pioneering DAW method for making great music that stands out, so you can move and grow your audience! Taught by award-winning music lecturer Ray Harmony, and his protégé wife Kate Harmony, from their studio in Vancouver BC, Canada. Ray is the author of critically-acclaimed book series "Hack Music Theory", and has made music with Serj Tankian (System of a Down), Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine), Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad), Ihsahn (Emperor), Kool Keith (Ultramagnetic MCs), Madchild (Swollen Members), and many more! Kate has the highest grade distinction in Popular Music Theory from the London College of Music, and is the only person on the planet who's been trained by Ray to teach his method. On that note, the "Hack Music Theory" YouTube channel teaches relevant and instantly-usable music theory for producers, DAW users, and all other music makers (songwriters, singers, guitarists, bassists, drummers, etc.) in all genres, from EDM to R&B, pop to hip-hop, reggae to rock, electronic to metal (and yes, we djefinitely djent!).

© 2019 Revolution Harmony
Revolution Harmony is Ray Harmony & Kate Harmony
All content (script & music) in video by Revolution Harmony
Thumbnail photograph by Caroline Ross