The Emotions Behind Joe Satriani's Pitch Axis

Tommaso Zillio

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guitar pitch axis

One of the compositional "secret weapons" of virtuoso guitarist Joe Satriani is the so-called Pitch Axis. In fact this is one of the ideas that made him famous, even if he is not the only one who uses it. I have seen good explanation of the Pitch Axis online, but I have not seen anybody tackling how Pitch Axis can help express specific emotions, so here we are.

The basic idea is simply to take all the modes that have the same root note (say, A) and freely use any chord from any of those modes in the same chord progression.

Here are the chords for the major scale modes with root A:

  1. A Ionian: A Bm C#m D E F#m G#dim

  2. A Dorian: Am Bm C D Em F#dim G

  3. A Phrygian: Am Bb C Dm Edim F G

  4. A Lydian: A B C#m D#dim E F#m G#m

  5. A Mixolydian: A Bm C#dim D Em F#m G

  6. A Aeolian: Am Bdim C Dm Em F G

  7. A Locrian: Adim Bb Cm Dm Eb F Gm

Yes, those are just the modes of the major scale. To be complete, we should consider also the modes of melodic and harmonic minor scales, but we will start with the basics, ok? You can add the other modes later once you master those.

The problem is: now that you have all these modes and A LOT of chords to choose from, how do you use them to express emotion? How do you create shades of happiness and sadness, of brightness and darkness by using the modes?

Well, here's how:

NOTE: the modes as written above are NOT ordered as it is suggested in the video. Putting the modes in the right order is left as an exercise to the reader. It's good for you, trust me.

What you have seen so far it's just scratching the surface. There is WAY more than you can know about using modes in music, that go well beyond the usual "shredding" most people use modes for I ( shredding is cool, there's just much more to modes than that).

To have a complete step-by-step explanation of everything you need to know about modes, from theory to application (including composition and improvisation, use of arpeggios, use of modal pentatonics etc.), check out the comprehensive course Master of the Modes.


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