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Again, the primary distinction here is between a modal approach and a tonal approach.
Also, consider this, if you play these notes:
a, b, c, d, e, f#, g
The answer is: You don't know until and unless you identify which one of those notes you are currently labelling the root or 1st degree. It could be anyone of them, but is not necessarily one more than than the others until you pick a frame of reference.
So, until you pick a reference point, A Dorian is G Ionian for all practical purposes. It isn't until you pick a context to place those notes in that you can refer to what you are playing as a specific mode.
So I would say, does the backing track you are playing over emphasize the A as the primary bass note? If so then that part is suggesting A dorian. If the bass note emphasizes or resolves to another note (G for example), then it would be better to think of it as in G ionian.
Consider this group of notes:
c, d, e, f, g, a, b, c
If I played those notes while at the same time a bass player was playing a pattern of 1/8 note c's, then it would sound like I was playing ionian.
But if I played those notes while at the same time a bass player was playing a pattern of 1/8 note e's, then it would sound like I was playing phrygian.
Everything depends upon context. Each mode has a unique sound due to their unique system of intervals. But since they are all integrated with one another, they can also all be thought of as different fretboard patterns of each other, too.
I hope this has given you more insight into the modes!
I find it quite easy (so far!) to navigate, and found the "where do I start" to be very helpful! I'm getting there!!
I LOVE the forum, too. I've never been one to use forums, but the GT forum is full of great people and helpful information at ALL levels! Congrats on a WONDERFUL site!!Good job!