Hi @mem, I’m sorry that my use of those terms was confusing, and I’m very sorry that it took me so long to see this comment. For a time I purposely avoided commenting on the forum because I wanted students to have a place where they could express themselves freely and come to their own conclusions about the musical issues they care about. But now I think that it was a mistake for me not to support the great conversations that have been started here, and going forward I’ll be participating much more actively in these conversations.
There have already been some great responses to your question. But let me just go right to the very specific question your’e asking about what I mean by those words. The difference is just whether you’re visualizing the sounds relative to the root of the chord (modal view) or relative to the overall key of the music (tonal view) as @Jelske and @hender99 explained.
The simplest way to experience this difference is to just draw a picture of any particular chord in these two different ways. For example, here is a drawing of the 2- chord first in the modal view and then in the tonal view:
2- chord modal vs. tonal
When we begin studying chord notes in IFR Exercise 3: Pure Harmony, our very first exercise is called Seven Worlds Expanded. And we start this exercise by studying the chords in the modal view that you see on the left side of the drawing that I linked above. Since we’re studying the chords individually at this point, this is the most natural way for most people to picture the notes because you have the root of the chord at the top and bottom of your range.
But then once you’ve gotten comfortable with this, and you understand for example that the notes of the 2- chord are 2, 4, 6 and 1, then you can also practice visualizing these notes in the tonal octave as shown on the right side of the drawing that I linked above. Where this vision becomes very useful is when we begin combining these chords into progressions, because it allows us to see how all of the chord notes are connected through our Melody Paths exercise. More generally, it’s just an exercise in understanding where these chord notes actually “live” within the key of the music.
Does this answer your question? I think that if you start with these definitions in mind and then you go back and re-read the section on Seven Worlds Expanded from IFR Exercise 3: Pure Harmony, it will make a lot more sense this time. Please let me know if you have any more doubts about it and I promise it won’t take me 4 months to respond this time.
But here’s one final word of advice. Mastering these words “tonal” and “modal” doesn’t have any importance at all. What matters is for you to be able to picture the notes of the 2- chord on your instrument, and for you to explore the second harmonic environment creatively in your improv practice. In fact, I’m not even using these words “tonal” and “modal” to describe anything important about the music at all. I’m just using them to describe an exercise. And all I’m proposing is that you practice visualizing the notes of your 2- chord in the two different ways I showed in the drawing linked above. If you can do that, then it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference whether you remember which one of those drawings was called “modal” and which one was called “tonal”. As you gain more experience with all of this, you’ll probably find that this vocabulary starts to make sense and you can remember it easily. But please don’t spend any time or energy on learning those words! They’re just my attempt to describe these two different ranges, and the words themselves have no importance whatsoever. I’m sorry that this was confusing and I appreciate your asking the question. I hope that helps!