The Ultimate Guide To Guitar. Chapter IV: 1 Scales - Diatonic Modes In Theory

author: ZeGuitarist date: 09/07/2009 category: the guide to
I like this
460
voted: 46

Part IV - Chapter I

"Scales - Diatonic Modes In Theory"

Hello all, and welcome back to the Ultimate Guide to Guitar! After a few months of absence I decided to finish what I started, which brings us into the UGG's final stretch: the Advanced section! In the upcoming articles, we will discuss some complicated theory and very demanding technique... This will require from you a very good understanding of everything we studied before! So, I hope you paid attention in previous articles... This week's article will be the first of 2 articles on diatonic modes. Modes are a very complicated piece of theory, that's why I decided to split the article in 2, like I did for "regular" diatonic scales... That way, I have enough room to elaborate on important aspects that are vital to your understanding of this complex matter! You will still need a good insight in previously discussed theory, in order to understand everything... Make sure you understand completely what intervals are, how they can form scales, and what the difference between Major and Minor scales is. In order to understand completely how modes work, we need to discuss some abstract musical concepts first, such as the "resolution" of a piece of music to a certain "tonal centre"... However these terms may seem vague at first, they are everything modes revolve around! After that, we will look into the construction of each of the 7 modes, and their relation to the Major scale. In short, here's today's table of contents: 1. Tonal centre, tension and resolution: the key elements to understanding modes! 2. Definition of modes: when you understand the above terms, we can define modes! 3. The diatonic modes: how to construct the 7 modes of the diatonic scale! Let's begin our journey through the interesting world of modes!

Tonal Centre, Tension And Resolution

Before we can even start learning about the modes, we must look into a couple of musical concepts that are basically the foundation of the modal theory... We will discuss how every piece of music has a "tonal centre", how moving away from that tonal centre results in "tension", and how tension is "resolved" by returning to the tonal centre. The "tonal centre" is the one note in a piece of music which all other notes revolve around. It's the central piece of attention, and all other notes are hierarchically classified in relation to the tonal centre. For example, let's say you have a chord progression in C Major, a C-G-F-C progression for example (a typical I-V-IV-I progression); this progression is obviously orientated around the tonal centre of C, and the triad constructed of this note, the C Major triad! So, in the above example of a chord progression, the C chord is the central chord around which the progression revolves. Moving away from that tonal centre to another chord in that key, however, creates "tension". In the example of a C-G-F-C progression, moving away from C to F and G respectively, creates a feeling of tension, as if the progression isn't finished yet... Try it! Start with strumming the C chord 4 times, then strum the G chord 4 times, then strum the F chord 4 times - and stop there. Do you hear how this progression doesn't sound "finished"? How it is begging for something to "close" it? The answer is to "resolve" this tension by returning to the tonal centre! Try playing those 3 chords you just played, but this time, finish of with another 4 strums of the C chord, the tonal centre of this progression. Immediately, you'll hear that all tension is gone, that this progression has reached a conclusion... So remember that, in general, every piece of music has a tonal centre around which the entire melody revolves. Moving away from the tonal centre by switching to different chords causes tension, which can be resolved by returning to the tonal centre... This is all the information you need in order to understand properly how modes exactly work!

Definition Of Modes

So, what are the diatonic modes? And where do they fit in this story of tonal centres and resolution? Well, let's take a look at the Major scale as we know it...
1     2     3     4     5     6     7     1
 \2st/ \2st/ \1st/ \2st/ \2st/ \2st/ \1st/
Here you see the interval scheme that defines the diatonic Major scale as we know it... We know that the note numbered as "1" in this scheme serves as the root note for the Major scale, and that we can take the root note numbered as "6" for the relative Minor scale... Do you see a relationship with the above paragraph already? For the "Major" scale, the first note in this diatonic pattern serves as the tonal centre, while the 6th note in the pattern can serve as tonal centre for the relative "Minor" scale! But what about the other 5 notes? Can they be used as tonal centres like the first and sixth notes can? The answer: yes, and this is exactly what leads us to the modes of the diatonic scale! The above pattern consisting of 7 notes with fixed intervals in between, which we will call "the diatonic scale" from now on, has 7 different "modes" depending on which note you choose as the tonal centre! This brings us to the definition of the diatonic scale and its modes: "The diatonic scale consists of 7 notes with a fixed interval pattern (see above). Each of these notes can be used as the tonal centre in this scale, creating 7 different modes of the diatonic scale." You know two modes already: the Ionian mode (or the "Major scale" as you know it) which uses the 1st note in the diatonic scale as "root" or "tonal centre", and the Aeolian mode (which you'll remember as "Minor scale") with the 6th note of the diatonic scale as tonal centre... So, what are the names of the modes that use the other notes as root notes? Here is a full list of the modes and the notes from the diatonic scale they use as tonal centres:
  • Ionian mode: first note in the diatonic scale
  • Dorian mode: second note in the diatonic scale
  • Phrygian mode: third note in the diatonic scale
  • Lydian mode: fourth note in the diatonic scale
  • Mixolydian mode: fifth note in the diatonic scale
  • Aeolian mode: sixth note in the diatonic scale
  • Locrian mode: seventh note in the diatonic scale
  • The Diatonic Modes

    Now that we know what the modes are exactly, I can give you a list of the characteristics of the 7 modes separately... For each mode, I will show you the interval scheme defining it, and how it is derived from the diatonic scale. This way, you can compare the intervals defining the different modes of the diatonic scale with the diatonic scale (the Major scale) itself, to see what the differences are. After the theoretical approach of modes this week, I will apply each of the 7 modes to practice: after a short but important introduction to "modal music", I'll offer you a situational example in the key of E, for each of the 7 different modes, so that you can learn to recognise the differences in sound caused by the different intervals! A. The Ionian Mode We're going to start off easy, since this is a mode you're all familiar with already. The Ionian mode, known to you as the "Major scale", uses the first note of the diatonic scale as the tonal centre or "root" note. Let's take a look at the diatonic scale and its intervals once more:
    1     2     3     4     5     6     7     1
     \2st/ \2st/ \1st/ \2st/ \2st/ \2st/ \1st/
    
    Like I said, the Ionian mode starts off from note "1" of the diatonic scale, and uses it as its tonal centre. This makes things easy, seeing as the Ionian mode will use exactly the same intervals as the diatonic scale as you know it! So, you probably won't have any difficulty remembering the first of the seven modes... From this interval scheme, we can derive the 7 intervals that define the Ionian mode... not that we need to, because they're the same intervals that define the Major scale, which we already know from Chapter II-1! Below is the definition of the Ionian mode, showing the 7 intervals that define it: "The Ionian mode of the diatonic scale is constructed of:
  • A root note
  • A natural 2nd
  • A major 3rd
  • A perfect 4th
  • A perfect 5th
  • A major 6th
  • A major 7th
  • An octave"
  • The above intervals are derived from the interval scheme we started off with... I assume you all know how to derive these intervals from the above interval scheme? Simply count the amount of semitones up from the root note for each note, and look up what the interval you found is called in the interval table from Chapter II-1. Got that? Like I said, this shows that the Ionian mode consists of exactly the same intervals as the Major scale, of which I showed the interval scheme and definition in Chapter II-1! How convenient... This is going to be our approach for each of the 7 modes. I'll start off with the interval scheme, showing you how each mode is derived from the diatonic scale by choosing a different tonal centre. Then, we'll derive the 7 intervals defining the mode... and finally, we'll compare these 7 intervals to the intervals defining the Major scale, so you can see how each mode is simply a variation of the diatonic Major scale. If you can study and memorise these tiny variations in the intervals, you can remember the 7 modes more easily, and apply them to your playing with less effort! B. The Dorian Mode Next, we're going to arrive at the second mode of the diatonic scale, and the first one that you are all unfamiliar with. Again, I'm going to start off by showing you the interval scheme derived from the diatonic scale; then, we'll derive the 7 intervals defining the mode again; and finally, we'll compare these 7 intervals to those of the diatonic scale, to see where the variations are located! Sounds complicated? It will make sense if we just do it a couple of times... The Dorian mode of the diatonic scale is found if we use the second note of the diatonic scale as our tonal centre. So, I'm going to take the interval scheme of the diatonic scale, and put the 2nd note in front, as it's now our root note. Check out the interval scheme this brings us:
    2     3     4     5     6     7     1     2
     \2st/ \1st/ \2st/ \2st/ \2st/ \1st/ \2st/
    
    As you can see, I just shifted the whole interval scheme of the "standard" diatonic scale one note to the left, so that the 2nd note of the diatonic scale is now the root note. The intervals between the notes shifted along, of course, which results in a new set of 7 intervals... which define the Dorian mode! From this interval scheme, we can derive these 7 intervals, so that we can define the Dorian mode: the definition is below. "The Dorian mode of the diatonic scale is constructed of:
  • A root note
  • A natural 2nd
  • A minor 3rd
  • A perfect 4th
  • A perfect 5th
  • A major 6th
  • A minor 7th
  • An octave"
  • Like I said, we can now compare the found intervals with the intervals we started off with: the "standard" diatonic scale intervals. I marked the differences in the above definition in italics. As you can see, the Dorian mode has a minor 3rd instead of a major 3rd, and a minor 7th instead of a major 7th. We can visualise these minor variations in a simple scheme like below:
    1   2   b3   4   5   6   b7   1
    
    The above scheme shows how the Dorian mode is simply a slight variation of the standard diatonic scale, with a minor 3rd and 7th. Note that the Dorian mode contains a minor 3rd and perfect 5th, which form a Minor triad with the root; therefore, the Dorian mode is considered to be a Minor mode, suitable for playing over (some) Minor chords... remember this, it will become important once we start on modal chord progressions! So basically, you can look at the Dorian mode in 2 different ways:
  • As the result of shifting the tonal centre of the Major scale from the 1st to the 2nd note, and shifting the intervals between the notes along;
  • As a variation of the Major scale, with a minor 3rd and minor 7th... or, as we'll see later on, as a variation of the Minor scale, with a raised 6th.
  • C. The Phrygian Mode There we go, we covered the construction of the second mode of the diatonic scale (the first one if you don't consider the Ionian mode), and we're going to construct all the other modes in the same way! So, on to the third of the 7 modes: the Phrygian mode! Again, we start off by taking the diatonic scale and moving the tonal centre to the third note of the diatonic scale, resulting in the following interval scheme:
    3     4     5     6     7     1     2     3
     \1st/ \2st/ \2st/ \2st/ \1st/ \2st/ \2st/
    
    Like with the Dorian mode, I just shifted the whole interval scheme of the diatonic scale to the left, so that the third note is now the root note. The intervals between the notes just shifted along, and we can now use this scheme to find the 7 intervals defining the Phrygian mode: "The Phrygian mode of the diatonic scale is constructed of:
  • A root note
  • A minor 2nd
  • A minor 3rd
  • A perfect 4th
  • A perfect 5th
  • A minor 6th
  • A minor 7th
  • An octave"
  • Again, we find the above intervals by deriving them from the interval scheme we started off with. If we compare these intervals to the intervals of the diatonic Major scale, we will find that there is a minor 2nd instead of a natural 2nd, a minor 3rd over a major 3rd, a minor 6th instead of a major 6th and a minor 7th over a major 7th. We can visualise these variations again in a simple scheme like this:
    1   b2   b3   4   5   b6   b7   1
    
    Got that? Note how the Phrygian mode, like the Dorian mode, contains a minor 3rd and perfect 5th, forming a Minor triad together with the root note. The Phrygian mode is therefore also a Minor mode, and can be played over (some) Minor chords. Again, I refer to the future article on modal chord progressions for more information on this... So, again, there's 2 different ways to look at the Phrygian mode, and how it is derived from the diatonic scale:
  • As the result of a shift in tonal centre, from the first to the 3rd note of the diatonic scale. The shifting intervals between the notes result in the new interval scheme that defines the Phrygian mode.
  • As a variation of the Major scale, with a minor 2nd, minor 3rd, minor 6th and minor 7th... or, as we will learn later, as a variation of the Minor scale, with a minor 2nd.
  • D. The Lydian Mode By now, you should be getting the gist of how we're approaching the construction of each of the modes... we're going to approach the fourth of the 7 modes, the Lydian mode, in exactly the same way! First of all, we shift the tonal centre of the diatonic scale towards the fourth note of the scale, shifting all the intervals between the notes along:
    4     5     6     7     1     2     3     4
     \2st/ \2st/ \2st/ \1st/ \2st/ \2st/ \1st/
    
    The new scheme of intervals we find by shifting the tonal centre can now be used to derive the 7 intervals defining the Lydian mode. The definition is below: "The Lydian mode of the diatonic scale is constructed of:
  • A root note
  • A natural 2nd
  • A major 3rd
  • An augmented 4th
  • A perfect 5th
  • A major 6th
  • A major 7th
  • An octave"
  • We find these intervals starting from the above interval scheme. The intervals we found show that the only difference between the Lydian mode and the standard diatonic scale is the augmented 4th instead of the perfect 4th... You can see this in the following scheme:
    1   2   3   #4   5   6   7   1
    
    With a major 3rd and perfect 5th, the Lydian mode contains a Major triad; therefore, it's the second Major mode we've studied, along with the Ionian mode. Once more, I repeat that we can find the Phrygian mode, like all the other modes, in 2 different ways:
  • By shifting the tonal centre, from the first to the fourth note of the diatonic scale, with the intervals between the notes shifting along.
  • As a variation of the diatonic Major scale, with a augmented (sharp) 4th. (This makes the Lydian mode very similar to the Ionian mode, or Major scale.)
  • E. The Mixolydian Mode On to the next mode! The fifth of the 7 modes, the Mixolydian mode, is constructed in the exact same way we constructed the previous modes. We start again by shifting the tonal centre of the diatonic scale from the first to the fifth note of the scale, so that the note intervals shift along with the tonal centre. This is the result:
    5     6     7     1     2     3     4     5
     \2st/ \2st/ \1st/ \2st/ \2st/ \1st/ \2st/
    
    As always, we can now derive the 7 intervals defining the Mixolydian mode from this newly found interval scheme. Here is the definition of the Mixolydian mode: "The Mixolydian mode of the diatonic scale is constructed of:
  • A root note
  • A natural 2nd
  • A major 3rd
  • A perfect 4th
  • A perfect 5th
  • A major 6th
  • A minor 7th
  • An octave"
  • Again, this set of intervals shows only one difference with the diatonic Major scale, being the minor 7th instead of the major 7th. In scheme form, the Mixolydian mode looks like this:
    1   2   3   4   5   6   b7   1
    
    As you can see, this mode contains a major 3rd and perfect 5th, which form a Major triad along with the root note; this makes the Mixolydian mode a Major mode. You should note as well that this mode (like the Lydian mode) is very similar to the Ionian mode, as there's only a one note difference. I'm know I'm being repetitive for writing this over and over again, but keep in mind that we can view the construction of each and every mode, so the Mixolydian mode too, in 2 different ways:
  • As a result of a shift in tonal centre, from the first to the fifth note of the diatonic scale. The intervals between the notes shift along and form the Mixolydian mode.
  • As a variation of the diatonic Major scale, with a minor 7th instead of a major 7th.
  • F. The Aeolian Mode We arrive at the sixth of the 7 modes, and this is one you're all pretty familiar with: the Aeolian mode is better known to you as the "Minor scale", since it uses the 6th note in the diatonic Major scale as the tonal centre... and, as we learned in Chapter II-1, using the 6th note of the Major scale as the root note gives you the relative Minor scale! We'll test that out again, by constructing the Aeolian mode exactly the way we constructed all the other modes: we start off with the diatonic Major scale, and we shift the tonal centre to the 6th note, like this:
    6     7     1     2     3     4     5     6
     \2st/ \1st/ \2st/ \2st/ \1st/ \2st/ \2st/
    
    Like we did with every other mode before, we shifted the tonal centre, in this case to the sixth note of the scale. Basically, at this point you should already be able to recognise the interval scheme of a Minor scale... if you're still in doubt, though, let's derive the 7 intervals that define the Aeolian mode from this interval scheme, and have a look at it: "The Aeolian mode of the diatonic scale is constructed of:
  • A root note
  • A natural 2nd
  • A minor 3rd
  • A perfect 4th
  • A perfect 5th
  • A minor 6th
  • A minor 7th
  • An octave"
  • As you can see, this set of intervals is exactly the same as the one describing the Minor scale in Chapter II-1, so it's now a proven fact that the Aeolian mode is the same as the relative Minor scale of a diatonic Major scale! Anyway, if we compare this set of intervals to the diatonic Major intervals like we did before, we will find a minor 3rd instead of a major 3rd, a minor 6th over a major 6th, and a minor 7th over the major 7th. Let's see this in a scheme form, to make it easier to remember:
    1   2   b3   4   5   b6   b7   1
    
    As you can see, the minor 3rd and perfect 5th in this mode form a Minor triad with the tonal centre, so that the Aeolian mode is considered a Minor mode... well, that was pretty obvious anyway, since it's the same as the Minor scale as we know it! By now, I think you should be aware of the fact that the Aeolian mode, like all other modes, can be found in 2 different ways:
  • By shifting the tonal centre to the 6th note of the diatonic Major scale; like we learned before, that brings us the relative Minor scale, which is the same as the Aeolian mode of the diatonic Major scale.
  • As a variation of the diatonic Major scale, replacing the major 3rd with a minor 3rd, the major 6th with a minor 6th and the major 7th with a minor 7th.
  • G. The Locrian Mode And finally, we arrive at the last of the seven diatonic modes: the Locrian mode... this one is the most exceptional one and the least commonly used one. We know the drill: let's have a look at the interval scheme!
    7     1     2     3     4     5     6     7
     \1st/ \2st/ \2st/ \1st/ \2st/ \2st/ \2st/
    
    Again, we arrive at this interval scheme by simply shifting the tonal centre from the first to the seventh note of the scale... the intervals shifting along bring us this unusual interval scheme that defines the Locrian mode. Let's have a look at the set of 7 intervals derived from this scheme, and what's so unusual about it: "The Locrian mode of the diatonic scale is constructed of:
  • A root note
  • A minor 2nd
  • A minor 3rd
  • A perfect 4th
  • A diminished 5th
  • A minor 6th
  • A minor 7th
  • An octave"
  • As you can see, these intervals are vastly different from the standard diatonic intervals: the Locrian mode sports a minor 2nd, a minor 3rd, a diminished (flat) 5th, a minor 6th and a minor 7th instead of the usual major counterparts. In scheme form, this looks like this:
    1   b2   b3   4   b5   b6   b7   1
    
    Now, what makes the Locrian mode so different from the other modes is the diminished 5th, which forms a Diminished triad with the root and minor 3rd... therefore, the Locrian mode is neither a Major nor a Minor mode, but a Diminished mode, suitable to be played over Diminished chords. For one last time, I'm going to repeat what I've said for each of the other modes (so that you know how important this is)... The Locrian mode can be constructed in 2 different ways:
  • By shifting the tonal centre to the 7th note of the diatonic Major scale. The intervals shifting along bring us the interval scheme that defines the Locrian mode.
  • As a variation of the diatonic Major scale, replacing the natural 2nd with a minor 2nd, the major 3rd with a minor 3rd, the perfect 5th with a diminished 5th, the major 6th with a minor 6th and the major 7th with a minor 7th. (It can also be viewed as a variation of the Minor scale, with a minor 2nd and diminished 5th.)
  • Summary

    And voil! We have now covered the construction of each of the 7 modes of the diatonic scale... overwhelming, isn't it? That's why, before I conclude this lesson, I'm going to give you a short overview of this article's highlights, so that you can remember them better for next week's lesson, when we continue where we left off! The diatonic scale comes in seven different modes, dependent on the tonal centre you choose. We already know that using the first note of the scale as tonal centre gives you the standard "Major scale", now also known to us as the Ionian mode; using the sixth note of the diatonic scale as tonal centre gives us the "Minor scale" or Aeolian mode. The other 5 notes can be used as tonal centres as well, bringing us interval schemes defining modes that we were previously unfamiliar with. We have learned that it's possible to find, recognise and construct each of these 7 modes in 2 different ways. I'm going to give a short overview of these 2 ways below, so that you're familiar with both... as if you're not familiar with them by now! A. Shifting the tonal centre of the diatonic scale The diatonic scale has 7 different notes, and each note can function as the tonal centre of one of the modes of the diatonic scale. So, the first and easiest way to construct the 7 modes, is to shift the tonal centre to each of the 7 notes in the diatonic scale. Here is the resulting list of the modes and their tonal centres:
  • Ionian mode: first note in the diatonic scale
  • Dorian mode: second note in the diatonic scale
  • Phrygian mode: third note in the diatonic scale
  • Lydian mode: fourth note in the diatonic scale
  • Mixolydian mode: fifth note in the diatonic scale
  • Aeolian mode: sixth note in the diatonic scale
  • Locrian mode: seventh note in the diatonic scale
  • For each mode, the shift in tonal centre results in a different interval scheme defining each mode. From this interval scheme, we can derive how the 7 intervals of each mode compare to the standard diatonic scale, which brings us to the second method of constructing the modes... B. Variation of the diatonic scale Each mode can also be viewed as a variation of the diatonic Major scale, where some intervals have been replaced with other intervals... These are the variations, compared to the diatonic Major scale:
  • Ionian mode: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 (= Major scale!)
  • Dorian mode: 1 - 2 - b3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - b7
  • Phrygian mode: 1 - b2 - b3 - 4 - 5 - b6 - b7
  • Lydian mode: 1 - 2 - 3 - #4 - 5 - 6 - 7 (= Major scale with raised 4th)
  • Mixolydian mode: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - b7 (= Major scale with flat 7th)
  • Aeolian mode: 1 - 2 - b3 - 4 - 5 - b6 - b7
  • Locrian mode: 1 - b2 - b3 - 4 - b5 - b6 - b7
  • This list shows all the interval variations when comparing each mode to the diatonic Major scale. However, some modes are Major modes (Ionian, Lydian, Mixolydian) while others are Minor modes (Dorian, Phrygian, Aeolian). It might be easier to compare the Minor modes to the Minor scale (Aeolian mode) instead...
  • Aeolian mode: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 (= Minor scale!)
  • Dorian mode: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - #6 - 7 (= Minor scale with raised 6th)
  • Phrygian mode: 1 - b2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 (= Minor scale with flat 2nd)
  • Conclusion

    And that's the end of this first lesson on modes, which was very extensive and overwhelming already... and more of that will follow! It's the Advanced section of the UGG after all... so brace yourself! Next week, we'll continue the modes story with the practical side of things: I'll show you how to play the modes on the guitar, and give you some situational examples so you know what they sound like. Until then, make sure you understand every bit of this article perfectly! Cheers! ZeG PS: Remember?
  • RATE AND COMMENT: Please, give me as much feedback as you can, so that I can improve! If you have thoughts, remarks, or just want to say you liked it, please take 2 seconds to give my article a rating, and 2 more minutes to comment!
  • SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOGS: I will post updates regarding the Ultimate Guide in my profile blogs, so if you want to keep informed, just go to my profile and subscribe to my blogs!
  • CONTACT ME: For questions: zeguitarist@ultimate-guitar.com
  • More ZeGuitarist columns:
    + The UG Xmas Awards 2010 Features 12/24/2010
    + The Ultimate Guide To Guitar. Epilogue The Guide To 10/12/2009
    + The Ultimate Guide To Guitar. Chapter IV 5: Technique - Sweep Picking The Guide To 10/05/2009
    + The Ultimate Guide To Guitar. Chapter IV: 4 Chords - Modulation The Guide To 09/28/2009
    + The Ultimate Guide To Guitar. Chapter IV: 3 Chords - Modal Chord Progressions The Guide To 09/21/2009
    + The Ultimate Guide To Guitar. Chapter IV: 2 Scales - Diatonic Modes In Practice The Guide To 09/14/2009
    + view all
    Comments
    Your captcha is incorrect