Pentatonic Modes

author: Arcanumtb date: 02/11/2013 category: for beginners
rating: 6.6 / votes: 14 
Pentatonic Modes
Looking for a simple way to learn your modes? Look no further. The simple truth is, if you know your 5 pentatonic shapes, you already possess the ability to play modally, you just don't know it yet. Sadly, I haven't found a post here that touches on this subject, so I figured I'd throw it out there. This is my first post here at UG, so here's hoping all goes well. For most of us, the first scale we were introduced to was our trusty "A minor" pentatonic scale.
--1------4--
--1------4--
--1----3----
--1----3----
--1----3----
--1------4--
Simple enough right? But that wasn't good enough, we wanted to play vertically as well. That's when we learned that there are a total of 5 pentatonic shapes and by playing them in order, we could stay in the same key all the way up the neck.
--1------4--
--1------4--
--1----3----
--1----3----
--1----3----
--1------4--

----2----4--
----2----4--
--1----3----
--1------4--
--1------4--
----2----4--

----1----3--
----1------4
--1------4--
----2----4--
----2----4--
----2----4--

--1------4--
--1------4--
--1----3----
--1----3----
--1------4--
--1------4--

----2----4--
----2----4--
--1------4--
--1------4--
----2----4--
----2----4--
It took some time, but now we really felt like we were getting somewhere. That is, until someone or something brought our attention to the modes. Our initial reaction was, "Awesome!", cause we'd been playing pentatonically for so long that we were itching for something new to add to our arsenal. Upon scouring the internet for help though, we quickly became overwhelmed by the shear amount of theoretical knowledge that the modes seem to demand. There just had to be a simpler way! Without further ado, I give you the pentatonic mode system. The first thing to understand, is that the pentatonic scale patterns are simply scales with the half steps taken out. This of course is what makes the pentatonics a great way to start playing scales. But did you ever wonder which scales these patterns were taken from? Bingo, the modal scale patterns. Let's start with the obvious, most of you already realize that your first position pattern is based off the natural minor scale. This scale is also known by another name, the "Aeolian" mode. This is what that mode looks like when filled in.
---1----3--4--
---1--2----4--
1--2----4-----
---1----3-----
---1----3--4--
---1----3--4--

--1------4--
--1------4--
--1----3----
--1----3----
--1----3----
--1------4--
As you can see, the "Aeolian" mode fits perfectly over your first position pentatonic scale. This means that you can think of your first box pattern as representing the "Aeolian" mode. So your next question is probably, how to apply that to the other patterns. So let's take a look at pattern 2.
--1-2----4--
----2----4--
--1---3--4--
--1---3--4--
--1-2----4--
----2----4--

----2----4--
----2----4--
--1----3----
--1------4--
--1------4--
----2----4--
As you can see, a few extra notes, and you have a full modal shape. This is the shape of the Major scale, also known as the "Ionian mode", and it connects to the bottom of your "Aeolian" shape just like your second pentatonic box connects to the first. (This is also why backing up your first pentatonic box gives you the major pentatonic instead of minor.) Just like before, you can now think of your second pentatonic pattern as the "Ionian mode" pattern. Next, I'll lay out all 5 shapes, so you can see how they all fit together.
----1----3--4--
----1--2----4--
--1--2----4----
----1----3-----
----1----3--4--
----1----3--4--
    Aeolian    

--1-2----4--
----2----4--
--1---3--4--
--1---3--4--
--1-2----4--
----2----4--
   Ionian   

--1----3----
--1----3--4-
1-2----4----
1-2----4----
--1----3----
--1----3--4-
   Dorian   

--1--2----4--
--1--2----4--
--1----3-----
--1----3--4--
--1----3--4--
--1--2----4--
   Phrygian  

--1----3----
--1----3--4-
1----3-4----
1-2----4----
1-2----4----
--2----4----
 Mixolydian 
As you can see, by connecting these patterns in order, you can play in the same mode across the neck just like with your pentatonic patterns. By starting a different pattern on the root note ("A" for example) you can play any of the modes anywhere on the neck. First position is "Aeolian", Second "Ionian", Third "Dorian", Fourth "Phrygian", and Fifth "Mixolydian". By using your pentatonic patterns as a guide, you will be able to learn and apply these patterns more quickly, but it also gives you a method for playing modally with your pentatonic patterns as you already know them. Simply start with the pattern that corresponds to each mode and you've got it. This will also allow you to use your pentatonic licks in a modal concept. Now, some of you may be wondering what happened to the "Lydian" and "Locrian" modes. I certainly haven't forgotten about them. The truth is, they can each be built off the same patterns, but would take the place of the "Ionian" and "Mixolydian" patterns respectively. This is because they are built on the half steps of the major scale, but they still have their own distinct sounds and are worth learning. These are the patterns for "Lydian" and "Locrian".
--1-2----4--
--1-2----4--
--1----3----
--1----3-4--
--1----3-4--
----2----4--
   Lydian   

--1--2----4--
-----2----4--
--1----3--4--
--1----3--4--
--1--2----4--
--1--2----4--
   Locrian   
That's the basic idea. By making pentatonics and modes interchangeable in your mind, you'll be able to learn and apply them much quicker. As always, play and experiment until you find what you like. Hope this has been as helpful to you as it was to me.
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