How To Play Modes

author: DarthPew date: 09/13/2012 category: guitar techniques
rating: 6.9 / votes: 19 
How To Play Modes
Hello all, I've seen and read a lot of articles trying to explain the use of modes in songs. In most scenarios, I'd like to say modes are used to add more 'flavor' to a song than the conventional use of the songs tonic scale. *WARNING* Modes are always independent of their relative major/minor scale. They all sound different when you know how to apply a mode. I will make reference to a modes relative root scale, but it's only to guide you through the lesson. So I'll hop right to it. There are 7 given modes:
  • Ionian (major)
  • Dorian (minor)
  • Phrygian (minor)
  • Lydian (major)
  • Mixolydian (major)
  • Aeolian (minor)
  • Locrian (minor) For when I learned these modes, I learned that each mode is either a 'major' or 'minor' mode because of each scales third degree (as shown inside the brackets of each mode). Do we all know what the third degree is? When you play a scale (let's take A major), Counting from the root note A, the third note in the scale is a major third away, being a C. So when you play a mode, you will know immediately if it is major or minor depending if the interval between the root note and its third has a major (3) or minor (b3) quality. Next, each scale has a "characteristic pitch" (CP). This means that each scale has one or two notes that "define" the scale. I always compare all modes to its Ionian or Aeolian scale, there I find the characteristic pitch. Here, I will write out the tones for each scale: IONIAN: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (CP: 4) DORIAN: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7 (CP: 6) PHRYGIAN: 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 (CP: b2) LYDIAN: 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7 (CP: #4) MIXOLYDIAN: 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7 (CP: b7) AEOLIAN: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 (CP: b6) LOCRIAN: 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7 (CP: b2 and b5) Shall we identify why the characteristic pitches are characteristic pitches? Let's play an A major scale. What you just played was an Ionian mode.
    1 2 3  4 5 6 7  
    A B C# D E F# G#
    
    All major scales, by default, are known to be major firstly and foremost because of the interval of the 3rd degree. It's major if it it's a 3. Assuming you look at your fret board, a major interval would look something like this:
    e|-----------|     e|-----------|
    B|-----------|     B|-----------|
    G|-----------| OR  G|-----------|
    D|-----------|     D|-----------|
    A|-----------|     A|--------4--|
    E|--5--7--9--|     E|--5--7-----|
    
        1  2  3rd          1  2  3rd 
    
    Now, going back to A major. If you look at the fourth note you played, which would be a D note, if you sharpen that note to a D# and play the rest of the scale you just played the same, you immediately get an A Lydian mode:
    1 2 3  #4 5 6 7  
    A B C# D# E F# G#
    
    Rooting back to the A Ionian mode, conversely if you instead look at the 7th note of the A Ionian Mode, being the G#, if you flatten it to a G natural, you get an A Mixolydian Mode:
    1 2 3  4 5 6  b7
    A B C# D E F# G
    
    So, did you see what I did there? Here's a quick recap: We took the A Major (Ionian) scale, and we changed one note in the scale. You sharpened the A major's 4th degree, and you get an A Lydian mode. You flattened the A major's 7th degree, and you get an A Mixolydian mode. Simple right? The best part is, you can apply this to ANY major scale you can think of. So, take C Ionian, easiest scale to memorize because there are no sharps or flats. If you sharpen the 4th degree, being an F, you get C _________? If you answered Lydian, then you are understanding this long article so far. If not, just scroll up a bit further to see where you got lost. What about F Ionian? How do we change that into an F Mixolydian? If you thought we flatten the 7th degree once, then you are on the right path of understanding. The same principle applies to minor modes. So, let's play an A Minor scale now. What you will have played, is in fact an Aeolian mode:
    1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
    A B C  D E F  G 
    
    All minor scales, by default, are known to be minor firstly and foremost because of the interval of the 3rd degree. It's minor if it it's a b3. Assuming you look at your fret board, a minor interval would look something like this:
    e|-----------|     e|-----------|
    B|-----------|     B|-----------|
    G|-----------| OR  G|-----------|
    D|-----------|     D|-----------|
    A|-----------|     A|--------3--|
    E|--5--7--8--|     E|--5--7-----|
    
    Now, back to the A Minor scale. From A Minor (Aeolian), we will only change one note to get A Dorian. If you play your A Minor scale and look at the 6th note you played, which should be an F, if you sharpen it once to an F#, you immediately get an A Dorian scale:
    1 2 b3 4 5 6  b7
    A B C  D E F# G 
    
    Again, back to A Minor (Aeolian), if you flatten the 2nd note you played, being a B, you get a Phyrigian mode:
    1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
    A Bb C  D E F  G 
    
    Get it so far? Here's a quick so far for everything I have explained so far: There are two types of modes, Major and Minor modes:
    MAJOR:         MINOR:  
    Ionian         Dorian  
    Lydian         Phrygian
    Mixolydian     Aeolian 
                   Locrian 
    
    Each mode has a characteristic pitch which defines the mode: IONIAN: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (CP: 4) DORIAN: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7 (CP: 6) PHRYGIAN: 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 (CP: b2) LYDIAN: 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7 (CP: #4) MIXOLYDIAN: 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7 (CP: b7) AEOLIAN: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 (CP: b6) LOCRIAN: 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7 (CP: b2 and b5) For guitarists, try to break away from JUST memorizing the shape of the modes when you play. If you've gotten this far into this article, it's because you probably understand a little music theory. If so, making the extra effort to memorize where each note lies on the guitar is very much beneficial to learning how to use modes, because memorizing the shape of each separate mode is actually harder than memorizing where the notes lay (trust me from experience). If this article gets published and gets some good feedback, I'll thoroughly write more articles regarding music theory first, and its appliance next. So if this article is successful, expect an article entitled "How to USE Modes".
  • More DarthPew lessons:
    + How To Use Modes. Part 3 Guitar Techniques 04/05/2013
    + Beginner Intervals For Beginners 11/07/2012
    + How To Play Modes Re-Vamped Guitar Techniques 10/08/2012
    + How To Use Modes. Part 2 Guitar Techniques 10/01/2012
    + How To Use Modes. Part 1 Guitar Techniques 09/20/2012
    Comments
    Your captcha is incorrect