Modes Of The Major Scale

author: MapOfYourHead date: 03/31/2009 category: scales
rating: 9 / votes: 14 
So you hear people talking about modes and you have no idea what they are talking about, or maybe you do but you don't understand them. Well I've decided to write a lesson that will hopfully help bridge the gap between you and modes in a way that I would have wanted it explained to me when I was in your position, first I'll write some reference material for you then we'll get stuck in. Here's a useful thing if you don't know the notes all over the fretboard, you can refer to it later on.
E-F-F#-G-G#-A-A#-B-C-C#-D-D#-E-F-F#-G-G#-A-A#-B-C-C#-D-D#-E
B-C-C#-D-D#-E-F-F#-G-G#-A-A#-B-C-C#-D-D#-E-F-F#-G-G#-A-A#-B
G-G#-A-A#-B-C-C#-D-D#-E-F-F#-G-G#-A-A#-B-C-C#-D-D#-E-F-F#-G
D-D#-E-F-F#-G-G#-A-A#-B-C-C#-D-D#-E-F-F#-G-G#-A-A#-B-C-C#-D
A-A#-B-C-C#-D-D#-E-F-F#-G-G#-A-A#-B-C-C#-D-D#-E-F-F#-G-G#-A
E-F-F#-G-G#-A-A#-B-C-C#-D-D#-E-F-F#-G-G#-A-A#-B-C-C#-D-D#-E
0      3    5    7   9       12     15   17   19  21      24
I've number the frets for reference, you can see that the notes only go up to the 12th fret and then repeat themselves. For this lesson I will be using the key of C, the reason for this is that it's easier for me to write and easier for you to understand. as you may of may not know, when in the key of C major there are no sharps or flats, as you can see below. C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 I have numbered each notes from 1 to 7, number 1 is the root note and I'll simply call the 2nd note "the 2nd note" and so on. I'm doing this so that you can understand it first before you go really in depth into the subject. And if I was to put these notes on the fretboard with the root note on the low E string. It would look like this
|O| |O| |O|   e string
| | |O| |O|   B string
| |O|O| |O|   G string    
| |O|O| |O|   D string          
|O| |O| |O|   A string          
|O| |O| |O|   E string            
 8 9 T E 12   <
Note: when the seqence of notes run out they start again and repeat, an example, if you count up the notes starting from 8th fret E you see that it's gets to seven at the 9th fret D string, so the 10th fret D would be 1 again, this is also because it's the same note, you can refer to the notes of the fretboard I wrote for you earlier. That is the major scale, all other scales are based off it so you should know it.(it should be noted that that scale can be played in that formation anywhere on the neck but then it would be in a different key, for example playing it a the 5th fret would make it the A major scale, but because we are using the key of C i have it at the 8th fret.) So that's the formality's out of the way, lets begin. I'll start by telling you the modes and what they mean. First here's the modes
ionian     - 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-1
dorian     - 1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7-1
phrygian   - 1-b2-b3-4-5-b6-b7-1
lydian     - 1-2-3-#4-5-6-7-1
mixolydian - 1-2-3-4-5-6-b7-1
aeolian    - 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7-1
locrian    - 1-b2-b3-4-b5-b6-b7-1
As you may have noticed, the ionian has the same sequence of numbers as I showed you earlier at the start, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-1, that's because the ionian mode IS! Is the major scale. Now for the rest, all the other modes are in relation to the major scale, where ever you see a "b", example "b2" it means you flatten the relative on the major scale note by 1 fret(move it down towards the nut), and on the occassion you see a "#" example "#4" you raise the note by 1 fret(towards the bridge). To show this I'll use the low E string of the box pattern major scale above.
 1   2   3   << the 1st second and third position of notes (C, D and E)
|O| |O| |O|  << this is the E string
 8  10  12   << fret numbers
Now if a certain mode told me to flatten the third (b3) I would have to flatten the 3rd position of the scale, the scale would now look like this
 1   2 b3   << the 1st second and third position of notes (C, D and E   flattened, which is D#)
|O| |O|O| |  << this is the E string
 8  10  12   << fret numbers
Here's a #3
 1   2     3     << the 1st second and third position of notes (C, D and F)
|O| |O| | |O|    << this is the E string
 8  10  12       << fret numbers
Here's all the modes in box form Ionian (major Scale)
|O| |O| |O|   e string
| | |O| |O|   B string
| |O|O| |O|   G string
| |O|O| |O|   D string
|O| |O| |O|   A string
|O| |O| |O|   E string
Dorian
|O| |O|O| |   e string
| | |O|O| |   B string
|O| |O| |O|   G string
|O| |O| |O|   D string
|O| |O| |O|   A string
|O| |O|O| |   E string
Phrygian
|O|O| |O| |   e string
| |O| |O| |   B string
|O| |O| |O|   G string
|O| |O|O| |   D string
|O| |O|O| |   A string
|O|O| |O| |   E string
Lydian
|O| |O| |O|   e string
| | |O| |O|   B string
| |O| |O|O|   G string
| |O|O| |O|   D string
| |O|O| |O|   A string
|O| |O| |O|   E string
Mixolydian
|O| |O| |O|   e string
| | |O|O| |   B string
| |O|O| |O|   G string
|O| |O| |O|   D string
|O| |O| |O|   A string 
|O| |O| |O|   E string
Aeolian (minor Scale)
|O| |O|O| |   e string
| |O| |O| |   B string
|O| |O| |O|   G string
|O| |O| |O|   D string
|O| |O|O| |   A string
|O| |O|O| |   E string
Locrian
|O|O| |O| |   e string
| |O| |O| |   B string
|O| |O|O| |   G string
|O| |O|O| |   D string
|O|O| |O| |   A string
|O|O| |O| |   E string
Now of course you could play them anywhere on the fretboard, but then they would be in different keys and seeing that we are working in the key of C we need to work out where to play them, for this I have another diagram for you.
         --------------------------------------
        /notes of the major scale in all keys  \
--------------------------------------------------------
|                                                      |
|Ab      =Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-G-Ab                         |
|                                                      |
|A       =A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G#-A                           |
|                                                      |
|Bb/A#   =Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb                           |
|                                                      |
|B       =B-C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A#-B                         |
|                                                      |
|C       =C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C                              |
|                                                      |
|Db/C#   =Db-Eb-F-Gb-Ab-Bb-C-Db                        |
|                                                      |
|D       =D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D                            |
|                                                      |
|Eb/D#   =Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C-D-Eb                          |
|                                                      |
|E       =E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#-E                          |
|                                                      |
|F       =F-G-A-Bb-C-D-E-F                             |
|                                                      |
|Gb/F#   =Gb-Ab-Bb-Cb-Db-Eb-F-Gb                       |
|                                                      |
|G       =G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G                             |
|                                                      |
--------------------------------------------------------
If you were to look down the list you would see the notes in C major, but say I wanted to play somewhere else on the neck but still stay in key, well for that I would combine that list with my formulas for the modes of the major scale. O.k so you sick of playing the box pattern at the 8th fret and lets say you want to play at the 3rd fret, o.k then, so what note is the 3rd fret of the E string? It's a G, so we now look at our list of keys, and look a the key of G, but wait there's an F# in that key, that means we can't simply play the major scale at the 3rd fret, but we are in luck, if that F# was to be flattened, there would be no sharps are flats, which would make it the same as the C major scale. So we look at what position the offending note is at. G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 It's at the 7th position, so we can just look at the list of mode formaulas to find a b7. The mode we can use is the mixolydian because it has a flat 7th in it Heres the formula mixolydian- 1-2-3-4-5-6-b7-1 So with the alteration to the major scale made, we can now play this shape at the 3rd fret and still be in the key of C. Mixolydian
|O| |O| |O|   e string
| | |O|O| |   B string    << there is flattened 7th on this string
| |O|O| |O|   G string
|O| |O| |O|   D string    << there is also a flattened 7th on this string
|O| |O| |O|   A string 
|O| |O| |O|   E string
 3   5   7    << fret numbers
I will write down the different position for each of the modes in the key of C.
ionian     - 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-1           = 8th fret
dorian     - 1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7-1         = 10th fret
phrygian   - 1-b2-b3-4-5-b6-b7-1       = 0 (zero) fret \ 12th fret
lydian     - 1-2-3-#4-5-6-7-1          = 1st fret \ 13th fret
mixolydian - 1-2-3-4-5-6-b7-1          = 3rd fret \ 15th fret
aeolian    - 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7-1        = 5th fret \ 17th fret
locrian    - 1-b2-b3-4-b5-b6-b7-1      = 7th fret \ 19th fret
You should work these out by yourself in order to undrstand it better, don't just take it for granted. Note: because the notes repeat themselves after the 12th fret you can play each mode in 2 places.(except were it is impossible due to no frets being left to play on). Here's another visual representation, both of these are the same thing but I couldn't fit all the names on one fretboard so I've used two, as always key of C.
   F lydian    B locrian
  /         \ /       \
|O|X| |O| |O| |X|O| |O| |O|X| |O| |O| |X|O| |O|
|O|X| |O| |O|X| |O| |O| |X|O| |O| |O|X| |O| |O|
|O| |O| |X|O| |O| |O| | |O| |O| |X|O| |O| |O|X|
|O| |O|X| |O| |O| |X|O| |O| |O|X| |O| |O| |X|O|
|O| |X|O| |O| |O|X| |O| |O| |X|O| |O| |O|X| |X|
|O|X| |O| |O| |X|O| |O| |O|X| |O| |O| |X|O| |O|
   1   3   5   7^  9    12^    15  17  19  21
                |         |       
                |         |
                \C ionian /

       G mixolydian  D  dorian
      /         \   /         \
|O|X| |O| |O| |X|O| |O| |O|X| |O| |O| |X|O| |O|
|O|X| |O| |O|X| |O| |O| |X|O| |O| |O|X| |O| |O|
|O| |O| |X|O| |O| |O| | |O| |O| |X|O| |O| |O|X|
|O| |O|X| |O| |O| |X|O| |O| |O|X| |O| |O| |X|O|
|O| |X|O| |O| |O|X| |O| |O| |X|O| |O| |O|X| |X|
|O|X| |O| |O| |X|O| |O| |O|X| |O| |O| |X|O| |O|
   1   3  ^5   7   9^   ^12    15 ^17  19  21
          |         |   |         |
          |         |   |         |
          \A aeolian/   \E phrygian/
It shows how the shapes fit together, you can ignore the X's if you want, I've just ctrl+v 'ed this in from something else I was doing, the O's are the notes of the A minor pentatonic (which is in the key of C major so don't worry, when you work out the aeolian(minor scale) you will see that it starts at the 5th fret (A).) and the X's are the additional notes that make up the rest of the major scale all over the fretboard. And that's pretty much it for now, my advice is for you to find the modes for all the other keys by working it out by yourself and try to work between them (I find that improvising is best for this), switching between the different modes, both vertically and horizontally, getting different sounds from each one to suit your style. And to top it off, you may not realize it but I've also pushed you in the direction of how to find what chords are in what key too, so check out those lessons if you understand this wall of text I've just created.
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