Hi everyone,
I was explaining modes to a couple of beginners recently and I realized I have a visual way of remembering modes that is a little different than how I usually see modes presented. A lot of mode lessons out there teach you what notes are in each mode in relation to the notes of the major scale (flatted 6th, flatted 7th, etc), and this can be a bit cumbersome for beginners. While that's essential information, I think this visual way of remembering mode formations can be useful for getting your foot in the door and supplementing the theory behind them. Kind of like in school how you'd learn a sentence with the first letter in each of a list of things you had to remember for a test.

So here it is, this is how I have always visualized modes, in a pattern using 3 different formations I visualize as man, woman, and child. This is just kind of how these formations naturally presented themselves in my head. What I like about these formations is unlike a lot of scale instructions out there, using these formations you never have to stretch 2 whole intervals on the same string, which I always found to be a bit cumbersome (although sometimes in the heat of the moment it's what works best).

I realize for those of you that already know modes well, this will seem basic and maybe even silly. But for beginners I think it can be useful.

So I created this graphic in Photoshop for my friends to help them learn, and I thought I'd share. At the top of each string, I put an M, W, or C for man, woman, & child. The last string is in parentheses because you don't do the whole formation since you stop at the root note.

Last edited by whitmell at Aug 27, 2010,
Why not learn the notes of the fretboard until you can name them on the fly, then work on learning and understanding the key signature of each of these? That way you can construct them on the fly instead of having to memorize things like "Man Woman Woman Child Man Man", which will not really help you to understand how these scales work.
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I tried very carefully in my post to point out that it is ESSENTIAL to learn the theory behind modes, the intervals used, etc. BUT this is what naturally happened when I started practicing modes. These 3 little patterns appeared and in my head that's how I visualized them (man being top heavy like the half-whole pattern, woman being bottom heavy like the whole-half pattern). I wouldn't recommend this as a REPLACEMENT to learning the meaning behind where you're putting your fingers, but visualizing these shapes could help a beginner or help you get back on track in a pinch if you have a brain fart while playing and can't remember the intervals for Lydian or something. No one taught me this method, this is how it appeared in my head, and now no matter what even if I'm figuring out a riff based on notes i'm hearing or from reading music I'll still see the patterns pop up on the fretboard and will often remember the riff as a combo of these patterns. Not intentionally but that's just how it happens.
Last edited by whitmell at Aug 27, 2010,
Kind of an interesting take on the whole proposition. Thanks for sharing. I like that you are trying to find ways to help others. Much respect. As long as it's working for you and the students that you are teaching. For the sake of this, I won't go into theory and application and appreciate these as preset scale patterns/shapes. I hope they do well for you.


Thanks. Yeah I thought maybe sharing this odd little technique might help some people getting hung up on the theory coming right out of the gate. It took me a while to understand what was really going on with modes (and I'm still learning). It's difficult teaching yourself from what you find online unless you find a site that really lays it out well, and since everybody has different ways of learning sometimes it's hard to find a site that fits your learning style. When I was telling the guys for whom I made this what modes were, they were looking at me like I was crazy because they have minimal theory knowledge. So I think maybe showing them these patterns and letting them hear for themselves what the modes sound like will help. Then they can do what I did; mess around with the notes in the mode until you understand how it differs from the major root, and then comparing that with the written out intervals you find online till it clicks. And more importantly, figuring out how that translates to your ears.

At the very least they're fun finger exercises
Last edited by whitmell at Aug 27, 2010,
Just please, please, please, make sure they really understand the difference between modes and the major scale

That's a good chart for teaching different positions of the major scale however.

Edit: Took a look at 20's post and looked at the OP again to see I overlooked that they all start on A
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Last edited by FacetOfChaos at Aug 28, 2010,
Quote by FacetOfChaos
That's a good chart for teaching different positions of the major scale however.

Indeed - CAGED method yeah?
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
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Indeed - CAGED method yeah?

I couldn't say. Never learned the details of the CAGED method so someone else will have to field that one... but I think it's pretty similar if not the same
Quote by DiminishedFifth
Who's going to stop you? The music police?
Well the CAGED method uses five shapes each built off one of the five open chord shapes. It associates the chord and scale shape with root shapes. It is one way of breaking down the major scale across the fretboard...


What the TS has done is quite different. He is comparing each of the seven parallel modes from the root note A on the fifth fret of the E string.

It is pretty clear when you read his post and look at the picture that he is in the same position on the fretboard and using the same root (A) to show the difference between how to finger the different modes of A - IN THE SAME POSITION.

What he has there is A Ionian A Dorian A Phrygian A Lydian A Mixolydian A Aeolian and A Locrian all from the root A found at fret 5 on the E string.

It is quite clearly not showing the major scale as being made up of seven relative modal shapes. - which is quite often what leads to confusion.

He is also not using the CAGED system either which is something entirely different to what he is showing, and which doesn't really involve modes or modal terms.

However the associative memory trick he is using could be applied to the CAGED system to help one learn the CAGED system box shapes across the fretboard.

Like this...
Photoshop is awesome
Last edited by 20Tigers at Aug 27, 2010,
The problem is the original post isn't really anything to do with modes, it's just the major scale...chucking mode names in there serves no purpose other than to confuse matters. Any mode appears all over the fretboard, same as any other scale. Associating the mode name with a fragment of the scale itself is counter-productive as it can reinforce the belief that the shape is in some way significant as far as the mode is concerned. The fact is the shape is irrelevant as far as determining whether or not something is a mode. All modes have a parent major scale, so from a pattern point of view you already know them when you learn their relative major. What matters with modes is context, you have to hear modes and understand how and why they function to use them effectively. A static, single position scale diagram teaches you nothing about modes, despite what we're often led to believe.

The mechanic itself is an interesting one and is potentially useful, just not in the way it's been demonstrated. Identifying those little strings of full steps and half steps and knowing where they occur within a scale is the key to moving around quickly and freely. In that way it's similar to edg's "relativity" thread about fretboard navigation a while back. When improvising it doesn't matter so much what the big pattern is if you already know how to get to the next note you need. That kind of adaptable, contextual knowledge somewhat supercedes the idea of looking for a big pattern and moving around it. They're both visual cues, one method is just a little more advanced.
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Last edited by steven seagull at Aug 28, 2010,
He's not showing or claiming to show the major scale - he is simply comparing parallel modes.
Quote by steven seagull
The fact is the shape is irrelevant as far as determining whether or not something is a mode. All modes have a parent major scale, so from a pattern point of view you already know them when you learn their relative major.
Just playing devil's advocate here but couldn't the same logic apply in reverse? Since all modes have a parent scale by learning the shapes/ box patterns of the seven parallel modes you will by default learn the major scale. There is no reason to believe that the TS is doing this or suggesting it, I would suggest NOT doing it this way but I'm just working the logic from your post in reverse.
Quote by steven seagull
What matters with modes is context, you have to hear modes and understand how and why they function to use them effectively.
To some extent that's what he's trying to do by putting all the parallel modes side by side. He is trying to help his friends by giving them the tools to play around with each of the modes off the same root and discover how each mode sounds unique.

He's not listing all the relative modes and saying they make up the major scale he doesn't even mention relative modes.

But yeah - if his friends already know the patterns of the major scale he could simply get them to use the appropriate relative major pattern and shift the root.

Usually when I'm playing with modes I don't think in terms of relative scales I tend to think parallel major or parallel minor. For example when I'm playing A Mixolydian I tend to play/think the A major scale with a flat 7 rather than the D major scale with A as the root. Maybe that's just me.

-Of course I might have it all wrong. Maybe he has learned the major scale across the fretboard as box shapes named after modes which would be sad, as it always is to me.
Last edited by 20Tigers at Aug 28, 2010,