Here is a concept that I find really interesting...

As most of you know, "modes" are sounds. For instance the Ionian mode sounds "happy, cheerful, etc.", the Aeolian mode sounds "sad, blusey", the Lydian mode sounds " Joe Satriani-esque", the Phrygian mode sounds "Exotic, Spanish, etc." and so on...

The modes can be heard the best when played parallel to one another. For instance:

G Ionian
G Dorian
G Phyrgian
G Lydian
G Mixolydian
G Aeolian
G Locrian

In each of the 7 cases, the "home note" (aka. tonal center) is the note 'G', and the remaining 6 notes create the specific sound of the mode.

Well, if some people aren't completely fluent in playing the major or minor scale spanned across the entire fretboard yet, then chances are that they will not be fluent in playing in any of the other 5 modes either. However, if one happens to know the 5 pentatonic positions very well, then these can be used to create modal sounds.

Let me 'splain...

The Ionian Mode (aka. the major scale):

This one is obvious. The pentatonic scale works perfectly with the Ionian mode as it contains 5 of the 7 notes of the scale. Therefore if you, as the lead guitar player, are attempting to solo/improvise using the Ionian mode (aka. major scale), you can simply revert back to the pentatonic scale and its' respective 5 positions, and the result will still be an "upbeat, cheery, happy" sound. Note the 4th and 7th degree scale tones will be omitted though.

G Ionian: G A B C D E F#
G Major Pent: G A B D E

In short, in place of the G Ionian mode, you could reduce your playing to the G major/E minor pentatonic scale (and its' 5 respective positions), and everything will "work".

The Dorian Mode

Dorian has it's own somewhat blusey, little-bit-jazzy-not-quite-pentatonicy-but-theres-just-something-interesting-going-on-here-ish type of sound to it. Again, the pentatonic scale and its' 5 respective positions would work as a quick substitution. However, note that the 1 specific note that gives the Dorian mode it's characteristic sound would be one of the notes that would be omitted by reducing to pentatonic. However, if you find yourself in a key that you are not super comfortable with, and you kinda find yourself lost in an instance where the Dorian mode would typically apply....you can always revert back to the pentatonic scale and it's 5 positions, and everything will work.

Additionally, you could simply move up 2 frets, and play the A minor pentatonic scale, and you would be filling in the missing color tones, without adding any "wrong" notes:

G Dorian: G A Bb C D E F
G Minor Pent: G Bb C D F
A Minor Pent: A C D E G

In short, G minor pentatonic works perfectly in place of the G Dorian mode...However, it will no longer have that "Dorian color", but you can then just shift up 2 frets and get all those color tones by playing THAT pentatonic scale.

The Phrygian Mode

The Phygian mode is a tricky one. If you take a look at the G Phrygian scale, you will see that all of the notes of the G minor pentatonic are located right within it. Therefore, you may think that the G minor pentatonic scale would be a good substitution for the G Phrygian mode. However, when using the Phrygian mode, it's often best to target chord tones of the underlying chords and simply use the rest of the scale notes as passing tones, allowing you to walk from one chord tone to the next. The minor pentatonic scale contains 5 of the 7 notes of the Phrygian mode, but one of the omitted notes is the characteristic Phrygian "color tone" (the b2). Also, both of the omitted notes are chord tones of the bII chord, which is a characteristic chord that the Phrygian mode would often be used with. Therefore, attempting to reduce to pentatonic would result in sour landing notes (a lot of non-chord tones) AND would take away the note which gives the Phrygian mode it's unique sound (the b2).

In short, the G minor pentatonic scale would not be a good substitution for the G Phrygian mode, nor would any other pentatonic scales.

The Lydian Mode

The Lydian mode is an interesting one. If you wanted to play G Lydian, a simple reduction to G major pentatonic/E minor pentatonic would work just fine. It would still have the "happy, cheery" sound to it. However, it would be lacking the one note specific "color note". The specific note that I'm referring to is the #4. So here's a little trick...You could also shift down 1/2 step and just play the Gb Minor Pentatonic in place of the G Lydian Mode, and all of the notes would work just fine, as they are all located within the G Lydian mode:

G Lydian: G A B C# D E F#
G Major Pentatonic: G A B D E (this one is lacking the color tones that make it Lydian)
Gb/F# Minor Pentatonic: F# A B C# E (this one has the color tones, but is lacking the 'G' root)

As you can see that between the 2 pentatonic scales, you have all of the notes from the Lydian, and nothing more.

So how can this be simplified? Well, if the rhythm section is playing some sort of 'G' vamp in which you want to play the G Lydian mode over...You can simply think in terms of G major/E minor pentatonic and then just play those patterns all over the fretboard...or you can move down 1/2 step to Gb/F# and then just play that minor pentatonic scale (and of course all of it's 5 positions). You could of course, combine the 2 as well...resulting in the full G Lydian mode.

The Mixolydian Mode

The Mixolydian mode has a trick that's very similar to the Lydian mode. Basically, you can substitute the G major pentatonic scale for the G Lydian mode, but you will be omitting the characteristic Mixolydian note (the b7). However, by simply shifting down 2 frets and playing that major pentatonic scale, you will be filling in all of the necessary missing notes, without adding any out-of-key notes...

G Mixolydian: G A B C D E F
G Major Pentatonic: G A B D E
F Major Pentatonic: F G A C D

In fact, using strictly the F major pentatonic scale, when the G Lydian is called for would work excellently. It contains both the root note 'G' and the color tones that give the Mixolydian mode it's sound.

The Aeolian Mode (aka. the natural minor scale)

This one is pretty self-explanatory. When you are in a minor key, say G minor...you can either use the G minor scale (G Aeolian) or you can just reduce your playing to the G minor pentatonic scale, and everything will work just fine. You've probably been doing this for years by now.

G Aeolian: G A Bb C D Eb F
G Minor Pent: G Bb C D F

The Locrian Mode

This one is simply not worth the trouble attempting to find an acceptable pentatonic substitution. This is very similar to the Phrygian mode in that it has to be used carefully and sparingly, while primarily focusing on chord tones of the underlying chords. Since the Locrian mode has 2 characteristic notes in it (whereas all the other modes only have a 1 note deviation from their parent major/minor scale), there really is no pentatonic substitution for it. The Locrian mode isn't used very often anyway.

Pour Conclure

Obviously, you should learn your full major and minor scale up and down the fretboard. These "patterns" are exactly the same for all 7 modes. However, it's fun to play around with different pentatonic substitutions in order to get modal sounds, and it only requires you to know the pentatonic positions. Fun stuff. Let me know what you think!
Nice breakdown - it's usefull to see it all summarized liked that.

I would add that playing the Dmin pentatonic over Gmin can sound great as you are accenting the 9th of instead of the Minor third in G. It works in G Dorian or G Aeolian.
I would include the parent key names for the modes..modes are confusing enough for many players..thinking they are playing "model" when they are not..so for G dorian..parent key would be F Major..it will help connect harmonic patterns and relationships now and in the future..

also..Pentatonic scales can be ANY group of five notes..that being the case..for example your G dorian example:

G Dorian: G A Bb C D E F
G Minor Pent: G Bb C D F
A Minor Pent: A C D E G

the ..Gmin 6/9 Pent scale: G A Bb D E -- 12b356
notice you have kept the minor flavor (Bb) and the dorian flavor (E) intact..

same with Aeolian:
G Aeolian: G A Bb C D Eb F
G Minor Pent: G Bb C D F -(no characteristic b6 note--Eb)

Gmi b6/9 pent scale -- G A Bb D Eb 1 2 b3 5 b6

now these minor 6/9 pentatonic scales are a good tool to have in addition to the standard pent scales..they also produce cool chord fragments when harmonized
play well

Last edited by wolflen at Dec 25, 2016,
Well there's no magic "conversion" process between diatonic and pentatonic. If you want a more open and less linear sound, you just leave out two of the scale tones. Or you can think of it as taking the chord tones and adding two.

Or, if you want a really modern sound, you build a pentatonic that excludes the root of the chord. Say, the G pentatonic pattern over a C chord, which is basically a major 9th arpeggio but not quite as linear sounding.
Good responses here, but I was just trying to take something that a lot of people already know (the 5 major/minor pentatonic positions), and turn them into "modal sounds".

Sure there's other pentatonic scales that can be built, and certain scale-chord relationships, but my point was to take something that is relatively simple that a lot of people already know, and turn it into "modal sounding" playing.

All good suggestions though nonetheless.
Great write up. Check out this video for more information but in the context of piano
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Great write up. Check out this video for more information but in the context of piano

if your new to music theory and trying to understand modes,,this may help..but some will have questions..example: he explains all the modes in the key of C major..but when he breaks it down to chords in each mode..dorian for example..he uses Bb as the key..with no explanation as to why he is in a different key..so unless you know the chords in different keys this could confuse you..and this is one reason modes are so hard to understand at first..most new players do NOT know all 12 keys and the chords in them..so showing all the modes in the key of C and then saying "C dorian " .. good chances questions will be asked.." Bb is in the key of C??"
play well

I understand the reasoning behind the post, but I am concerned that if a person didn't know their major and minor scales very well, they likely wouldn't understand keys very well either. This would lead them into reading the post and understanding that if they play A minor pentatonic, they are now playing G Dorian, irrespective of the key of the song.

So you end up with someone playing A minor pentatonic over the key of A major saying that they are playing in G Dorian. Not a great result.
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.
I'm always just looking for ways to try and simplify things. I assume that "the 5 pentatonic positions" is something that most intermediate guitarists know, and they also know how to play that "in key"...

Therefore, I tried to come up with a simplified way to use these 5 pentaonic positions for modal uses.
^^^ I'd assume an "intermediate" player would also know the major and minor scales, so the argument is moot.

It's great you're keen to simplify things, the issue is that if people only learn the simple way with modes, they're likely to misunderstand them as per my example.
And no, Guitar Hero will not help. Even on expert. Really.