my teacher is teaching me the modes of the major scale (im learning the ionian, dorian, and phrygian this week) but im wondering, what is the point of learning modes? how can i apply them to my playing? when should i use them?
Modes can provide 'flavor' to a peice of music. Im sure your tutor will go into it in more detail about how to apply modes etc.

But, Ill make a small example of uses for modes.
Lets take a simple, major scale chord progression in C.
Your chord progression would be:

I -> ii -> iii -> IV -> V -> vi -> vii° .... Ionian Mode Chord Progression
C Major
D Minor
E Minor
F Major
G Major
A Minor
B Diminished

Why? This is due to the intervals used in the modes of the major scale.

Anyway. That progression, if used correctly will give a happy sounding chord progression.

However, Just say you wanted a Sad chord progression, you could use the Aeolian mode (mainly because of its b3, which gives it a sad-sound).

If you were to create a chord progression in the key of C Aeolian, you would have this set of chords:

i -> ii° -> bIII -> iv -> v -> bVI -> bVII ....... Aeolian Mode Chord Progression
C Minor
D Diminished
Eb Major
F Minor
G Minor
Ab Major
Bb Major

This progression differs alot compared to the Major (ionian mode) progression, because of the way modes are created and used.

I can go into more detail if you want.
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They will allow you to follow chords more precisely during improvisation and composition. Also, I found them fundamental for melodic control, they allowed me to closely hear the chords in my head. For me, they just add abit more flavour.
Modes are wonderful, they also give you more scales to practise on.

I will not reiterate what Logz said, but its all very good info mate and you should listen to him.

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Here's a quick sumnation: In any given key, there are 7 basic chords that are in key (Since there's 7 notes in a scale, you build a chord off of each note). Most of the time, if you're playing in C Major, you'll use a C major scale to solo over it, as long as the progression resolves to a C Major chord. But there are still 6 other chords in the key of C Major. What happens if the progression resolves to a different chord, but it's still in the key of C Major? That's when modes come in. The modes of C Major, for example, contain the exact same notes as a C Major scale, they just resolve to a note other than C. Each mode will sound the same until you're playing it with the right chords behind you.

Now how do you know which modes to use? It's easy. First, find what key you're in and what chord is being resolved to. Chords in a key are marked with Roman numerals from 1-7. Uppercase roman numerals mean major, lowercase mean minor. So in C Major the chords are:

I - C Major
ii - D minor
iii - E minor
IV - F Major
V - G Major
vi - A minor
vii - B diminished (the 7th chord in a major key is always diminished)

Each mode is also numbered with Roman numerals. The modes of C major are:

I - C Ionian (the same thing as the normal C Major scale)
ii - D Dorian
iii - E phrygian
IV - F lydian
V - G mixolydian
vi - A Aeolian
vii - B Locrian

Great. So what do these all mean now?

It means if you're playing in the key of C Major, and your chord progression resolves to a D minor chord, then you simply match up the roman numerals with the corresponding mode and that's what mode you'll use to solo over your progression. In this case, you'll use D Dorian.

If your progression is in C Major and resolves to a G major chord, you'd use G mixolydian to solo over the progression.

This is just touching the surface. There's much more theory and stuff involved in modes. Hope this helped.
Another thing is learning modes will essentially relate to learning a different position for a major scale, although you will have to figure out the root note again.
They are used to solo over different chords. Also used to form different chords.
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