Modes Made Easy Using One Scale Pattern

In this lesson, we introduce the student using and hearing the modes using just one scale pattern across each of the modes.


Here is a simple and easy method to get started with the modes of the major scale. It is a great way of being introduced the sounds of the modes and a simple yet effective way to use them. We will go through each mode step by step. By the end of the lesson, you will be able to play along with your band or backing track using the modes.

First, let's look at the modes and their relationship to a major scale.

A major scale has 7 modes


The modes in C major will be

C Ionian C D E F G A B C
D Dorian D E F G A B C D
E Phrygian E F G A B C D E
F Lydian F G A B C D E F
G Mixolydian G A B C D E F G
A Aeolian A B C D E F G A
B Locrian B C D E F G A B

As you can see the notes in C Ionian are the same notes as all the other modes listed.

Using 3 notes per string a major scale or Ionian mode is played like this

Next step is to name the fingers on your hand that you use when playing the major scale as shown in the image above.

The first finger when played on 6E string is Ionian

The second finger when played on 6E string is Dorian

The fourth finger when played on 6E string is Phrygian

The first finger when played on 5A string is Lydian

The second finger when played on 5A string is Mixolydian

The fourth finger when played on 5A string is Aeolian

The first finger when played on 4D string is Locrian

If you wanted to play C Ionian you would place your (Ionian) finger on the C note (8th fret on the low E string) then play using the notes in the normal scale positions.

To play D Dorian, place the second finger or newly named (Dorian) finger on D note (10th fret on the low E string) and use the notes in the normal major scale shape. You can also use the C note (8th fret on the low E). As the notes in D Dorian are the same notes a C major.

To play in E Phrygian place the little finger or (Phrygian) finger on the E note (12th fret) and use the notes as per the normal major scale shape. Of course, the C and D note can also be used.

Now to play F Lydian mode place your 1st finger (Lydian) finger on F (8th fret A string) then continue playing a major scale noting that you're already using the notes starting on the A string so the actual scale position would be the same as C major starting on 8th fret low E string.

To play G Mixolydian, place your second finger (Mixolydian) finger on G (10th fret A string) and play the major scale as though I was playing C major.

I think you should have the idea now, but let's finish all the modes.

To play Aeolian I would place my 4th finger (Aeolian) finger on the G note (12th fret on the A string) and play the notes as if I was playing C major starting on the low E string 8th fret.

To play in B Locrian mode you would place you 1st finger (Locrian) on the G note (9th fret D string.)

OK, now this is where the fun starts.

If we want to play in G Dorian mode I would place my second finger on the g note on the low E string 3rd fret and use all the notes in the scale shape I learned for the C scale. Note I can also use the F note 1st fret on the low E string but for the purpose of the lesson you will start on the G note, 3rd fret.
The thing to remember is the scale shape remains the same, you just start the mode the whichever note the mode is asked for:

C Phrygian = 4th finger on the 8th fret low E string
E Lydian = 1st finger on the 7th fret A string
D Aeolian = 4th Finger on the 5th fret A string

By using this method, you will able to use the modes and experience the different tonalities created using the modes.

Do understand though you must be playing the scale over a chord that has root note same as the mode.

To play D Dorian mode you should be playing over a Dm7 chord.

Simple chords to hear the tones.

Ionian - major chord or 5 chord
Dorian - minor 7th chord
Phrygian - minor or minor 7th
Lydian - Maj 7th, Maj7th#11
Mixolydian - dominant 7 or 9 chord
Aeolian - minor or minor 7th chord
Locrian - diminished chord or m7th flat 5

Hope that you find this useful.

Please note this is an introduction to using the modes in your playing.

By Geoff Sinker
Skype Guitar Lessons Online Website

13 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    steven seagull
    Sorry but this lesson is awful. The most fundamental thing about modes is that they are theory, not technique. That being the case they have absolutely nothing to do with particular positions or "which note you start from". They're all about sound and harmonic context, or indeed the lack thereof. All you've done is tell someone to play the major scale in a really convoluted way. The single line about D Dorian over Dm is kind of right but even then it's a largely useless piece of information without context. Once you start putting these things in the context of a piece of music, which ultimately is the only time they really become relevant, then it's the overall harmony and resolution of that entire piece that dictates the key or whether or not modes are involved, not individual chords and certainly not where you decide to put your fingers.
    That's right, awful is the perfect word to describe this. The sad thing is that the guy doesn't even know what he is talking about and yet he is being featured. When he says to play D Dorian you "should" be playing over a Dm7 chord says it all. There is no should with modes, they are the effect not the cause. If you play the notes of C Major over a D minor, (not idea why it has to be Dm7) you will be playing in D Dorian. It's just a horrible mosiac of information, what a dunce.
    Sorry you feel this way as i posted at the end of the lesson this is a introduction to the modes. I would never dream of trying to teach the use and understanding of the modes in a single lesson. I am purely trying to allow a student a way to explore the sounds of the modes.
    I have to agree with steven seagull. Modes shouldn't be taught as fretboard positions. It would have been more helpful if there had been some examples of usage of modes in actual music and some explanation on what makes the modes different from major and minor keys. This lesson just basically taught people how to find the major scale starting from different notes. And that really has little to do with modes. Modes aren't just something that applies to guitar improvisation or playing scales up and down. They are used in actual music. Some songs are based on modes instead of keys. But this lesson didn't talk about that at all, and I think when it comes to modes or any theoretical concept, actual music examples are really important. If I was a beginner and this was my introduction to modes, it would most likely just create more questions than anything. OK, there are some fretboard positions. Cool. But then what? What do you do with them? How do they differ from C major? Why have all these names when they are all the same notes? What do I do with this knowledge?
    Here's my thing with modes: I know where they are, I understand what you're saying in this lesson. It's all on the same frets, only the root notes are different, right? That's my understanding. But I don't know how to use it in music. Maybe it's just because they sound...different from what I'm used to hear? Let's say...I'm playing a solo using A minor pentatonic scale and I sneak in let's say...F#? That's a note from dorian mode, right? It starts to sound...well, just different and I have a problem of "blending it in" smoothly... I hope anyone understands what I'm trying to say, as we know it's not easy to talk about this stuff It's like I know something about the modes, but I'm still waiting for the "A HA!!" moment.
    Hi I fully understand exactly what you mean, it took me a long time to feel comfortable using the modes. If you read some of the comments above you will read that using the modes is about musical context and i dont disagree. However it would take a really long lesson file to explain it in the depth required. Best method i used when starting out was to just have a single root note tone play. I used a weight on a keyboard key to play a continual A note then i would play the A dorian scale over that note so i could start to hear what i call the texture of the mode. This helped me develop my ear for the sound of the mode. You then need to play that over a chord progression. Using an Am7 to a D9 works nicely. This works in the same way a Am to a Dm over a A minor scale with the Dorian mode the Am7 acts as the 1 chord D9 the 4 chord. Try that and see if this helps you get that "A HA!!" moment. Please don't hesitate to contact if you need more help
    You don't know how to use it in music because you're bombarded with articles like this that offer no music theory lesson whatsoever. Everybody keeps trying to make modes easy. They're not. Some things don't have a cheap trick to start with. You talk about an introduction, but all anybody ever posts is introductions. Why? Because they don't know enough to cover it in any actual detail. Don't teach what you don't know.
    This is a very good guide. My only complaint, though, is that the major scale doesn't have modes, really, it's more that we use the Ionian mode as our major scale and base all of the other modes off of which key our Ionian mode is. Modes came before both established keys and the major and minor scale, so while I understand it's easiest to explain it as the major scale having these modes, it's still a bit disingenuous.
    Now I am confused with your reply, explanation on what makes the modes different from major and minor keys. Not sure what you actually mean with this statement. Modes are not different from Major and Minor Keys. We have modes that are both Major and Minor in nature. As i have already mentioned this is a introduction to the modes. This lesson looks at scales to create the sounds of the modes. Lets not confuse this with modal chords, and modal chord progressions. They don't differ from C major how can they? They only differ when played over a chords that isn't C major. Because as i am sure you know the intervals change. This is a short lesson nothing else, how can anyone cover the modes in the detail you describe in a short column. I have been teaching the subject to students for years and it is a quite a complex subject matter. To be honest i wish someone had told me about this method when i was younger and just starting to learn theory. I have found over the years that a great many teachers don't actually fully understand modes and there uses and spend more time confusing the students. The most important aspect with modes is getting students to use them and not to make them afraid of them by burying them in mystic. But i am take on board your comments and hopefully i can post another lessons that looks and the modes in greater detail. I appreciate you taking the time to read my lesson.
    I actually do know about modes and i teach it to my students. I also know that modes is a large subject to cover in a short lesson like this. That's why we post introductions. The truth is that some people try to make modes more complicated than they really to be. I find it funny that because i didn't post a huge ebook on the subject that i don't know. As i have maintained this is purely a short introduction nothing else. I am more than happy to teach people the modes but this really isn't the medium to do that here.