Having Trouble Memorizing Modes

This lesson will show you a simple trick to remembering just how each mode is different using wonderful scale degrees.

Ultimate Guitar
Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. These are the seven basic modes we will attempt to demystify today in this lesson. You will need to know how to play a basic major and minor scale. Before we begin, lets have a quick crash course in scale degrees, just enough that you understand the actual lesson. Play a C major scale. I'll wait. .... .. . Alright, so the way you played that C major scale was probably this. You started at C and then played up or across, to the pattern of WWHWWWH (If you don't know what this means, you need to go to an article here that explains scales and then come back. There are plenty of great articles here that will explain it. I'll wait again.) Now then, where was I...oh yeah! You probably played WWHWWWH. Cool. Now this time I want you to play that exact same scale, but count up, starting at 1 (start with 1 on the first note...next note is 2...etc). Stop when you get to 8. That should be the octave, also a C note, but higher pitched. Ok, now each of those numbers you counted are scale degrees. Every scale has scale degrees, and if you know how they work you can build any scale by just modifying the scale degrees of the major scale. Case in point, a natural minor scale (what we'll be using as a tool here) is nothing more than the major scale, with the 3rd, 6th, and 7th scale degrees lowered by one half-step. So where the C major scale looks like this Note names: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C Scale degree: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 C natural minor will look like this Note names: C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C Scale degree: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Got it? Alright! This ends the crash course. Let the real lesson begin! Modes. There are a couple of ways to figure them out, but I find that this one makes the most sense to me. First off, you will need to memorize this easy phrase: I Don't Play Lousy Music Any Longer. Just by keeping this simple phrase in mind, you now know the order of the modes.
I            Don't       Play            Lousy         Music             Any           Longer

Ionian    Dorian    Phrygian     Lydian      Mixolydian     Aeolian     Locrian
By now you may be thinking Alright, what the heck does this corny phrase mean to me? How does knowing the order of modes help me understand these demented modes? Well, there's one way to understand them that I don't really like that much. Perhaps someone else on here has explained this method a lot better than I understood it in class, but here it goes... Now that you know the order, each of the modes in order is structured in the same way as the C, D, E, F, G, A, and B scales. Now, that's great if you already know key signatures by heart and can transform them in this way in a flash, but I've come up with a way that works just as good, works faster, and only requires a little bit of memorization of some rules and some basic math. Once you know the order of the modern modes, picture them going down in a list like this. Ionian Dorian Phrygian Lydian Mixolydian Aeolian Locrian Alright, now lets add some definitions to them. Ionian = Major Dorian = Minor raised 6th scale degree Phrygian = Minor lowered 2nd scale degree Lydian = Major raised 4th scale degree Mixolydian = Major lowered 7th scale degree Aeolian = Minor Locrian = Minor lowered 2nd and 5th scale degrees So basically what we have here is a list of the modes, in their order, with the definitions added to them. Turns out Ionian is just another name for the major scale. You've probably been playing it without knowing. Likewise, Aeolian is just another name for the minor scale. And now you may be thinking, How the bleep am I supposed to memorize all those rules? Well, that's the beauty of this system, you don't have to memorize all of it! You only need to know a few of them, and three rules that govern all modes, and the rest will come through math. Those rules are: Aeolian is simply minor and Ionian is simply major. Nothing changed about them. The only modes based off major scales are the Lydians. (Lydian and Mixolydian) All the rest are minor. Dorian is the only minor with a raised anything. The rest are lowered. So, now knowing that, the only modes you need to memorize are Dorian, Phrygian, and Mixolydian. Dorian, as stated above, is a minor scale with a raised 6th scale degree. Phrygian is a minor with a lowered 2nd scale degree. Using the rules, all you really even have to memorize for those are the numbers: 6 and 2. Because rule 2 states the only major scales are the lydians, and neither of these are lydians, so both are minor based. And because rule 3 states Dorian is the only minor with a raised scale degree, you automatically know Phrygian is lowered. See, all you have to remember is the number. Meanwhile, you have to remember that Mixolydian is major (rule 2 covers this) with a lowered 7th scale degree. Again, all you have to memorize is the number, because it can't possibly be a raised 7th....because that'd just be the same as the octave. So, with 6, 2, and 7 in mind, lets do the math part of this method. Ionian = Major (Rule 1) Dorian = Minor raised 6th Phrygian = Minor lowered 2nd Lydian = Major raised 4th Mixolydian = Major lowered 7th Aeolian = Minor (Rule 1) Locrian = Minor lowered 2nd and 5th The math isn't hard. What's 6 2??? 4. And what's Lydian??? Major, raised 4th scale degree. And Locrian is easily associated with Mixolydian because 2 + 5 is 7. And as we now know, Mixolydian is major lowered 7th. Then applying rules 2 and 3 to it, Locrian HAS to be lowered scale degrees, not raised, because consulting rule 2, Locrian is not a Lydian of any kind, making it definitely minor based, and due to rule 3, the only minor with a raise is Dorian, all the others are lowered. So, just by memorizing 1 phrase, 3 numbers, 3 rules, and first grade math, you can easily use and switch between these modes. I hope I made this clear enough to understand, I love this trick, it's saved me many times and makes it so easy on the fretboard.

16 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Here is a perspective that always made the physical application of modes to guitar make a lot of sense to me. The lesson presented the modes in relation to the starting point of 'C' for all the modes. Gnomegod wrote C Ionian, C Dorian, C Phrygian, etc. Well, an easy way for me to create the modes and remember the physical shapes is using or borrowing the notes used in the C major scale (C Ionian) and starting and stopping on the 'A' for A Aeolian which is A,B,C,D,E,F,G,A..... Start and stop on B using notes of C Major scale is B,C,D,E,F,G,A,B which is B Locrian. Start and stop on D using C Major notes is D,E,F,G,A,B,C,D makes D Dorian. Start and stop on E using notes borrowed from C Major scales is E,F,G,A,B,C,D,E for E Phrygian. Start and stop on F using notes from C major is F,G,A,B,C,D,E,F which is F Lydian...and so on Proof it works is E Major scale is E,F#,G#,A,B,C#,D#,E Phrygian is 1,b2,b3,4,5,b6,b7,8 .....hence E,F,G,A,B,C,D,E
    I ALWAYS PLAY LOUSY MUSIC!! This stuff always confuses the heck outta me. I always think I am on the right track then someone comes along and says something complettely opposite, it seems like this stuff is almost a matter of oppinion than fact. There has to be a real concrete explanation of this stuff somewhere. With that said, I liked the lesson, and I hope I can understnad it without someone coming along to argue about it. (hope hope hope)
    longlive m&m
    haha good lesson ...and good remembering method i don t play lousy music any longer brilliant!
    great lesson never really new to remember this stuff!! will be NOT playing lousy music any longer
    thnx man, It really helped me "I don't play any lousy music any longer"
    Im retarded I guess. Why does this stuff confuse me so much? Oh well, I understand the lesson in its context, my issues are learning all the actual scales I guess. practice practice practice. If it werent for guys like you, id suck even worse than I do now (imagine). Thanks.
    Okay great, now how would you use a mode? That question is never answered in most lessons about modes.
    Thanks for the great lesson, one point of confusion I'd like cleared up. When you are raising or lowering a certain scale degree is it a half step raise?
    Great lesson. This is a bit easier than memorizing them the old fashioned way like I did lol. To clear up some things I've read in comments: Stoneyman00: It's not confusing. It just takes time. Look at each mode independently. Play each mode starting on the same note (Use C since it's already explained) and listen to how each mode sounds. Going by his rules. I'm also going to give you the tab and steps taken (as far as half, 1 fret, or whole steps, 2 frets). If you don't understand that think of it as an open string to first fret is a half step and an open string to the 2nd fret is a whole step. 1st fret to 2nd fret is a half step 1st fret to 3rd fret is a whole step so on so forth. Ionian : Rule 1. Major Scale. WWHWWWH w w h w w w h C^D^E^F^G^A^B^C. Dorian :Rule 3. Minor scale, raised 6th. WHWWWHW w h w w w h w C^D^Eb^F^G^A^Bb^C Phrygian :Rule 3.Minor scale,Lowered 2nd.HWWWHWW h w w w h w w C^Db^Eb^F^G^Ab^Bb^C Lydian :Rule 2. Major scale,raised 4th. WWWHWWH w w w h w w h C^D^E^F#^G^A^B^C Mixolydian Rule 2. Major, lowered 7th. WWHWWHW w w h w w h w C^D^E^F^G^A^Bb^C Aeolian : Rule 1. Natural Minor scale. WHWWHWH w h w w h w h C^D^Eb^F^G^Ab^Bb^C Locrian : Rule 3. Minor,lowered 2nd,5th.HWWHWWW h w w h w w w C^Db^Eb^F^Gb^Ab^Bb^C I hope this helps whoever reads the lesson and doesn't understand fully. It helps to learn your major and minor scales because with modes you simply change degrees of the scale to match what the mode asks for. Any questions still feel free to message me.
    well with my last comment the w's and h's should of lined up with the ^ in between the notes but it clearly didnt after i posted -_-..... it implies how far or what "step" it is from one note to the next. so just copy them and line them up. and I meant to put notes, not tab. Whew.... sorry for the confusion lol.
    i will study this more however it doesnt really stick with me atm however as far as the lesson goes good job you know your stuff and i love the presentation im sure i will be able to use this to help me memorize the modes
    Modes Finally Make Sense To Me Now Thank You So Much For The Lesson ! ! I Couldn't Thank You Enough !