Improvising Solos With Major Modes

In this brief lesson I'll show you how to improvise solos in any Major chord progression. 7 finger patterns that work over the whole fretboard, all you need to know is your 6th string root. This works great for Rock, Classics and Metal.

Ultimate Guitar
One of the first things that I have found that is absolutely necessary in learning to solo is the memorization of the notes on the fretboard. With this knowledge you can play any scale quickly by starting at the root note, construct chords, and play solos. Many guitarists begin soloing by playing pentatonic scale tones within the key of each chord as it changes within the progression. Many guitarists are content to remain in this "box" and are quite adept at its execution, such as ACDC's Angus Young and ZZ TOP's Billy Gibbons. Guitarists like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen and many others have become Modal masters and mastering these Modes creates a flavor that Pentatonic tones alone simply cannot compete with. To start you should know your scale and scale tones and how they are applicable to the Major scale and the Modes as well. When we hear someone talk about a chord progression you have probably heard of the I, IV, V, I progression, it can also be numbered (1,4,5,1). In short, each interval, or tone has a number. For example we will use the C Major scale because it has no sharps or flats. The C Major Scale is:
C D E F G A B C  
The scale is numbered as follows:
C=1, D=2, E=3, F=4, G=5, A=6, B=7, C=1  
When the 2nd 1 is reached, you are now in the next octave of C. Now a I,IV,V,I progression would be: C, F, G, and back to original C Modes have a number as well, just as each tone of the major scale does. They are Major=1, Dorian=2, Phrygian=3, Lydian=4, Mixolydian=5, Aeolian=6, Locrian=7 and back to the Major for your 1. So if you wanted to solo over your 1, 4, 5, 1 chord progression in C Major you would play the 1st position C Major scale over your 1 chord, 4th position F Lydian over your 4 chord, 5th position G Mixolydian over your 5 chord and back to 1st position C Major scale for your return to the 1 chord. Now, the fingering patterns for each Mode works at all points along the fingerboard as long as you start at the appropriate root note of whichever Mode you are playing in. That said, here are the fingering patterns for each Mode. We will start in the key of F on the first fret to show how the tones ascend the fretboard. Remember that these fingerings DO NOT CHANGE only the Root Note "starting point".
F Major 1-      6E 1,3,5  5A 1,3,5  4D 2,3,5  3G 2,3,5  2B 3,5,6 1E 3,5,6
G Dorian 2-    6E  3,5,6  5A 3,5,7  4D 3,5,7  3G 3,5,7  2B 5,6,8  1E 5,6,8
A Phrygian 3- 6E  5,6,8  5A 5,7,8  4D 5,7,8  3G 5,7,9  2B 6,8,10  1E 6,8,10
Bb Lydian  4-  6E  6,8,10  5A 7,8,10  4D 7,8,10  3G 7,9,10  2B 8,10,11  1E 8,10,12
C Mixolydian 5-  6E 8,10,12  5A 8,10,12  4D 8,10,12  3G 9,10,12  2B 10,11,13  1E 10,12,13
D Aeolian  6  - 6E 10,12,13  5A 10,12,13  4D 10,12,14 3G 10,12,14  2B 11,13,15  1E 12,13,15
E Locrian  7  - 6E  12,13,15  5A 12,13,15  4D 12,14,15  3G 12,14,15  2B 13,15,17  1E 13,15,17
Finally, for the aforementioned chord progression, using the above fingerings for each mode you would play C Major Mode with the root note beginning on the 6E 8th fret, the F Lydian Mode with the root on the 6E 13th fret, the G Mixolydian Mode with the root on the 6E 15th fret and return to the C Major Mode with the root on the 6E 8th fret. These rules can be applied to any Major key and I will include these last few examples in closing:
Key of D Major  D E F# G A B C# D
Chord Progression  D, F#, G, A, D
Solo  D Major, F# Phrygian, G Lydian, A Mixolydian, D Major

Key of E Major  E F# Ab A B C# D# E
Chord Progression  E, B, C#, A, E
Solo   E Major, B Mixolydian, C# Aeolian, A Lydian, E Major
This is very simple and as long as you count your scale tone numbers and use the appropriate Mode numbers this is a very effective way to improvise solos.

17 comments sorted by best / new / date

    steven seagull
    Sorry to be the one to break this to you, but your lesson is completely inaccurate - a storm is coming
    How is it we get a new 'these are modal scales' lessons EVERY WEEK that think that they have modes all figure out?
    None of this is modal. You're in C Major the whole time. I think I've posted this exact comment on articles about 10 times this year.
    You need to get someone who knows theory to read what you write before you submit it as a lesson. There are people in the Musicians Talk forum who I'm sure would be happy to check your grammar and point out any glaring misunderstandings. (Your grammar seems fine, btw).
    To understand the Modes: 1. Google, download and memorize "guitar mode patterns 3 notes per string scales". Each of the seven patterns can be used to play each of the modes. Get these patterns "under your fingers" and recognize how they link together as you play up the neck. They will all sound like the major scale. Have faith. MEMORIZE THEM. 2. Understand "Harmonizing the major scale". (Google it). Each note of the major scale is "biased". When it is played as a triad chord it is either major, minor or diminished. This is what is meant by "Major, minor, minor, Major, Major, minor, diminished". 3. Understand that the modes follow the exact same harmonic pattern as step 2 above: Ionian=Major, Dorian=minor, Phrygian=minor, Lydian=Major, Mixolydian=Major, Aoelian=minor, Locrian=minor/diminished. 4. Understand that the chord over which the mode is being played determines the mode, NOT THE PATTERN. For example, if you are playing a G major chord but you play the Dorian pattern starting on the fifth fret A note of the low E string (A Dorian), you are still playing the G Ionian scale. Same with B Phrygian, C Lydian, D Mixolydian, E Aoelian, and F# Locrian. IF THEY ARE PLAYED OVER A G MAJOR CHORD you are still playing G Ionian. This is the most confusing part of understanding the modes. If you want to hear what A Dorian sounds like, you have to play the Dorian pattern over an A minor chord. To hear B Phrygian, play it over a B minor chord. To hear C Lydian, play it over a C Major chord, etc. In other words, as noted in step 2 and 3: The chord determines the mode. 5. In the example given here, if you played all of the modal scales over a G Major chord, ALL of the patterns would simply be extensions of the Ionian scale. HOWEVER, if you played all of the modal scales in this example over an A minor chord, ALL of the patterns would simply be extensions of the A Dorian scale. If you played all of the modal scales in this example over a C Major chord, they would simply be extensions of the C Lydian scale. The above outline is how the modal scales work. It isn’t easy but with patience you will see it. Understanding each of the steps is important! Even if you only play in the Dorian mode for the rest of your life, you MUST memorize ALL of the seven modal scale patterns as they all link together and will vastly expand your ability to move around the neck. Also, the modal patterns are one of the keys to shred and to legato playing. I know I’ll get flamed for this post so flame on. The post is made with the best of intention. Modes were SO FRUSTRATING to me until I “got it”. I hope this helps someone. Never give up. Never surrender!
    In my haste to complete this lesson, I neglected to mention that the Major Mode or the 1st position is also called the Ionian Mode. Sorry!
    When I play the major scale in the first (or any, for that matter) position, I call it the major scale. But hey, some people feel better when they assign archaic Greek names to simple things.
    hmmm looks like this is no bueno, can someone direct me to an accurate modes/soloing lesson for complete idiots like myself
    Jay Stone
    This is relavant information. But for a student to understand modes, you MUST know 2 concepts. Would someone please write an article on Relative and Parallel Approaches to modes. I have offered articles but they are not accepted because I have a paid internet lesson site. This must be explained to comprehend modes, ask a teacher who has been to conservatorium. Regards to all, Ross
    this is generally how people begin to THINK about modes. You have to start somewhere. However, you would need a few more lessons to begin to touch on truly modal playing.
    Okay guys! I was reading this book on theory and it had listed these finger patterns, one for each key. For F Major it lists the finger patterns I posted starting at the first position on the first fret that was listed as the 1. The 2 pattern that starts on the 6E 3rd fret, the 3 pattern on 6E fret 5 etc etc.... At the top of the list it says: F MAJOR= G Dorian A Phrygian Bb Lydian etc etc.... Guess I thought I figured out the theory of relativity at least musicwise. I still dont know why it shows the Greek Modes there but playing through them it sounds like Do Re Mi to me! Thanks for pointing out my error!
    It all sounds like Do Re Mi to you because you're still only playing the major scale in different positions, you're not actually using anything modally. What you write about about F major equaling those modes is essentially correct...if you're playing in those keys and centering around those tones. Otherwise you're just playing F major in different positions.
    The Do Re Mi thing is a measure of the interval gaps between the notes of the major scale. It only applies to said major scale.
    ^ This guy. My mind has just now been opened thanks to him. The different positions when played from the major scale (C Ionian, D Dorian, E Phrygian, etc.) are only the major scale moved into different positions along the neck (still really helpful). So if you would want to play C Lydian, you can start on the same C you would play the major scale from but play the Lydian "shape." From there, you can use the other positions to play that C Lydian in different places. Correct?