Modes Part 1 - Ionian (Backing Track + Tab)

The first of my modal lessons, starting with the basic Ionian mode.

Ultimate Guitar
The Ionian mode is the obligatory starting point for learning modes. If you've seen my basic lesson on intervals, then you know that this series is planned in such a way that we won't fixate too much on how "each mode is a major scale built on a different starting note of your major scale."

We'll get to that, sure, but not until we've learned the modes, treating them as their own unique individual scales with their own unique individual sound. That being said, we still have to start with the first mode: Ionian, which is, for all intents and purposes, the major scale.

We won't spend too much time on this particular mode, since we really only need it as a stepping stone to the rest of the modes right now. But we do need to cover it at least somewhat. So, check out the following video, in which I run through the scale, notating it in multiple forms and ending with an improvisation over a backing track that will really allow you to hear the character of the Ionian mode. There's a link to that backing track if you'd like to practice with it in the video, and in the description, you'll find a tab of the Ionian mode.

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5 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Hi Kevin, what's the difference between the ionian mode and the major scale?
    From a practical standpoint, there isn't one. I suppose if one wanted to nitpick, one could talk about how chord progressions can sometimes need to be approached differently depending on whether you're "writing a progression in C major" or "writing a C Ionian progression," due to the nature of tension and resolution and its effect on the color and character of a scale. But at this stage of this lesson series, that's not something I want to spend too much time focusing on. In the beginning, I'm keeping it simple.
    I guess one of the issues is that it's hard to argue that "anything" is in the ionian mode anymore, as it evolved into the major key about 200 years ago. I listened to the backing track. It's an I-IV progression in A major then C major. It sounds cool but you'd have a hard time arguing that it's in the ionian mode, rather than a major key. If you're planning on using modes as scales for this series of lessons, rather than constructing and playing modals songs, I reckon it would be helpful to point this out early. Furthermore, if you are going to upload backing tracks that are not modal, I wouldn't call those backing tracks modal. I understand that this is being "nitpicky" as you've stated above, but it's also "correct".
    I understand and agree, though one caveat is that the backing track does contain what is perhaps one of the strongest ways to imply an Ionian sound as opposed to a major sound - the use of what are technically inversions. While it does carry the tonal implications of a I-IV, it is in reality, in the key of A as an example, "A, Bm/A." I know there's not too much of a difference there, but with the A maintained in both chords, that does "technically" define it as an Ionian progression, does it not? If I'm incorrect about that, then I've managed to misunderstand what seems to be a consensus by many respected fusion players. I don't mean any disrespect by disagreeing, either, Alan - I've seen your posts in the Music Theory forum and I'm well aware of how knowledgeable you are.
    Yeah I don't actually believe that the ionian mode exists anymore - it's just the major key now, although the major key has much more freedom. I honestly haven't considered what could be in the ionian or aeolian modes because they're really quite useless when we have keys available to use instead. To address your question as to whether an I- IV vamp would be ionian, I have no idea. I'm sure one of the MT regulars could help you out with that question though.