Learn Modes Easy With Pitch Axis Theory

author: p_a_morgan date: 10/08/2010 category: music theory tips
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Many of you may know this, but it changed my view on the elusive Mode when I learned it. So if you don't know this..please give it a look. It makes things much easier to understand. Alright..So you've learned the major scale. Awesome. Believe it or not, that is all you will need for this lesson. Below is the shape we will be working with. We're in Standard Tuning on this.
Run through that a few times. Alright, what do you hear? The E major scale, am I right? Yep. When played behind a progression in the key of E, this is also known as The Ionian Mode. There..You just learned a mode. We will call this Mode #1 because the root of the scale (first note played) is the name of the key we are playing in, and vice versa. So if this is the E major scale, with E being your first note, then it's "E Ionian." 7th Fret, A String is your E for those who don't know. "Okay fine..but how do I play the other 6 modes?" you ask? Easy. For the sake of this lesson, you are in standard tuning so you've got an open E up there that you aren't using. Play that E string open and let it ring out as you run through the scale above. Ionian Mode, got it. Now if you have another player with you or a pitch pipe or anything else that will hold out that E as you play the scales, even better. As long as you have that E audible as you play through the scale, otherwise everything you play will sound like the Major Scale. Confused? That's okay, You'll understand in a few minutes. So E Major Scale=E Ionian and that goes for everything. If you play the D major scale over a D note, you'll get D Ionian...or "Mode #1" Mode #2 is the Dorian Mode. Now since it's Mode #2. TWO is the magic number here. You're playing in the key of E. So move the whole scale shape down so that E is the SECOND note of the scale. So it should look like this.
You may notice that is it the exact same shape as the last one, but moved down a Whole Step in this case. You may also notice that it's just the D Major Scale. Huh..That's weird..Have you tried playing it behind an E note? Try it. Go on. Hit that Open E string and run through it. Doesn't sound like the D Major Scale anymore does it? It sounds like E Dorian. Do you see what happened when you moved the root note to the second note of the major scale? Before you read on, please make sure you have the shape memorized. I don't want someone to comment on this and say it didn't work for them and I'm full of crap because you played the scale wrong. I know one of you guys out there will do that which is why I suggest you learn the simple 8 note scale. (7 notes plus Octave. I know someone will comment on that too if I claimed a scale was 8 notes!) What is Mode #3? Phrygian. One of my favorites. Alright, I'll leave the math to you now. If this is Mode #3..then the root must move to the??????? Right! The 3rd Note of the scale has to be the E! (When playing in E as we have been doing since the beginning.) E Phrygian looks like this.
2nd Fret on the D string is an E right? If you've played it correctly over the E note, it should sound quite Middle Eastern or Egyptian. Something like that. This is the C major scale by itself, but like the others, when being played over the E, it becomes what is known as E Phrygian. Pretty cool, huh? Remember though, You can play this starting at the 15th fret as well. If you prefer the high noted, closely fretted, shredding room, just move these scales to your boxes near or beyond the 12th Fret. Mode #4 is Lydian. I'm not gonna tab this one out for you. Make your E the fourth note of the scale and play your open E behind it like we did in the last three. Hint: Start your scale on the 2nd Fret on the A string. If you've done this right, It should sound like something from the ending, "They lived happily ever after" scene in a Disney Movie haha. Mode #5 is Mixolydian. Again, start your scale so that the E is the 5th note of the scale. It sounds Angelic. It sounds happy, but not like an annoying happy. It's reminds me of genuine happiness, not to be confused with Sesame Street happiness. Mode #6? Aeolian. This is also known as the Minor Scale. Once again, start you scale so that the E lands on the 6th note of the scale. Mode #7 is called the Locrian Mode. Be careful playing this one while you're at home alone. You may crap your pants out of fear. It's very dark sounding. I like it. Situate your scale so that 7th note is the E note and blah blah blah you know this! Well. You've learned all modes in the key of E. After a while, you will learn to memorize where each mode is played in this key without having to think about it. Of course you don't always play in the key of E. So now that you know how to set them up using the root note, you can use any root note and figure out where to start the scale. Pretty easy, right? If you are a dropped tuned player like I am, you can hit that open D string string when in Dropped D and play them all in D and you can still play these scales as I have them written because you aren't using the top string as you would when playing the modes the traditional way like most Theory Nazis do. Nothing wrong with playing them that way, but this way is easier for me. Remember, once again, you can play this in any key. Say you have a jamming partner and he's playing a progression. Throw out some of these modes and it can drastically change the style of the song. If you really want to break away from the normal Pentatonic Scale or the sickly Major Scale sound, throw in some Phrygian or Mixolydian to spice it up. This is called the Pitch Axis Theory. Any questions or comments? Put them down below or shoot me a message.
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