The Modes Made Simple

author: JoshUrban date: 06/08/2012 category: music theory tips
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The Modes Made Simple
Comrades!Are you confused about modes? So is everyone! There seems to be a whole industry built around mystifying even the most experienced guitar players. Check it out hopefully I can clear it up for you. I recorded a quick video with an explanation:
For those of you who prefer to read instead of watch, here's how it works:Simply put, a mode is a variation of a scale. We can get a lot of information from them, and use them in many ways, but today, we'll be concentrating on the framework that you need to get up and running. By the way why should you care? Modes are a great way of finding any note in any key meaning blazin' world ruling guitar solos at the drop of a hat. (And other stuff, too.)There are 12 different notes in the system of western music. Seven of these fall on the white keys on a piano (A-B-C-D-E-F-G) and the other five are the black keys sharps and flats.The scale we'll be using today is the C major scale. If I played just the white keys on the piano, starting on C, I'd end up with this scale. Here's what it looks like on the guitar:
Now, since these notes occur in other places on the guitar, let's say I want to play a bit higher up on the neck. If I move the same shape up two frets to D at the 10th fret, and play it, I run into a problem.I'd be hitting an F# on the 14th fret/6th string, and a C# at the 11th fret/4th string. Remember, there's no sharps or flats in the C major scale, so I need to modify the shape to fit. I arrive at the handy dandy rule:To play the same scale at a different place, I need to use a different shape.This second shape, starting on the note D, but playing all the notes in the C major scale, is called the second mode of C. It also has a technical name D Dorian. It looks like this:
There are seven notes in the major scale, and therefore, seven variations or modes of the scale. Each one of these has a funky cool Greek name. They are as follows:

Ionian (major scale)


Here's a fun way to remember the order of the modes. If we take the first letter for each word, and make a sentence out of it, we get:

I Don't Particularly Like Modes A Lot

I think once you start shredding them, you'll disagree. Still, it's a funny way to keep 'em in mind. Let me know if you have any questions I'm always glad to help. Drop me an email at or say hello on Facebook.

We'll get to more theory and detail in the next lesson, but for now, have fun shredding these shapes!

Josh Urban is a guitarist, songwriter, teacher, and self-proclaimed leader of the humorous Revolution to Overthrow Bad Music. His father accidentally dropped a cowbell on his head as a wee lad, so he feels a special connection to Don't Fear The Reaper and the iconic the only prescription is more cowbell line. Friend him on Facebook he's a networking fanatic. or

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