A Simple Yet Very Interesting Way to Apply Modes

How to apply scales in a simple yet effective way that most guitarists do not do.

Ultimate Guitar
A lot of guitar players out there, especially in the intermediate to early advanced stages tend to just see the major modes as just major but starting at a different note in that scale. While there is nothing wrong with that, their truly is a massive difference between the feel of the modes that you will easily be able to hear if you apply the modes the right way.

Let's take a look at the construction of the modes:

Ionian - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Dorian - 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7
Phrygian - 1, b2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7
Lydian - 1, 2, 3, sharp 4th, 5, 6, 7
Mixolydian - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, s6
Aeolian - 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7
Locrian - 1, b2, b3, 4, b5, b6, b7

In the key of C major it would be like this:

C Ionian
D Dorian
E Phrygian
F Lydian
G Mixolydian
A Aeolian
B Locrian

The sound does not seem any different apart from starting from a different note of the major scale. But here is the trick that is so simple yet very effective.

Keep the key the same but change the mode.

For example if you are writing or improvising in the key of C major, instead of playing C Ionian play C Lydian.

Lydian is generally the brightest of those modes due to the structure of those two modes. The Lydian is like Ionian but with a sharped perfect 4th. This would make the tritone meaning that you can make the Lydian sound really dark in depending on the notes you use and the chords you play over.

Another example:

G Lydian. Instead play G Locrian.

Locrian generally has the darkest feel of the modes. Look at how many dissonant intervals that make the structure of the mode. We have b2, b5, b7. Locrian is Aeolian with flatted 2nd and tritone. So you can see how this mode is so dark. But any mode can be made to sound bright dark or something in between depending on which notes you use over the chords you choose to play over.

If you want to make a general change in sound straight away before you think about chords, changing the mode and keeping the key the same is a great effective way to change the feel of your guitar playing. This can be applied to harmonic minor modes, melodic minor modes and you can apply this concept for any other scale as well.

4 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I've got a question if that's ok. You give the example of improvising in C major and playing C Lydian over it. So instead of an F there'll be an F# in there right? But wouldn't that sound fairly dissonant? Would I need to add in a D major chord somewhere in the progression for this to work? Thanks for the lesson by the way, I enjoyed reading it!
    It doesn't matter if there's an augmented fourth in there. The idea is to play and experience the modes, so you can start using them while improvising. Listen to some Jazz or progressive music and you will notice that some scales sound kinda weird, but they still work in harmony with the chords that are being used.
    Playing Lydian over a major scale simply isn't modal. You're just throwing in an accidental. You don't have the tonal centre required. Modes aren't this simple. Stop trying to force them to be. Also, Lydian isn't dark. The perfect 5th is as important as the sharp 4th. In contrast, a darker piece requires a flat 5th, not a sharp 4th. Same note; completely different context.
    I hadn't thought of using Lydian in a "dark" context as I'd always viewed it as one of the more Major-ish modes, so I'll have to try making it sound evil and metal.