Easy Guide To Modes

This lesson is to help you not only learn your modes, but also help you practice getting them fluent and fast!

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Ultimate Guitar
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Hi Guys! This is my first lesson on UG so hopefully it won't be too awful and I'll try my best to be interesting and informative. Right, so you want to learn your modes, yeah? And you want to be able to play them all over the neck in every position possible? Well, here's the exercise I use to practice them; it's helped me a lot and hopefully it will help you too! Firstly, lets pick a key; we'll choose G Major as that's a nice easy key that hopefully most of you will know; but in case not, here are the 7 modes of G Major for you: Ionian
e|------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|-------------------------5-7-8------------------------------------|
G|-------------------4-5-7------------------------------------------|
D|-------------4-5-7------------------------------------------------|
A|-------3-5-7------------------------------------------------------|
E|-3-5-7------------------------------------------------------------|
Dorian
e|------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|-------------------------7-8-9------------------------------------|
G|-------------------5-7-9------------------------------------------|
D|-------------5-7-9------------------------------------------------|
A|-------5-7-9------------------------------------------------------|
E|-5-7-8------------------------------------------------------------|
Phrygian
e|------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|-----------------------------8-10-12------------------------------|
G|----------------------7-9-11--------------------------------------|
D|---------------7-9-10---------------------------------------------|
A|--------7-9-10----------------------------------------------------|
E|-7-8-10-----------------------------------------------------------|
Lydian
e|------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|---------------------------------10-12-13-------------------------|
G|-------------------------9-11-12----------------------------------|
D|-----------------9-10-12------------------------------------------|
A|---------9-10-12--------------------------------------------------|
E|-8-10-12----------------------------------------------------------|
Mixolydian
e|------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|-------------------------------------12-13-15---------------------|
G|----------------------------11-12-14------------------------------|
D|-------------------10-12-14---------------------------------------|
A|----------10-12-14------------------------------------------------|
E|-10-12-14---------------------------------------------------------|
Aeolian
e|------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|-------------------------------------12-15-17---------------------|
G|----------------------------12-14-16------------------------------|
D|-------------------12-14-16---------------------------------------|
A|----------12-14-15------------------------------------------------|
E|-12-14-15---------------------------------------------------------|
Locrian
e|------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|-------------------------------------15-17-19---------------------|
G|----------------------------14-16-17------------------------------|
D|-------------------14-16-17---------------------------------------|
A|----------14-15-17------------------------------------------------|
E|-14-15-17---------------------------------------------------------|
Okay so there are your 7 modes (obviously there are different fingerings for these; this is just how I play it). Now what you want to do with these is string them all together as a run up and down the neck. For example, you start on Ionian, play through to fret 8 on the B string, then you move up to fret 10 (into Dorian) and play down to the bottom note of Dorian. You can practice with just these two modes at first, which would look like this:
e|--------------------------------------------------------------------------|
B|-------------------------5-7-8-10-8-7-------------------------------------|
G|-------------------4-5-7--------------9-7-5-------------------------------|
D|-------------4-5-7--------------------------9-7-5-------------------------|
A|-------3-5-7--------------------------------------9-7-5-------------3-5-7-|
E|-3-5-7--------------------------------------------------8-7-5-3-5-7-------|
...and so on; so you can play this as a continuous snake (I recommend that you start VERY slowly using a metronome then gradually speed up. Once you have gotten these two modes to a good standard you can add on Phrygian, the Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and finally Locrian, and play them all together; your finished snake looking like this:
e|-------------------------------------------------------------------------
B|-------------------------5-7-8-10-8-7------------------------------------
G|-------------------4-5-7--------------9-7-5------------------------------
D|-------------4-5-7--------------------------9-7-5------------------------
A|-------3-5-7--------------------------------------9-7-5---------------9--
E|-3-5-7--------------------------------------------------8-7-5-8-10-12----

e|-------------------------------------------------------------------------
B|-----------------------10-12-13-15-13-12---------------------------------
G|---------------9-11-12-------------------14-12-11------------------------
D|-------9-10-12------------------------------------14-12-10---------------
A|-10-12-----------------------------------------------------14-12-10------
E|--------------------------------------------------------------------14-12

e|-------------------------------------------------------------------------
B|----------------------------------------12-15-17-19-17-15----------------
G|-------------------------------12-14-16-------------------17-16-14-------
D|----------------------12-14-16-------------------------------------17-16-
A|-------------12-14-15----------------------------------------------------
E|-10-12-14-15-------------------------------------------------------------

e|-------------------------------------------------------------------------
B|----------------------------------------------------------12-15-17-15-13-
G|-------------------------------------------------12-14-16----------------
D|-14-------------------------------------12-14-16-------------------------
A|----17-15-14-------------------12-14-15----------------------------------
E|-------------17-15-14-12-14-15-------------------------------------------

e|-------------------------------------------------------------------------
B|-12----------------------------------------------------------------------
G|----14-12-11----------------------------------------------------9-11-12--
D|-------------14-12-10-----------------------------------9-10-12----------
A|----------------------14-12-10------------------9-10-12------------------
E|-------------------------------14-12-10-8-10-12--------------------------

e|-------------------------------------------------------------------------
B|-10-12-13-10-8-7-------------------------------------------------5-7-8---
G|-----------------9-7-5-------------------------------------4-5-7---------
D|-----------------------9-7-5-------------------------4-5-7---------------
A|-----------------------------9-7-5-------------3-5-7---------------------
E|-----------------------------------8-7-5-3-5-7---------------------------
(I hope I didn't make any mistakes in that, but if I did they should only be minor and you can probably figure out the correct fret to play) So there you have it. Again, like the first example of the two mode snake, you can play this pattern INDEFINITELY, so not only is it a great way to practice your modes, but it is also a great exercise to practice your speed, finger strength, accuracy, flexibility, and endurance! Also, this can be applied to ANY scale, for example, in your pentatonics, you can use this method to snake across all of the positions. It really is one of the most useful exercises I know! So, that's the end of my first lesson, I hope you found it useful and enjoyed it, and I hope to do many more in the future! Please feel free to leave your opinions and any constructive criticism in the comments, and I'll also take into account any suggestions for lessons to do in the future.

23 comments sorted by best / new / date

    darren.osborne2
    Jakob, what you posted was the G Major family of modes, so saith the Hal Leonard Corp. Anyway, you're right. Good exercise, by the way How many guitarists does it take to change a light bulb? Ten. one to change the bulb and 9 to say how they could have done it better...
    jakobcollins141
    Isn't this pretty much the same as what I've done in the lesson?
    Rocknrolla35
    Uhh... Not quite? You just gave the shapes,but didn't give the names,and gave little explanation in the lesson(your lesson is mediocre,by the way,no offense).
    jakobcollins141
    I did put the names! Like I keep saying, this wasn't intended to be a lesson on modes, just a good way to practice them. If UG hadn't gone and changed the name it would be a much better lesson because it would be in context with the title. But thanks
    AlanHB
    I don't think a title change would help this one buddy. Well unless you removed all mode references all together including "modal snake" and the names youve given to these patterns. Simply call the patterns shape #1-#7 and youd be fine. Then the title would be "G major scale".
    rockingamer2
    They should have changed the name to "shapes of the major scale" and threw out anything having to do with modes all together.
    jakobcollins141
    And why's that?
    AlanHB
    Because without any application to a harmonic context, that's exactly what they are.
    jakobcollins141
    They are still modal shapes. This lesson would have made a lot more sense if UG hadn't changed the title to something that is pretty much irrelivent. Like I said in the lesson, this isn't meant to be about the uses and theory of modes, just learning and practising the shapes.
    AlanHB
    Well they're also major shapes and minor shapes. The thing that separates them is how they're used. Unfortunately the only reference we have in this case is "G major", so we are logically left with the shapes of the G major scale.
    warlordjoe92
    This is an easy guide to the G major scale, but not modes. Still a very useful exercise though.
    jakobcollins141
    Na that's fine man, I should have read what you were saying more carefully before I came to conclusions, cheers though!
    jakobcollins141
    I get what you're saying now man, and you are correct, but so am I. The modes on here are obviously not the modes of G, they are the G Major Scale, but they are stil modes. To be honest though, this was never meant to be a lesson on modes, I didn't even write the title, UG changed it from my original one for some reason, it was originally called the Modal Snake, as it is a snake up the neck using all of the modal patterns, I honestly don't know why they changed it.
    warlordjoe92
    That would've made a lot more sense, so I don't get why they changed it either. Then again, UG does have a thing for misleading titles lol. I hope I didn't come across as an a-hole. I just read the title and was expecting a lesson on modes.
    jakobcollins141
    Despite your extremely long and somewhat technical comment, I'm almost certain that you're wrong. This is what I have been taught by both my guitar and music teachers, and applying this to my GCSE's I have acheived an A* in all of my pieces, so I'm sure that what I have written is correct.
    jakobcollins141
    AND, the G Major scale is only the first mode- Ionian, so if you think that this lesson is only about the G Major Scale then I'm afraid that you obviously have ignored the rest of the MODES that I took the time to tab out and briefly explain. However if you would like a more in depth lesson on modes I will gladly post one
    warlordjoe92
    I didn't ignore anything. You tabbed out the G major scale and called it modes. If you play a G major scale starting and ending on A, you're not playing dorian mode (what you tabbed out above), you're still just playing G major. If you want to play the dorian mode of G major you take the scale and lower the 3rd and 7th (still starting and ending on G). For phrygian you would lower the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th. For lydian, you raise the 4th. For mixolydian, you lower the 7th. Aeolian you lower the 3rd, 6th, and 7th (This would be G minor). For locrian you lower the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th. Modes are not just chunks of one scale. I'm not trying to be a jerk or start a comment war, but you didn't tab out the "modes" of the G major scale you just tabbed out the scale.
    jakobcollins141
    I should also add that the intervals for a major scale are; tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone. Obviously the modes just follow the same pattern, but from one interval higher than the previous mode. If you apply this knowledge then this exercise and lesson can be applied for any mode.
    jakobcollins141
    It can be used for any major scale, you just repeat the modal patterns at any place on the neck as they are always the same intervals, just different fret numbers. Obviously the intervals are different for different kinds of scales like minor, pentatonic etc...but the same principle can still be applied.