Learning Modes

This lesson will teach about the modes, give you songs to listen to for the modes, and be able to see in notes how the modes work out in theory.

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Modes tend to freak people out when they first see them or try to figure out how to apply them to the fretboard. I remember when I first started learning them in my college theory classes, it wasn't pretty. Yet, with much study and a basic understanding of how major/minor scales work, it became much easier through time and practice. There are 7 modes we use (not including the hypo-modes). They are as follows: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian There are multiple ways to memorize the order. The one I learned when I was in school was: I Dont Punch Like Muhammed A Li. You maybe able to think of your own variation and that's awesome!, as long as it helps you to memorize the order of the modes. Now that you know the mode names and have a catchy way to memorize them, let's take a look at what each mode is. Also note, learning how a major and minor scale work will help dramatically to learn these rather than just trying to catch the concept, but I will do my best to explain it to people who don't understand what major and minor scales are composed of. If you don't know a major scale there are 2 ways to learn fast: 1. If you know the keys of a keyboard, start on C and go on only white keys all the way to the next C. BAM! Ionian mode or major scale. If you don't know the keys of a keyboard or don't own a piano but own a guitar or bass, pick ANY FRET on the fretboard (Try to keep it towards the nut because you may run out of space!). Take that note, go up 2 frets or a "whole step"; from that note go up another whole step; from there go 1 fret or a "half step"' from there go a whole step; again a whole step; one more whole step; and lastly a half step. you Should be on the same note you started just an octave (12 frets) higher. If not, go back and make sure you counted correctly. it should be whole,whole,half,whole,whole,whole,half For a minor scale, use the same note you chose to start on for the major scale and I'm going to shorten a Whole step to just W and and a Half step to just H. Now the order is: W,H,W,W,H,W,H. This is called a natural minor scale. There are other minor scales out there but for this lesson, just worry about the natural minor for now. Each mode will have its own specifics such as lowered(b) 2nd or a raised(#) 6th. What these numbers mean are the different degrees of the scale. There are 8 notes in most traditional scales (major or minor) and you just count the notes till you hit the number it specifies and do what it says. And when you raise or lower a note, you are only going a half step. So if I started on C and it says to raise the 6th note (like Dorian mode), I look at the type of scale (major or minor) use the correct notes in the scale and do what the mode tells to do. C Dorian is a MINOR scale with a RAISED(#) 6th. So I start on C and continue in MINOR all the way up till I hit the specified notes. It looks like C, D, Eb, F, G, A(this note in C minor is Ab but the Dorian mode says to raise it because its the 6th note), Bb, C. And there ya go! Ionian is literally your regular major scale. If you know any major scale, that's one mode in the bank! Stepwise it looks like: WWHWWWH Dorian is the natural minor scale with a raised(#) 6th. WHWWWHW A famous song that uses the Dorian mode is "So What" By Miles Davis Phrygian is the natural minor scale with a lowered(b) 2nd. HWWWHWW Alot of metal songs employ phrygian or phrygian dominant. Example: Death - Lack of Comprehension Lydian is a major scale with a raised 4th. WWWHWWH A famous song using Lydian is the "Simpsons" intro music. Mixolydian is a major scale with a lowered 7th. WWHWWHW Alot of rock and pop use this mode Example: John Petrucci - Glasgow kiss. Aeolian is just a natural minor scale. WHWWHWH Locrian is the natural minor scale with a lowered 2nd and lowered 5th HWWHWWW The main riff of "Enter Sandman" is in Locrian but not the whole song. Modes takes time. You have to look at each mode independently. Play each mode starting on the same note (I'm using C) and listen to how each mode sounds. The ZYABLA^HUYABLAZYABLA^HUYABLA's should have either a W or H above them and sometimes the text doesn't work out right, so adjust accordingly. The reason I'm repeating what I've already stated is to put some actual notes to it all. Hope this helps
Ionian: Major Scale. WWHWWWH 
 w w h w w w h
C^D^E^F^G^A^B^C.
Dorian: Minor scale, raised 6th. WHWWWHW
 w h  w w w h  w        
C^D^Eb^F^G^A^Bb^C 
Phrygian: Minor scale,Lowered 2nd.HWWWHWW 
 h  w  w w h  w  w
C^Db^Eb^F^G^Ab^Bb^C
Lydian: Major scale,raised 4th. WWWHWWH
 w w w  h w w h
C^D^E^F#^G^A^B^C
Mixolydian: Major, lowered 7th. WWHWWHW
 w w h w w h  w
C^D^E^F^G^A^Bb^C
Aeolian: Natural Minor scale. WHWWHWH
 w h  w w h  w  h
C^D^Eb^F^G^Ab^Bb^C
Locrian: Minor,lowered 2nd,5th.HWWHWWW
 h  w  w h  w  w  w
C^Db^Eb^F^Gb^Ab^Bb^C
I really hope this helped out those who were having trouble with modes. It took me forever to type lol. Have any questions or suggestion or even corrections, just leave a comment and I'll try to respond ASAP. -gnomegod

34 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Voodoo13
    Great lesson although it would be nice if you gave fret board examples.
    Zach Eapen
    I had a different understanding of modes and I think that's correct, where the root note changes and the scale remains the same. If you take a C Major scale, the different modes of that scale would be as follows, where the scale remains the same but the root notes shift up the scale. 1. C - Ionian - Root is C 2. D - Dorian - Root is D 3. E - Phrygian - Root is E 4. F - Lydian - Root is F 5. G - Mixolydian - Root is G 6. A - Aeolian - Root is A 7. B - Locrian - Root is B From your lesson, Dorian: Minor scale, raised 6th. WHWWWHW w h w w w h w C^D^Eb^F^G^A^Bb^C Raised 6th you have said riased 6th in that case it should be A#, but actually it is a lowered 7th i.e. B Flat, am i right?
    gnomegod
    @nirvana yeah what bkc said lol. basically when you raise, or sharp (#), a note on a guitar you go up one fret if it is a half step raise and if you lower, or flat (b), you go down 1 fret if it is a half step down
    Danield00d
    a major scale is wwwhwwwh right? if you used the key of C the half step of the E goes up to F and B to C, its a half step between 3 and 4, and 7 and 8. this is what i learned in my music appreciation class and im trying to expand on that so can you please help me?
    gnomegod
    @Danield00d - close with the steps. its WWHWWWH. And yes in the key of C (or any major scale to be exact) the only 2 half steps are from the 3rd and 4th degree of the scale(E to F, or A7 to A8 or D2 to D3 (these being string name and fret number for the particular notes) and the 7th to octave (B to C, G4 to G5, D9 to D10, A2 to A3, E7 to E8). Any major scale will have the half step between the 3rd and 4th degrees and the 7th to octave (or 1 again). Any more questions message me man!
    apparentlynigel
    Very well-written explanation. My question is, when does an accidental become a mode? For example, if I encounter a raised 4th in a composition several times, does that mean it's necessarily in Lydian mode, and even if it is, what difference does that make? I'm not trying to be cute or clever, just trying to figure out how knowing these modes actually changes anything or how to apply this knowledge in a practical way?
    gnomegod
    -@ Zach Eapen A# and Bb are enharmonic spellings meaning they're the same pitch but have different names. As far as which one you use depends on what scale/mode you're in. So if we are looking at C Dorian, you write out C minor first - C D Eb F G Ab Bb C. Now apply the mode (Dorian, raised 6th) C D Eb F G A Bb C. The Ab goes to A because we had to RAISE the 6th (you will always raise or lower by a half step)but everything else stays true to the minor scale. The scale you wrote out IS C Dorian. If you raise the 6th again you wouldn't be in Dorian but in some kind of hybrid mode with 6 notes. Now if you look at what you said in your comment, If we start in C major, the next mode starting and ending on D is Dorian. In Dorian (or any other mode) you stay true to the key you started in (in this case C major: C D E F G A B C). If we start and end on D and stay true to C major, we get D E F G A B C D. Looking at that scale BY ITSELF, we would justify this scale as D minor (due to D to F being a minor third) but the sixth (instead of Bb its B) has been raised half a step. So we look at the modes and see that Dorian is a minor scale with a raised 6th. In most cases you wont start on one key and move through the modes (as I did with C Ionian and moved through modes all the way up to B Locrain). Youll just have a mode name (like B Locrian). You apply what you know to make that mode. If I said I was writing a piece of music in F# Phrygian, you would start on F# and apply the PHRYGIAN MODE rules. Phrygian is based off the minor scale but also has a lowered 2nd. So write out F# minor. F# G# A B C# D E F#. Now lower the 2nd (G# becomes G) So we have F# G A B C# D E F#. There are other mode types out there. These are the ones based off of the major and minor scales. but there are other modes out there (example is some are based off of the melodic minor scale and include modes like dorian b2) so dont think these are the ONLY modes in existence lol. These are just the easiest to begin to learn. hope that helps.
    nirvanafan1226
    so im kinda new to the whole modes and scles thing and this may sound like a stupid thing but what do you mean by # rasing b lowering i dont understand could you simplify it for me i would apppreciate it.
    EPICphoneLP
    Why would u need fretboard examples? The beginning of the lesson gives u the idea on how to construct it all. If the note names are messing people up, I'd suggest learning your fretboard 1st then refer to this lesson.
    gnomegod
    @ apparentlynigel: it depends. Lydian mode has a raised fourth but so could a piece of music that is implying a new section to be played in the fifth (V) degree. Modes change alot of melodies and sounds in music. With these new raised or flattened notes you have different harmonies now instead of the usual "diatonic" harmonies. FOR EXAMPLE: If we are in D Lydian, everything is the same as major excpet theres now a raised fourth (G#). So if we start to build triads (chords) out of each of the degrees, we would get way different chords than what we usually hear in major or minor. Try playing a progression of I,IV,V in D major and then try to play the same progression in D Lydian. Note now that the notes on the IV are now G# B and D. See if you can find the other chords that use that raised IV in them and see how they differ from your usual chords.
    gnomegod
    @ EPICphoneLP: Not everyone learns the same. You may be able to READ the words and be able to apply, Yet someone else may need to SEE the concept on a fretboard. Unfortunately I cannot appeal to the people who like to HEAR the notes. But, you must ALWAYS try yo make a lesson applicable to all learning styles.
    Joshissasquatch
    @gnomegod: Technically, you could make an audio track via audacity or some other type of mixing program, or you could even post a youtube video as an accompaniment for the auditory learners. Anyway, what my question would be is that if I play say a C major scale and I get to the B, then from there since B is the seventh, then I would be able to continue with the locrian scale from there? If yes, then it doesn't matter what key I am in essentially and I just have to use the correct mode depending on what note I am in the scale. So if I am in an Fb and I get to the Bb being the third, then I would continue with phyrigian? And furthermore, if I want, since Bb is the root note of the Bb major scale, then could I just go into an ionian? Would doing that be okay?
    gnomegod
    @joshissasquatch Yes. Thats exactly it. No matter what KEY your in, the PATTERN for the modes never changes. So in C major the Locrian mode starts on B, just as you stated. Now this Fb thing is wrong. Fb is en-harmonically known as E. So a B of any kind would be the 5th degree not the 3rd. Even in an F scale of any kind, B would be a 4th degree , not a 3rd. The last one is an automatic. If your in Bb Major and you start on Bb then I'd assume you'd be playing the major scale AKA the ionian mode.
    bkc
    @NirvanaFan1226 # is a sharp, or a raised note. b is a flat, or a lowered note. (Completely made up) If I was playing 0-1-2-3 and I raised the 4th it would be 0-1-2-4 If I was playing 0-1-4-5 and I wanted to lower the 3rd it would be 0-1-3-5 Hope I helped.
    gnomegod
    i cant say i have heard that story and no im DEF not from Portugal nor have i ever been lol. gnomegod is a name i use for everything online almost because no one else uses it. but im glad my lesson helps ya out man! check out the second part for tabs and more explanation.
    guitar/bass95
    Great. You made it even clearer than the Modes w/mode dictionary lesson. Great help for anyone. But fretboard examples would be helpful, too.
    crackjunior1
    If it isn't check out the story really akward. The guy said that the world was going to end but he wouldn't let it happen because he would unite all his strenghts and avoid that fate from humanity... What a FREAK!!!!
    crackjunior1
    Your nick name- gnomegod - does it have something to do with that guy that killed three girls here in Portugal, because he called himself the gnomegod- in portuguese rei dos gnomos- Is this just a coincidence or is it on purpose? Lol I've been learning this lesson for 2 days now and I just noticed it now!
    gnomegod
    Ahhhh! good catch! my bad yeah @krazzykule is right. Unfortunately i cant edit the lesson
    krazzykule
    Nashag wrote: Aeolian: Natural Minor scale. WHWWHWH w h w w h w h C^D^Eb^F^G^Ab^Bb^C I'm sorta confused... How can Bb to C be a half step?
    That's because @gnomegod has mispelled the mode. It is W H W W H W W So if you sum up (W=2 H=1) the whole sequence you will get 12. A complete octave. =) Please OP fix this. I went a bit crazzy too. xD
    Nashag
    Aeolian: Natural Minor scale. WHWWHWH w h w w h w h C^D^Eb^F^G^Ab^Bb^C I'm sorta confused... How can Bb to C be a half step?
    gnomegod
    lmao @darkprinc77 and @toastrdan i didnt know that. the more you know O and to whoever ends up reading this, i submitted a new lesson earlier today called learning modes:part deux. it has fretboard tabs for all the modes and fingerings and am in the making of a part three entitled learning modes:the threequal. yeah i got some corny names but meh. they work lol -gnomegod
    toastrdan
    Voodoo13 wrote: Great lesson although it would be nice if you gave fret board examples.
    Google TuxGuitar, you can make your own examples with their fretboard
    gnomegod
    LeoKisomma wrote: Hey man, I'm currently writing a series of lessons on the modes for another website, making sure that I cover everything as clearly as possible. It probably doesn't mean much coming from someone you've never heard from before, but I really like your lesson. It covers the bases clearly and compares them with what beginners will probably have been taught by their teachers. You get a nice high rating from me man. I agree with the other guys that fretboard examples will probably be better for beginners, but it's still a great lesson nonetheless. Best of luck with the next lesson you post.
    thanks alot man. if you wanted to add parts of my lesson to your lesson you can (just post your lesson's site link in my profile wall somewhere), but just make sure to cite this lesson somewhere so i get some kind of credit lmao. o and if ANYONE knows if you can edit a submitted lesson let me know. i've been trying to edit it to put in tabs but to no avail lol. if not ill just submit them via comments. and im glad everyone liked and understood my lesson. i give much thanks to all of you. -gnomegod PS @guitar/bass95 im DEF. going to be submitting another lesson soon i just dont know on what yet .
    guitar/bass95
    And this really helped out. I just improvised perfectly the Simpsons theme thanks to this lesson. And for your first lesson this is just great. Im looking forward to the next lesson.
    LeoKisomma
    Hey man, I'm currently writing a series of lessons on the modes for another website, making sure that I cover everything as clearly as possible. It probably doesn't mean much coming from someone you've never heard from before, but I really like your lesson. It covers the bases clearly and compares them with what beginners will probably have been taught by their teachers. You get a nice high rating from me man. I agree with the other guys that fretboard examples will probably be better for beginners, but it's still a great lesson nonetheless. Best of luck with the next lesson you post.
    iSaint95
    I've literally been through tens of lessons on UG about modes and scales and yours was the only one that actually made any sense to me! Thanks A LOT, man! I do have 1 question though that's been confusing me for a while and it may be somewhat stupid, I just don't have any idea yet.. When you're composing a song, what do you do to switch between modes? Can I just be playing 1 mode and switch at any time to another mode without doing anything? Thanks in advance man! You rock