Modes

A basic look at the theory of modes with examples from the Gmaj scale.

10
I decided to write this lesson when I realised that I know about modes. All modes are are shapes that let you learn the differnt places on the fretboard that you can play the same scale. This lesson focuses on modes of the major scale although the theory behind them is more or less the same. I will be using the Gmaj scale as an example which contains the notes: G A B C D E F# You will probably know this scale as this:
e|---|---|-5-|---|-7-|-8-|
B|---|---|-5-|---|-7-|-8-|
G|---|-4-|-5-|---|-7-|---|
D|---|-4-|-5-|---|-7-|---|
A|-3-|---|-5-|---|-7-|---|
E|-3-|---|-5-|---|-7-|---|
This is what is most comonly thought of as the Gmaj scale but it is in fact just the first mode of it - the Ionian mode. The modes are named. I - Ionian II - Dorian III - Phrygian IV - Lydian V - Mixolydian VI - Aeolian VII - Locrian There are seven of them (one for each note in the scale) and yes they do have stange names as they are named after Greek islands (or something Grreek). Each mode is simply the same notes as rest of the scale but with a different starting point. Their numbers I to VII correstpond to the notes they start from G to F#. If you want to think of it in terms of steps I have seen it shown like this before which I found quite helpful.
Ionian________W W H W W W 
Dorian__________W H W W W H  
Phrygian__________H W W W H W
Lydian______________W W W H W W 
Mixolydian____________W W H W W H
Aeolian_________________W H W W H W
Locrian___________________H W W H W W
If you don't understand that don't worry its not essential it just helps to visualise it. The other modes of the Gmaj scale look like this: A Dorian
e|---|---|-7-|-8-|---|10-|
B|---|---|-7-|-8-|---|10-|
G|-5-|---|-7-|---|-9-|---|
D|-5-|---|-7-|---|-9-|---|
A|-5-|---|-7-|---|-9-|---|
E|-5-|---|-7-|-8-|---|---|
B Phrygian
e|---|-8-|---|10-|---|12-|
B|---|-8-|---|10-|---|12-|
G|-7-|---|-9-|---|11-|---|
D|-7-|---|-9-|10-|---|---|
A|-7-|---|-9-|10-|---|---|
E|-7-|-8-|---|10-|---|---|
C Lydian
e|---|---|10-|---|12-|---|14-|
B|---|---|10-|---|12-|13-|
G|---|-9-|---|11-|12-|---|
D|---|-9-|10-|---|12-|---|
A|---|-9-|10-|---|12-|---|
E|-8-|---|10-|---|12-|---|
D Mixolydian
e|---|---|12-|---|14-|15-|
B|---|---|12-|13-|---|15-|
G|---|11-|12-|---|14-|---|
D|10-|---|12-|---|14-|---|
A|10-|---|12-|---|14-|---|
E|10-|---|12-|---|14-|---|
E Aeolian
e|---|---|14-|15-|---|17-|
B|---|13-|---|15-|---|17-|
G|12-|---|14-|---|16-|---|
D|12-|---|14-|---|16-|---|
A|12-|---|14-|15-|---|---|
E|12-|---|14-|15-|---|---|
F# Locrian
e|---|15-|---|17-|---|19-|
B|---|15-|---|17-|---|19-|
G|14-|---|16-|17-|---|---|
D|14-|---|16-|17-|---|---|
A|14-|15-|---|17-|---|---|
E|14-|15-|---|17-|---|---|
Combining these modes will show you all the places on the fretboard you can hit notesand keep within a certain key. After the Locrain mode it simply goes back to Ionian as it is an octave and before the Ionian it is the Locrian. So the notes in the Gmaj scale would be:
e|---|-2-|-3-|---|-5-|---|-7-|-8-|---|10-|---|12-|---|14-|15-|---|17-|---|19-|
B|-1-|---|-3-|---|-5-|---|-7-|-8-|---|10-|---|12-|14-|---|15-|---|17-|---|19-|
G|---|-2-|---|-4-|-5-|---|-7-|---|-9-|---|11-|12-|---|14-|---|16-|17-|---|19-|
D|---|-2-|---|-4-|-5-|---|-7-|---|-9-|10-|---|12-|---|14-|---|16-|17-|---|19-|
A|---|-2-|-3-|---|-5-|---|-7-|---|-9-|10-|---|12-|---|14-|15-|---|17-|---|19-|
E|---|-2-|-3-|---|-5-|---|-7-|-8-|---|10-|---|12-|---|14-|15-|---|17-|---|19-|
Well there you go - all modes do is effectively split that up into 'boxes'. These are the modes of the Gmaj scale but with other scales the 'shape' of each mode remains the same, only the fret numbers change. For example lets say we want to find the Phrygian mode that fits into the D#maj scale. We know that the Phrgyian mode is the 3rd mode so it will start on the 3rd note in the D#maj scale. If you don't know what this is an easy way to find out is play the Ionian mode starting at D# and find the 3rd note. This is G. So you play the shape of the Phrygian mode satrting at G on the low E string. This would look like this: G Phrygian
e|---|-4-|---|-6-|---|-8-|
B|---|-4-|---|-6-|---|-8-|
G|-3-|---|-5-|---|-7-|---|
D|-3-|---|-5-|-6-|---|---|
A|-3-|---|-5-|-6-|---|---|
E|-3-|-4-|---|-6-|---|---|
You may have noticed that the Aeolian mode looks suspiciously like the Natural minor scale. Well thats because its the same thing! In the Gmaj scale the Aeolian mode starts at the 12th fret of the E which is E, hence the name being E Aeolian. Thats because the E natural minor scale has all the same notes as the Gmaj scale. The is the same with all Aeolian modes. The Aeolian mode is the 6th mode so this means that any major scale will contain the same notes as the natural minor scale of its 6th note. For example lets pick the Cmaj scale. Its 6th note is A. So A Aeolian/A natural minor contain the same notes as the Cmaj scale: C D E F G A B. Simple. Hope that explains the idea of modes. Enjoy.

26 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    titopuente
    Modes are not patterns, boxes, or positions. Just because you're playing from a certain pattern doesn't mean you're playing a specific mode. The backing harmony is what determines which mode you're playing. Starting and ending note also have little to do with the idea of modes; just because you're playing in D mixolydian doesn't mean that every melody you play has to start and/or end on a D note. Sorry, but there's not much in this article that is applicable if you want to play modal music.
    Niskat
    oh sorry... i mean soloing over a "G chord" etc. And then changing from G to D...
    amcavity
    Modes are variations of the major scale to make soloing in major scales better fit the progression on chords you soloing over. The way you tell the difference is what the backing chord is.For example playing a A minor chord. To solo it you would be soloing in the key of G major and playing the A dorian, because dorian starts on the second note, and A is the second note in the scale of G. If you were to switch to B minor, also in the key of G major, you would/could switch to B phrygian because phrygian is the 3rd mode, and B is the third note in G major.
    Niskat
    just to check if i got it: when I'm soloing over a C chord (which is in fact C Ionian) and I want the solo to be in a Phrygian mode then I should use the pattern of B Phrygian cause its the 3rd mode of the C scale, right? And second question: if the chord changes from C to D then i have to play F Phrygian (cause it's the 3rd mode of the D Ionian)? some help would be awesome
    demonized2k7
    but how do you use it when the chord changes??? like from g to a??? shud you change scale from gmaj to amaj??? or shud you still play the g ionian since the note A is still located in the gmaj scale??? this is the stuff i dont get...
    amcavity
    To anwser the question above is, the way you tell what mode is based off of what key you are playing a progression in. The letter names (A, B,C etc...) are based off that too, If you playing a gmajor progression C, Amin, B min. The three modes you could use would be : Clydian, ADorian, And Bphrygian.
    sites.nick
    Niskat wrote: And second question: if the chord changes from C to D then i have to play F Phrygian (cause it's the 3rd mode of the D Ionian)?
    I think you may be talking about a KEY change, not a chord change, if you are then you would change from the C Scale to the D Scale. If you're talking about backing chords changing, you are still playing in the same key, just different modes in that scale.
    gas_525
    thats all true but this lesson was aimed at beginners. i know what your saying but i doubt if a beginner could, i was simpy trying to clear up some confusion from all modal lessons being too complex.[/quote]
    fleh wrote: titopuente wrote: Modes are not patterns, boxes, or positions. Just because you're playing from a certain pattern doesn't mean you're playing a specific mode. The backing harmony is what determines which mode you're playing. Starting and ending note also have little to do with the idea of modes; just because you're playing in D mixolydian doesn't mean that every melody you play has to start and/or end on a D note. Sorry, but there's not much in this article that is applicable if you want to play modal music. thats all true but this lesson was aimed at beginners. i know what your saying but i doubt if a beginner could, i was simpy trying to clear up some confusion from all modal lessons being too complex.
    i dont agree with fleh, this explanation isnt good at all for anybody. you cant transmit the idea that tonal and modal systems are the sames.
    gas_525
    first of all, im from south america, thats way my english is a bit horrible. second, i dont want to be mean, but you havent understood the most important of the modes: the porpuse of the modes is sounding different, they are not patterns, every mode is a "different world" there many articles about this un ultimate-guitar, please read and you will realize. Thanks, and again, this is a critic in a good way, and forget my english, im still studying!
    sites.nick
    Can anyone explain the harmonic context thing and how you use it?
    huevos wrote: It truely is the harmonic context and not how your melody starts and ends that determines what scale or mode your playing.
    jordan99
    Sick lesson! I FINALLY understand modes and how they fit together. Thanks a lot!
    tru23nyte
    raw meat wrote: e|---|---|-7-|-8-|---|10-| B|---|---|-7-|-8-|---| 10-| G|-5 -|---|-7-|---|-9-|---| D|-5-|---|-7-|---|-9-|---| A|-5-|-- -|-7-|---|-9-|---| E|-5-|---|-7-|-8-|---|---| honestly. i still dont get all of this stuff.
    its a tab
    huevos
    titopuente wrote: Modes are not patterns, boxes, or positions. Just because you're playing from a certain pattern doesn't mean you're playing a specific mode. The backing harmony is what determines which mode you're playing. Starting and ending note also have little to do with the idea of modes ; just because you're playing in D mixolydian doesn't mean that every melody you play has to start and/or end on a D note. Sorry, but there's not much in this article that is applicable if you want to play modal music.
    That's what I was thinking. When I first started learning about music theory, there was a similar article to this that got me kinda confused. That bolded part is also something that tripped me up in the beginning. It truely is the harmonic context and not how your melody starts and ends that determines what scale or mode your playing.
    fleh
    when i was talking about starting points i didnt mean in to melody you play, i meant in the mode- as in the lowest note. so each note on the low E within a scale would be a 'starting point' for a differnt mode.
    fleh
    titopuente wrote: Modes are not patterns, boxes, or positions. Just because you're playing from a certain pattern doesn't mean you're playing a specific mode. The backing harmony is what determines which mode you're playing. Starting and ending note also have little to do with the idea of modes; just because you're playing in D mixolydian doesn't mean that every melody you play has to start and/or end on a D note. Sorry, but there's not much in this article that is applicable if you want to play modal music.
    thats all true but this lesson was aimed at beginners. i know what your saying but i doubt if a beginner could, i was simpy trying to clear up some confusion from all modal lessons being too complex.
    .:Darkness:.
    Exactly. For instance, you can play the Ionian shape starting on D, but have E as your root note. It would then be E dorian. Even though the shape looks like Ionian, doesnt mean that thats what mode you're playing in.
    raw meat
    e|---|---|-7-|-8-|---|10-| B|---|---|-7-|-8-|---|10-| G|-5 -|---|-7-|---|-9-|---| D|-5-|---|-7-|---|-9-|---| A|-5-|-- -|-7-|---|-9-|---| E|-5-|---|-7-|-8-|---|---| honestly. i still dont get all of this stuff.
    raw meat
    e|---|---|-7-|-8-|---|10-| B|---|---|-7-|-8-|---|10-| G|-5 -|---|-7-|---|-9-|---| D|-5-|---|-7-|---|-9-|---| A|-5-|-- -|-7-|---|-9-|---| E|-5-|---|-7-|-8-|---|---| honestly. i still dont get all of this stuff.
    LTD-live
    Great lesson! I've read a million books on this and it's always been confusing. The way you break it down is very easy to understand. THe problem with alot of books written by "experts" is that they assume you know certain things. Thanks for this!
    fafahrd
    titopuente, can you explain? the harmonic context that makes the mode work? for a near beginner?
    qoody
    Can anyone clearly explain what modes are for? How are they used? Obviously not in a way of letting you stretch your major scale all across the fretboard...