Modes for Rock and Metal Guitar Riffs

Examples of how Dorian, Mixolydian and Phrygian can be applied in rock and metal tunes.

Ultimate Guitar
Modes are one of the most important harmonic and melodic ideas used by guitar players and we need to study them so we have a solid handle on how we can use them to the best of our ability.

In certain styles of music, (such as rock and metal), modes offer us some very unique sounds. In our daily guitar practice, we need to be able to become proficient at exploiting each of the modal sounds.

When we analyze different applications of modified scale degrees, such as the raised 6th off of the minor tonality of Dorian, the lowered 7th in the major tonality of Mixolydian, and the unique lowered 2nd degree in the Minor tonality of Phrygian, we begin to realize just how important these new intervals are against the different tonalities we have to work with, (major in Mixolydian and minor in both Dorian and Phrygian).

Don't just take my word for it, practice composing your own modal riffs in rock and metal. It's not just a good way to study and implement theoretical ideas, but in the rock and metal style this stuff is also a lot of fun to play as well. Enjoy this weeks lesson!

The lesson video:

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About the Author:
Andrew Wasson is a 1992 Graduate of Hollywood California's Guitar Institute of Technology (G.I.T.). He has operated his Canadian Music School; Creative Guitar Studio, for the last 20+ years teaching thousands of guitarists both in studio sessions, and through his popular YouTube Channels, Skype lessons and websites.

5 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Lately I have been working on visualizing, recognizing and using modes as a tool in improvisation. I haven't used them consciously for writing riffs or chord progressions so this was very useful. I took couple of old riffs of mine and tried to figure out the scales they're using, which was lots of fun. I have noticed that some of my progressions utilize different scales and especially changes between minor and major. For instance, I might go from intense phrygian dominant riffing to more major flavored progression, which creates a resolution that I really like. Maybe you could talk about using different modes in a composition to create tension and release in a future lesson? I would certainly like to hear your thoughts on that. Again, thanks for this lesson Andrew
    I've been doing that a lot as well, I find that a very phrygian riff can sometimes lead back into aeolian depending on the circumstances. Another example would be going from Phrygian dominant scales in D to D locrian, the change is strange but very dark and interesting and I would really like to understand more about how to effectively change modes throughout a song and how this works. One guitar teacher I had just said something among the lines of "do whatever feels right" and that you can freely change scales as you wish. I'm sure there is more to it than that though.
    Thanks for making this. Your guitar tone is amazing Man. That's gotta be a TUBE amp yer playin thru... It sounds modded though? Do you have Groove Tubes in it? Anyway, you probably will never see this anyway. Just sayin' buddy your the best F-in' Guitar Teacher on the Internet.
    I just rip through the patterns daily up the neck, I have no clue about the theory, I guess that makes me a failure on guitar, but I like the sounds I get just monkeying around on them..