Power Of The Alphabet Mastering Improvisation With Modal Scales

This lesson is for lead guitarists looking to better their improvisations and solos by utilizing the ENTIRE fretboard using the famed "modes." Using your knowledge of the alphabet, and the skills provided in this lesson, you can become the king of improvised leads.

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Hey guys, as always, it's been a while since my last lesson. I'm finding more and more that written lessons are kind of outdated in comparison to the Youtube phenomenon, but since I lack decent video equipment to make these kinds of lessons, I am sticking to this one. What I am going to teach you is very difficult to explain and understand, so I feel that a written lesson will provide a better outlet for it. I've had to discover most of this information on my own. There are lessons on modes but most of them get too much into theory, miss the point, and do not give you the power that I am about to bestow unto you. So I'm writing this to cut the crap and teach you something you will not regret learning. I plan to demonstrate how with just these 7 scales, you can play each of them on the ENTIRE NECK and master them. Here we go. What are Modal Scales?: The modal scales, more commonly referred to as "modes," are 7 scales based on each of the natural keys. This means there is a scale based on A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. Accidentals, which include sharps (like F#) or flats (Bb) do not have a modal scale. I'm not going to waste your time explaining to you why they are the way they are, I'm just going to give you their shapes. Like other scales, they can be moved to any key you wish (the key is the "root note" or the first note of the scale). I am showing you them in chronological order from the A modal scale to the G modal scale for a reason that we will discuss later. Important Note: I will identify the root note for you by placing parentheses around the fret number in the tab. So if it says (5) on the low E string of the tab, that means it is the root note. There are three places root notes can be identified within each scale. The Aeolian and Locrian Modes: 1) Aeolian Mode - a scale based on A (also known as the minor scale). Sounds sad and depressing.
e|-----------------------------------(5)-------
B|-----------------------------5-6-8-----------
G|-----------------------4-5-7-----------------
D|------------------5-(7)----------------------
A|------------5-7-8----------------------------
E|---(5)-7-8-----------------------------------
MOST IMPORTANT TO NOTE: THIS is where my lesson differs from others on modes. I could just show you six more modes and be done with it, but this requires more finesse. When I show you the next mode, there are going to be extraneous notes. They will be separated by a diamond shape around them like this <4>. They are VERY important, so just bear with me, and ignore them when you are practicing the scale itself. 2) Locrian Mode - a scale based in B (remember, the last one was in A, and B is the next letter of the alphabet... this is fundamental). It is a diminished scale that is like the ugly duckling of all of them.
e|-------------------------------------------------------------<5>-(7)-
B|-----------------------------------------------------<5>-6-8---------
G|---------------------------------------<4>-<5)-7-9-10----------------
D|---------------------------<5>-7-(9)-10------------------------------
A|----------------<5>-7-8-10-------------------------------------------
E|---<5>-(7)-8-10------------------------------------------------------
In looking at the LOCRIAN MODE, we can see that I have shown you the scale in the key of B because it starts on the 7th fret (which is a B). Yes I know it is based in the key of B, but really, I could have started it in the key of A (the same key I used do demonstrate the Aeolian mode) using the Locrian shape. Let's see what that looks like, diamond notes included, with the first note at the 5th fret (key of A). "Locrian Mode in A"
e|---------------------------------------------------------------<3>-(5)-
B|---------------------------------------------------<3>-<4>-6-8---------
G|-------------------------------------<2>-<3>-5-7-8---------------------
D|-------------------------<3>-5-(7)-8-----------------------------------
A|---------------<3>-5-6-8-----------------------------------------------
E|---<3>-(5)-6-8---------------------------------------------------------
Essentially, the shape hasn't changed, all I've done is just moved the whole pattern 2 frets towards the headstock of the guitar. Note the diamond notes have also moved 2 frets, and now it is time to explain their purpose. They are notes from the Aeolian mode. Since The letter A (Aeolian) comes before the letter B (Locrian) in the alphabet, it is logical that they succeed each other in this manner in music. Right? Well, let's revisit the Aeolian mode ONE MORE TIME in the same spot of the fretboard I just showed you (3rd fret = G), TAKING OUT notes from the Locrian mode and LEAVING the diamond notes in to illustrate what I mean. You got all that? Ok, here goes: "Aeolian Mode in G (Because we are starting on the 3rd fret)"
e|---------------------------------------------<3>---
B|-----------------------------------<3>-<4>-6-------
G|-------------------------<2>-<3>-5-----------------
D|-------------------<3>-5---------------------------
A|-----------<3>-5-6---------------------------------
E|---<3>-5-6-----------------------------------------
         |
       Locrian
        Start
       Position
In this example, the notes WITHOUT diamonds are ones that both the Aeolian AND the Locrian share. Take a look at the previous example if you don't believe me. The Aeolian scale continues on up the neck in the shape of the Locrian scale, starting from the "Locrian Start Position" as indicated. They are right beside each other, both in the alphabet and in music. Hmmm, what could that mean? So, without further wait, I provide you with the reason I just told you all of this information. Since we have determined that the letter B comes after A in the alphabet, we also know that the corresponding mode comes right after it in music. So after B, shouldn't there be C? And then possibly a D? And don't those letters also have modes to go with them? The answer is yes to all of those questions, and though you don't know it yet, soon you will be able to use your knowledge of the alphabet and the modes to play ANYWHERE on the fretboard. If you are pretty sure you got most of that, let's jump to the next section. Root Notes on the Low E String: In a moment, I am going to show you the Aeolian mode IN THE KEY OF G (starting at the 3rd fret again) on one string (the low E) to really mash this into your brains. I am also going to label each note with a letter above or below it. These letters are the starting positions for their corresponding modal scales. If you were to play a corresponding mode from it's corresponding position as illustrated, you will STILL be playing in the key of G Aeolian (AKA G Minor). Here it is, the secret to playing the G minor scale ANYWHERE on the fretboard. It is fundamental that you memorize the intervals between frets on the low E string in addition to the modes.
         A
      (Aeolian)  C       E          G
         |       |       |          |
Low E|---3---5---6---8---10---11---13---15---
             |       |        |          |
          (Locrian)  D        F          A
             B
The Aeolian scale can be continued up the fretboard by using the other scalar shapes. When you play the Locrian from it's corresponding spot on the fretboard in relation to that first G note (which is A, the fifth fret), it is no longer the A Locrian scale but simply the next chunk of the Aeolian scale. Locrian shape in the G Minor (Aeolian) Scale
e|-------------------------------5---
B|---------------------------6-8-----
G|---------------------5-7-8---------
D|---------------5-7-8---------------
A|---------5-6-8---------------------
E|---5-6-8---------------------------
The best way to test this out is to quickly play the G Aeolian and A Locrian scales over a G minor backing track and see for yourself. You are still playing in G minor, and you are one step closer to reaching the end of the neck. Need a break? Well, make sure you understand the basics, and then we can move on to learning the next scale shape. We learned A, then B, now we have to learn... C? The Ionian Mode: Now that we're all ripe and ready to expand our knowledge further, I give to you the next mode. An important thing to note is that I am going to show you it in the key of A# (6th fret on the low E), because in relation to the G minor scale that we have been looking to extend further up the fretboard, the 6th fret is the corresponding position in order to continue in this fashion. Let's look at our Low E root note chart again to show you what I mean.
      Aeolian Ionian     E          G
         |       |       |          |
Low E|---3---5---6---8---10---11---13---15---
             |       |        |          |
          Locrian    D        F          A
Thus we see the Ionian starting on the sixth fret (A#) is the logical way to continue playing in G minor further up the neck. 3) Ionian Mode - a scale based in C (also known as the Major scale). Sounds very happy and cheery, in a very lubby dubby sort of way. Ionian in A# (in order to continue in G Minor)
e|---------------------------------5-(6)--
B|-----------------------------6-8--------
G|-----------------------5-7-8------------
D|----------------5-7-(8)-----------------
A|----------5-6-8-------------------------
E|----(6)-8-------------------------------
          |
        Dorian
        Start
       Position
If you were to play that over G minor, you would be in key, based on its relative position. The Locrian shape flows almost flawlessly into the Ionian shape, sharing almost every single note with it when played in this position. Making sense yet? I sure hope so, because now we're going to jump into the last 4 modal scales to see what we are left with. The Last Four Modes: Looking below once again at the Low E root chart, we can see that in order to continue in G Minor up the neck, The D modal scale should start on the 8th fret (C), the E modal scale should start on the 10th fret (D), the F modal scale should start on the 11th fret (D#), and the G modal scale should start on the 13th fret (F).
      Aeolian Ionian     E          G
         |       |       |          |
Low E|---3---5---6---8---10---11---13---15---
             |       |        |          |
          Locrian    D        F          A
4) Dorian Mode - a scale based in D. It is technically a minor scale, but its sound is really weird, kinda sounds half happy half sad to me. Dorian in C (in order to continue in G Minor)
e|-----------------------------------------(8)---
B|----------------------------------8-10-11------
G|---------------------------7-8-10--------------
D|-------------------7-8-(10)--------------------
A|--------------8-10-----------------------------
E|----(8)-10-11----------------------------------
           |
        Phrygian
         Start
        Position
5) Phrygian Mode - a scale based in E. It is also a minor scale, and has a characteristic "Spanish" vibe to it. Phrygian in D (in order to continue in G minor)
e|------------------------------------------------(10)---
B|---------------------------------------10-11-13--------
G|---------------------------------10-12-----------------
D|-----------------------10-(12)-13----------------------
A|--------------10-12-13---------------------------------
E|----(10)-11-13-----------------------------------------
            |
          Lydian
          Start
         Position
6) Lydian Mode - a scale based in F. A major scale that is also happy and cheery, but is more along the lines of a spring meadow fantasy. Lydian in D# (in order to continue in G minor)
e|------------------------------------------------10-(11)---
B|---------------------------------------10-11-13-----------
G|---------------------------------10-12--------------------
D|-----------------------10-12-(13)-------------------------
A|--------------10-12-13------------------------------------
E|----(11)-13-----------------------------------------------
            |
        Mixolydian
          Start
         Position
7) Mixolydian Mode - a scale based in G. A major scale that is just a little less happy than the other two. Check it out to see how it sounds. Mixolydian in F (in order to continue in G minor)
e|-------------------------------------------------(13)---
B|-----------------------------------------13-15-16-------
G|--------------------------------12-14-15----------------
D|---------------------12-13-(15)-------------------------
A|------------12-13-15------------------------------------
E|----(13)-15---------------------------------------------
            |
        Aeolian
         Start
        Position
Putting it all together: Taking a look at all the scales may be daunting, but if we refer back to the Low E root note chart once more, we can see how all of the different parts are working together to make the G minor scale across the fretboard.
      Aeolian Ionian   Phrygian Mixolydian Locrian
         |       |       |          |        |
Low E|---3---5---6---8---10---11---13---15---17---18     etc.
             |       |        |          |         |
          Locrian  Dorian   Lydian    Aeolian    Ionian
The patterns continue indefinitely in this fashion of ABCDEFGABCDEFG, so essentially learning each individual mode not only allows you to master ONE scale across the entire neck, it allows you to master all seven of them! Let's check out three more of the Low E root charts in the key of G.
G Locrian

      Locrian Dorian   Lydian    Aeolian   Ionian
         |       |       |         |        |
Low E|---3---4---6---8---9---11---13---15---16---18     etc.
             |       |        |         |         |
          Ionian  Phrygian  Mixolydian Locrian  Dorian
 
G Ionian
 
      Ionian Phrygian Mixolydian Locrian  Dorian
         |       |       |         |        |
Low E|---3---5---7---8---10---12---14---15---17---19     etc.
             |       |        |         |         |
          Dorian  Lydian   Aeolian   Ionian     Phrygian
 
G Phrygian
 
    Phrygian Mixolydian Locrian  Dorian    Lydian 
         |       |       |          |        |
Low E|---3---4---6---8---10---11---13---15---16---18     etc.
             |       |        |          |         |
          Lydian  Aeolian  Ionian    Phrygian   Mixolydian
The intervals between modes have not changed, they have all merely just been shifted down the appropriate number of frets in order to start on the 3rd and ultimately be in the key of G. I think that about covers it all for now. It's a dead horse that I beat a number of times, but it is a difficult concept for me to get across. I hope you learned something new, be it the modes or the way in which they work together across the entire fretboard. You will have to spend time memorizing the modes themselves as well as the Low E root intervals, but eventually it will be like second nature to you and you will impress the hell out of everyone when you can improvise flawlessly. Good Luck. urgey_rock - out for another long lesson-writing hiatus.

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12 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Idiosyncracy
    There's one little problem with your lesson that I've found:
    Accidentals, which include sharps (like F#) or flats (Bb) do not have a modal scale.
    This just isn't true. Specifically, the keys of Bb and F# that you've mentioned have every mode that every other major scale does, unless you're trying to imply something that just didn't get across very well. I see that you're trying to show the modes based off of the C Major scale, but the statement that I've quoted is just plain false.
    So are you saying that F# Locrian doesn't exist? thats the part I don't understand
    First of all, remember that all of the modes in his lesson are built off of the MAJOR scale. So, in C Major, you'd have: C Ionian (the major scale), D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian, A Aeolian (the natural minor scale), B Locrian. So, F# Locrian does exist. The Locrian mode is built on the leading tone of a scale, and F# is the leading tone of the G Major scale. The way you construct it is to literally play F# and then use the notes in the G Major scale --> F#, G, A, B, C, D, E, F#.
    krypticguitar87
    The modal scales, more commonly referred to as "modes," are 7 scales based on each of the natural keys. This means there is a scale based on A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. Accidentals, which include sharps (like F#) or flats (Bb) do not have a modal scale.
    first of all what does this even mean? secondly, this is just a means of plaing in either major or minor scales through out the fretboard, modes are not just positions along the frets. also you make it very confusing by assigning each position a note, but you are really playing it one full step lower. it doesn't make sense to teach someone that way, if you say a position starts on C but you are really starting it on A#, it really starts on A#. finally I leave you with a simple equation, major=/=ionian and minor=/=aeolian.
    urgey_rock
    The modal scales, more commonly referred to as "modes," are 7 scales based on each of the natural keys. This means there is a scale based on A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. Accidentals, which include sharps (like F#) or flats (Bb) do not have a modal scale. first of all what does this even mean?
    I don't know how to explain it any simpler than that. There are 7 modes for 7 keys. In order to clear up any confusion I stated that sharps and flats do not have modes.
    secondly, this is just a means of plaing in either major or minor scales through out the fretboard, modes are not just positions along the frets.
    uh no, it is a means of playing all seven of the modes throughout the fretboard (which I stated a few times). I never said modes are just positions along the frets; I did however emphasize that their position relative to each other is important and knowing that allows for total freedom. This was the point of the entire lesson, and I stated such at the very beginning.
    also you make it very confusing by assigning each position a note, but you are really playing it one full step lower. it doesn't make sense to teach someone that way, if you say a position starts on C but you are really starting it on A#, it really starts on A#.
    this point I somewhat agree with, however I wanted to break the boundaries of just playing the scales at their notes of origin. it was a judgment call I made, maybe for the better, but in your case apparently not.
    finally I leave you with a simple equation, major=/=ionian and minor=/=aeolian.
    you are telling me that the Ionian mode is not the major scale and that the Aeolian mode is not the minor scale? Well your "equation" is really that of ignorance in this case, because that isn't even debatable that's just wrong. In fact I find that this publication of your misinformation is trying my patience. So what I take from this is one of either a) you didn't understand the lesson. you might be the only one or it might just be failure to deliver on my part, and if that becomes the case then I accept it. or b) you didn't read the lesson thoroughly enough or read it with the notion in your head that you knew everything about modes already and thus didn't pay attention. whatever the case, keep in mind that this lesson merely provides you with a tool, a powerful one that if used correctly will improve your soloing abilities. if you didn't take that from it then it is merely you who is missing out on this tool.
    krypticguitar87
    I don't know how to explain it any simpler than that. There are 7 modes for 7 keys. In order to clear up any confusion I stated that sharps and flats do not have modes.
    So are you saying that F# Locrian doesn't exist? thats the part I don't understand
    uh no, it is a means of playing all seven of the modes throughout the fretboard (which I stated a few times). I never said modes are just positions along the frets; I did however emphasize that their position relative to each other is important and knowing that allows for total freedom. This was the point of the entire lesson, and I stated such at the very beginning.
    you are showing the modes as positions along the fretboard. two quick examples:
    [code] e|-----(13)--- B|-----13-15-16- ---- G|-----12-14-15----- D|-----12-13-(15)----- A|-----1 2-13-15----- E|----(13)-15----- | Aeolian Start Position [/code]
    [code] e|-----10-(11)-- - B|-----10-11-13----- G|-----10-12----- D|-----10-12-(13 )----- A|-----10-12-13----- E|----(11)-13----- | Mixolydian Start Position [/code]
    you could simply state "if you know how to play G major up and down the fret board then you can play C lydian up and down the fret board since they use the same notes just arranged differently.
    this point I somewhat agree with, however I wanted to break the boundaries of just playing the scales at their notes of origin. it was a judgment call I made, maybe for the better, but in your case apparently not.
    how is this for the better if you are saying things like
    [code] A (Aeolian) C E G | | | | Low E|---3---5---6---8---10---11---13---15--- | | | | (Locrian) D F A B [/code]
    when the third fret on the sixth string is actually G, you claim to be teaching this, and when you teach somebody something it should be as simple as possible, not go from simple to more complicated before the core is completed. if you were learning how to speak spanish and the teacher told you how to say 'hi' and 'bye', but nothign else and then only spoke spanish for the rest of the class would you learn anything? no because you would be trying to figure out what the teacher is saying. same goes here if you are labling the names of the modes based off of the corresponding notes in the C major scale but then drop it all one full step less than half way through the lesson how do you expect anyone to learn.
    you are telling me that the Ionian mode is not the major scale and that the Aeolian mode is not the minor scale? Well your "equation" is really that of ignorance in this case, because that isn't even debatable that's just wrong. In fact I find that this publication of your misinformation is trying my patience.
    it's simple though ionian and major share the same notes they are not the same, period. same goes for aeolian and minor. the application of modes is different than the application of the major and minor scales, and saying that they are the exact same things is what leads people to actual misinformation. using modes you need to maintain modality, where as scale you simply need to remain tonal. there is a great series writen up here on UG on this subject that does a much better job explaining this than I can do. check it out: http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/columns/m... l_approach_part_one_the_backstory.html read through the five articles I'm sure they will help you understand the concept of modes not just being the major scale.
    whatever the case, keep in mind that this lesson merely provides you with a tool, a powerful one that if used correctly will improve your soloing abilities. if you didn't take that from it then it is merely you who is missing out on this tool.
    or instead you can just learn the notes along the fretboard and understand what notes are in what scale, and boom you just skipped this entire lesson, since there doesn't seem to be anythign here explainging how to use each "mode" to your advantage only a minor description of what emotion you feel each "mode" conveys...
    Slash181
    ive just learnt all this in 3 hours, its a very good lesson... still gettin my head around it and getting comfortable within this but theres so many patterns emerging like when you play the Aelion mode in G and you get to Ionian its similar to Dorian and the same with Phrygian and Lydian. crazy. So my question is, for every Key (F, G or lets say C) you can start an Aelion on that and from there you can play A major anywhere on the fret board.... if so im very confused to where your going with the G Locrian, G Ionian and Phyrigian.... just felt like you didnt explain that part very well :/
    Slash181
    *****You can play F.G or C major anywhere on the fret board.... sorry still fixated on A major :S
    takeaimnfire
    This is an awesome lesson! Very well put together, and everything comes across perfectly fine. I found it to a be great refresher.
    takeaimnfire
    In addition to my first comment. I find most guys that know the modes(or think they do anyways) really have no idea how to put them together. They just usually play them from one root position. This is perfect for all those ten million guitarists who don't really understand how to work with modes.
    FilGee
    I agree man you can watch someone else playing scales on youtube all day long and not learn a thing, but when you have the tab in front of you it makes things a whole lot easier and you can learn at your own pace. Thanks for this very informative.
    Cjaybear090
    Amazing lesson! Very valuable information! Very clear to understand, if people take the time to READ everything carefully, they should understand it. I know I did. (although i re-read it a good 10+ times just to be sure). Very good, Thank you for the lesson!
    benkelly70
    I guess some just want to argue the point... maybe that's why the man doesn't post all that often. Anyways, your stuff is really helpful, any chance of some tips on advanced tapping?