Power Of The Alphabet Mastering Improvisation With Modal Scales

author: urgey_rock date: 01/25/2011 category: guitar scales and modes
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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 I'm finding more and more that written lessons are kind of outdated in comparison to the Youtube phenomenon, but since I lack decent video equipment to make these kinds of lessons, I am sticking to this one.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.
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.
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"
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)"
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.
      (Aeolian)  C       E          G
         |       |       |          |
Low E|---3---5---6---8---10---11---13---15---
             |       |        |          |
          (Locrian)  D        F          A
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
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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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