Simplistic Breakdown Of Modes

In this lesson we will take a simplistic look at what modes are, how they are derived, and how we can apply them to play music on our guitars.

Ultimate Guitar
First off, if you are looking into learning modes I can only assume you have at least some musical theory background and know a little about scales and the musical alphabet. This knowledge will be required to better understand this lesson. I will not be explaining how scales and the musical alphabet works or where they/it comes from, rather, I will focus entirely on the concept and origin of modes. I suggest you look into lessons on basic scales and the musical alphabet if you still do not feel confident in that area yet. No let's go! To start, we must define what a "Mode" is. A mode is simply a variation on the major scale. When I say "variation" on the major scale, I do not mean the notes in the scale changes, but rather the note you start on does change within the scale. There are a total of 7 modes we use (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian) which intentionally coincide with the 7 notes in the major scale. It is much easier to understand modes in a visual way I find, rather than trying to picture it in your head by reading text so hopefully this example will help you! We will use the C Major scale for this example: (C D E F G A B) First off, the major scale is called Ionian and is the first mode. So in C Major we would call the sequence of notes from C to C (C D E F G A B C), C Ionian. To get the next mode (Dorian) we simply take the next note in the C Major scale (D) and go octave to octave of that note. So, the Dorian scale in C Major would be: (D E F G A B C D) and is called D Dorian. You then simply continue this pattern and start on the next note of the major scale and play octave to octave (or beyond if desired of course) of that particular note. Here is what the whole C major scale would look like when broken down into modes: C Ionian: C D E F G A B C D Dorian: D E F G A B C D E Phrygian: E F G A B C D E F Lydian: F G A B C D E F G Mixolydian: G A B C D E F G A Aeolian: A B C D E F G A B Locrian: B C D E F G A B See the pattern? Not too difficult! Notice we did not change any of the notes in C major, but we simply started at a different point within the scale at that's it. Now, you're probably wondering what the point of knowing modes is, and a lot of it has to do with chord progressions and following those chords with the "best" sounding notes. For instance, we know that C Ionian or "Major" has a very happy sound, so playing C Ionian and targeting those notes will make for a nice sound when playing over a C Major chord progression. On the other hand, if you had an A minor chord progression you would probably want to stick to playing A Aeolian, but all in all it's all about TARGET notes. If you play jazz or have studied it at all you will know the importance of this. I will cover more of chord progressions and how modes fit into certain ones specifically in a future lesson, but hopefully for now this will help get those new to modes a jump start into the world of them and will wipe away any small confusion! Hope this little lesson was somewhat helpful and keep playing! Rate, Comment, Friend me, any support is very much appreciated!

24 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Another sub-par modes lesson on UG. Playing C Ionian over C major and then A Aeolian over A minor is not playing modally. You're just playing in C major all the time. You're treating them as shapes and scales. Modes are not scales, but can be played in a scale, as all note combinations can.
    Notice we did not change any of the notes in C major, but we simply started at a different point within the scale at that's it. Now, you're probably wondering what the point of knowing modes is
    I did notice you didn't change any notes of the C major scale, because what your lesson does is teach the C major scale, and nothing more. Mate, if you want to teach people how to emphasise chord tones, I'm all for it. If you want to call this technique "modes", it's time for you to go back to school.
    I agree with AlanHB, this is just C major turned around in 7 ways. Should you play it over C major backing track, the sound wouldn't change regardless of the note you'd start on. What makes the sound of the modes stand out is the way these notes are used over certain chords. Look for Frank Gamabale's "Modes no mystery" instruction dvd and stop posting this shit. Poor explenation is what makes begginer player think of the modes as of a mysterious music theory. And just for the record, there are not only 7 modes we use. Harmonic and Melodic minor scale have their modes as well. You should call it
    interval 1. Ionian - 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 2. Dorian - 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7 8 3. Phrygian - 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8 4. Lydian - 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7 8 5. Mixolydian - 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7 8 6. Aeolian - 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8 7. Locrian - 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7 8
    That actually helped me understand what they are instead of other articles which have endless pages of stuff i dont understand on. This contextualised it into a small page which explained to me what they are. Thanks UG
    I think if you look for past few lessons on this topic, you can find this exact explanation... Anyways, not bad.
    Well apparently Motorbreath10 got something out of it so I know it's not just me that this has helped already. I apologize that this lesson wasn't up-to-par by readers standards, it was my first attempt at an online lesson and I will try to be more in depth with how to apply these concepts musically in my next lesson. No hard feelings.
    To understand modes you don't need to show how they originate from the major scale. In fact they DON'T historically originate from the major scale. A good article would at least derive the modes independently of the major scale. This would help to remove some of the confusion, and prevent some of the fallacious information that's endemic to modes. But that's only one problem of so many of these mode lessons.
    Hydra150, please describe what you mean by professional? One of my many guitar teachers, Nate Comp, does not have any sort of teaching or music degree under his belt, yet his professionalism has surpassed that of people with Masters and Ph.D's on a teaching level because he has a passion for music and teaching. He's done Berklee seminars, and works with University of New Hampshire guitar department all without a degree. I have taught various students out of my house and am working on my music degree at University of Mass in Lowell as we speak. Though I hardly consider having a degree is what makes you a "professional" teacher. It's the passion for music, and the passion to teach others everything you know, which is what I know I have. Not the piece of paper just to prove a point, which I'm working attaining regardless.
    Who said anything about a piece of paper? I mean proffessional as in, y'know, does it as their professionl, ot puts food on the table. I asked because you were ranting about how people learn in different ways and therefore this lesson must be of some use to someone - I just cant envision who that someone is, because whoever it is th
    they could find another thp
    they could find another thousand articles with precisely the same information, and a select few articles that would even teach the subject properly.
    And just because a quick lesson isn't valuable or useful to YOU doesn't mean it won't be for ANOTHER person with a DIFFERENT thinking and learning method than, say, yourself? Not everybody learns in the same way. Some things stick for people and somethings don't for one reason or another.
    When I say ORIGINATE I mean where they are derived from in the major scale. Not LITERALLY and GEOGRAPHICALLY where they come from. Yes they come from and are named after the greek islands, but that's not going to help ANYONE as far as to know that random fact. And there is a point in trying to talk about them without a musical context, simply SHOWING people how each individual mode is made from the major scale in ONE particular key. You can then, if you have common sense, apply this concept to ANY other key or scale. Apparently when i said this is a quick lesson and I would explain more about modes and HOW TO USE THEM IN A MUSICAL CONCEPT in a later lesson didn't click for some readers. This lesson is more of a page of FACTS about where modes come from out of the major scale, not HOW to use them in music or WHAT makes them each have their own sound. And who's to say I confused anyone? I learned modes first in this fashion and I understood it, then LATER learned how to apply them in music, so don't tell me I've wasted my time, because if this method worked for me, it's possible it will work for another person as well. And like I said in the beginning of the lesson, you SHOULD have a basic understanding of diatonic harmony before trying to understand modes at all. If you DON'T then you need to go back and feel confident in that area first. I don't know how many times i need to explain that I would cover how to use them in a MUSICAL CONTEXT in a LATER lesson, you guys get so butt hurt over such trivial things it's ridiculous.
    I simply wanted to give a visual representation of where Modes ORIGNATE from, not necessarily how to use them in a musical context. A lot of people don't even understand where modes come in the first place and I thought this visual could be of some help as it was for me. Thanks for all the positive support guys!
    steven seagull
    but without musical context modes don't really exist, so there's no point trying to talk about them without context - they're not something you can simplify down to beginner level, you need to have a decent undetstanding of diatoninc harmony before they'll make any sense.
    If you want to share a visual representation of where modes ORIGINATE from then feel free to post a map of ancient Greece. Don't make a lesson that barely/badly explains an advanced (and mostly useless) concept without information/examples of how to use that concept in a musical concept. Without that there is no value in the lesson. You have wasted your time and no doubt confused some beginners, well done.
    As I stated before this is a quick lesson going over the basics of Modes. I know there are modes for DIFFERENT scales as in melodic minor and harmonic minor as well. And I also emphasized that I would go over Modes in more detail later. I know modes are not simply scales you play they each have their OWN SOUND. This is created by the UNDERLYING CHORDS. I know what modes are and how they work this is simply a VERY QUICK LESSON looking at modes in a "scale" type of fashion. But they are used for completely different types of sounds and feels defined by the underlying chords beneath them. And i used C masjor as an EXAMPLE I'm not going to sit and write out EACH scale and key you can play in, OBVIOUSLY this can be done in any key with any scale, dummies.
    We already have a million quick lessons covering the basics of modes, each saying the same thing and none of them are at all valuable.
    That only shows how to play diatonically, because you're not actually playing any 'variations' of the Major scale key.