Modes 2: Correct Use Of Major Scale Modes

The second part in a series attempting to dispel the myth and fear around modes. Explains the use of major scale mades in a functional harmony role.

logo
Ultimate Guitar
0
Welcome to part 2 of my series on the use of modes. The last part covered the basics of harmonic analysis. Here we go again with part 2. I will cover some more harmonic analysis, as well as how to use modes of the major scale. This is all essential knowledge for the use of modes. The song I picked for analysis was John Denver's Leaving on a Jet Plane... Here is my analysis of how the chords are working. The song is in the key of G. (I've also taken the liberty of adding 4 note chords, just so you can see they are treated the same).
I                            IV
G                            C
ALL MY BAGS ARE PACKED, I'M READY TO GO.
    I                  IV
    G                  C   
I'M STANDING HERE OUT-SIDE YOUR DOOR
  I                Vi             ii     V
  G                Em             Am     D
I HATE TO WAKE YOU UP TO SAY GOOD-BYE.
   I                               IV
 Gmaj7                           Cmaj7
BUT THE DAWN IS BREAKING, IT'S EARLY MORN,
    I                    IV
    Gmaj7                Cmaj7     
THE TAXI'S WAITING, HE'S BLOWING HIS HORN
   I            vii               ii      V
   Gmaj7        Em7               Am7     D7
AL-READY I'M SO LONESOME I COULD CRY.
Ok, so now we have a song with some scale degree's written above the chords. So lets look now at the modes of the major scale.
I   Ionian (Major scale)
 
ii  Dorian
 
iii Phrygian
 
IV  Lydian
 
V   Mixolydian
 
vi  Aeolian (Minor Scale)
 
vii Locrian
Ok. I have typed out the modes and their corresponding scale degree's. Are you starting to see it now? Each of these modes will fit straight over the corresponding chords in the song. For the I chord, you would use the G Ionian mode, for the IV chord, the C lydian. Em is the Aeolion mode, the minor scale..which a lot of people would see that if the song is in the key of G, Em is the relative minor. Am is using the dorian mode. Now I hope by this time people are starting to see how modes are used. It is important to know how a chord is functioning(which degree it is) to know which mode to use over that chord in any given progression. So in the key of G, modes correspond with the following chords:-
Gmaj7  - I   - G Ionian
 
Amin7  - ii  - A Dorian
 
Bmin7  - iii - B Phrygian
 
Cmaj7  - IV  - C Lydian
 
D7     - V   - D Mixolydian
 
Emin7  - vi  - E Aeolian
 
F#m7b5 - vii - F# Locrian
Hopefully you can start to see how this can be applied to songs in all keys. I am not going to show the fingering patterns for modes, as this can be found everywhere on the internet, especially all over this site. The thing that seems to lack is the information on how to use modes, and how they apply to the scale degree's of a song. Along your tracks you might also find that some chords that are functioning as a ii or a iii are 7th chords. For instance you may see C - A7 - F - G in a progression in the key of C. The A is still a second but its functioning as a secondary dominant in the progression. This is something to note, and for now, treat this as a ii chord, and in the next lesson, when we cover Minor Modes and Harmonic Minor modes, It will be explained much more in depth then. Next time: Minor key progressions, and how to use modes their, harmonic minor and the use of, as well as some other things found in analysis like "Key of the Moment" and some other principles used for improvising. Until next time...

29 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    Slash_is_a_God
    For instance you may see C - A7 - F - G in a progression in the key of C. The A is still a second but its functioning as a secondary dominant in the progression. ... and for now, treat this as a ii chord
    Wouldn't a D7 function as a secondary dominant chord in the key of C major?
    countrychris01
    Also you could use D Dorian #4 over the above vamp as well...Its an unstable chord progression
    philipp122
    I agree, this article is completely wrong about the use of modes. Modes are for creating a certain feel, as Dumpster510 already stated. If you use the notes of C major over a C major chord progression, you will be playing the C major scale. That's because all of the chords in the key of C major use the notes of C major; that's why they are in key. So of course it's going to "work" to just list each mode and slam its corresponding chord in the key next to it; it's the same damn notes because it's the same damn key!! Study modal progressions and application of modes to learn how they really work.
    Dumpster510
    Chris, I saw your post in Tom Colohue's article. I don't know if you're aware of it but you're COMPLETELY missing/forgetting one half of playing with modes (the half Tom's article is on...for the record though I thought his article was poorly done and puts entirely too much emphasis on semantics). What you've presented is correct, however you're only referring to playing diatonically. Playing E Phrygian over an E minor chord is still playing in the key of C. That's half of it. The other half is using pitch-axis/modal interchange/whatever you want to call it to actually bring out different feeling and moods. It doesn't matter if you're in C and playing E Phrygian, it's almost always still going to sound like C. However if you were to play C major for the first two measures, then switch to C Lydian the next time the C chord comes up, you'd be doing modal interchange. The term pitch-axis comes from taking a single tone (say G) and over a G note, G power chord, or G bass note play different modes from that pitch. The pitch becomes like an axis for switching between modes. As you do more and more of this, you see which modes sound good going one to the next, which ones don't, and so on. Notice the stark difference from playing say G major then A dorian and B phrygian and so on...The sound of the mode actually gets brought out. Similarly, you can alter chords to make progressions that imply certain modes, and then on top of that, you can choose whether to solo diatonically and just stay in one key or to again use modal interchange. I will say that modal interchange is not something you can just do on the fly, it takes lots of practicing to get it down. There's a REALLY great video of Satriani talking about this on youtube, I'd reccomend it to everyone, even folks well versed in theory. Just go on yt and search 'Satriani modes' and it should come up. Chris I hope you don't take this post the wrong way. I'm not trying to be condescending or anything, you may very well know everything I just wrote. However I wrote it for other people as well
    krypticguitar87
    countrychris01 wrote: Just a note to all you guys arguing..your arguing with how Berklee teaches modes as well....
    really? are you a berkley graduate? you don't need to answer since I just looked at your profile and it says "some collage" which implies that you didn't graduate, now I'm not saying that you need to have graduated to understand things but the reason you didn't graduate could be because you failed misserably... I sent an email to my old guitar teacher, who graduated from berkley, and asked him what he thought about your lesson... well, he pretty much said you are wrong about looking at a piece in Cmajor and seeing a Dm7 and deciding to use D dorian to solo, because that is really no different than soloing in C major then making sure you end on a chord tone of Dm7, maybe they changed the way they teach modes since he graduated back in '99... idk
    krypticguitar87
    speeddemon93 wrote: Oh gracious, did you really just post five times in a row above? countrychris01 wrote: Not for a simple I, IV, V no...there is only difference. Except your resolving to ch..... countrychris01 wrote: *only slight difference countrychris01 wrote: And yes...it is staying in the same key and starting on a different note. Tha..... countrychris01 wrote: Also look at the 1, 3, 5, 7 of the modes above to see the chord spelling of the chord that its used over.. countrychris01 wrote: The trick comes into it with playing extensions. Lets form a Gmaj9.... GBD..... Holy snap, you did
    you beter believe he did... he always posts a ridicuous amount of times in a row... even in the forums where there is an edit button...
    speeddemon93
    Oh gracious, did you really just post five times in a row above?
    countrychris01 wrote: Not for a simple I, IV, V no...there is only difference. Except your resolving to ch.....
    countrychris01 wrote: *only slight difference
    countrychris01 wrote: And yes...it is staying in the same key and starting on a different note. Tha.....
    countrychris01 wrote: Also look at the 1, 3, 5, 7 of the modes above to see the chord spelling of the chord that its used over..
    countrychris01 wrote: The trick comes into it with playing extensions. Lets form a Gmaj9.... GBD.....
    Holy snap, you did
    countrychris01
    Just a note to all you guys arguing..your arguing with how Berklee teaches modes as well....
    countrychris01
    edit: the first one above is D mixolydian for all those about to jump on me. And for the naysayers,,,tell me how it is done correctly then?
    countrychris01
    This is not true. Modes have as much place in tonal progressions as modal. Prove me wrong with theory. Here I go with more examples... Say I have Gmaj7, Amin7, D7... I can use G Ionian, A dorian, D Lydian..sure...im still using a G scale, but im resolving to the tones of the chord.Amin im resolving to A C E G etc..still with a G major scale. Let go modal shall we... say we have Amin, D7, F#m7b5, D7... I can use A dorian, D mixolydian, F# Locian, D mixolydian, and its suddently modal. Whats the difference between adding the G ionian or not? All those modes contain the same notes as G major, and the G major tonality is reflected within the progression.
    Andrew776
    AeolianWolf wrote: absolutely not. this is not at all how modes work. this is a tonal progression. modes have no place here.
    This is true.
    countrychris01
    This is how modes work tonally Aeolian Wolf. They correspond exactly. Look at the modes i have listed above...it is no accident that they all correspond to the 1,3,5,7 of the chord to be used over. In that specific key. Thats a little to coincedental. And whether it is modal or tonal, comes down to the progression, as we both know, and we must first be able to recognize the elements listed above before we tackle true modal progressions otherwise the student doesnt have the cognitive ability to be able to recognize the modes and their functionality with music. Or is this another jazz vs classical theory debate?
    AeolianWolf
    For the I chord, you would use the G Ionian mode, for the IV chord, the C lydian. Em is the Aeolion mode, the minor scale..which a lot of people would see that if the song is in the key of G, Em is the relative minor. Am is using the dorian mode.
    absolutely not. this is not at all how modes work. this is a tonal progression. modes have no place here.
    AeolianWolf
    For instance you may see C - A7 - F - G in a progression in the key of C. The A is still a second but its functioning as a secondary dominant in the progression. ... and for now, treat this as a ii chord
    technically, it's not FUNCTIONING as a secondary dominant. if it resolved to a Dm chord, it would. but A7 -> F is not a V-I relationship, no matter how you put it. so it's a non-functioning dominant.
    countrychris01
    For the whoelthing your teaching, its using modes over unresolved chord vamps...its too open ended without first teaching harmonic analysis. Say we have a vamp Am-Dm. Over this we can use A Harmonic Minor, A Aelioan mode, D dorian...we have to look at chord functionality within a progression to see how it resolves to work out which mode to use. Most vamps use unresolved progressions to give a degree of tonal instability, which allows you to use multiple modes or scales as long as they resolve to the chord tones within the vamp. Modes have everything to do with the key the song is, and how the chord functions within that key.
    countrychris01
    Correct Slash, Bt both the 2nd and the 6th degree can act as a secondary dominant chord. Secondary has nothing to do with the scale degree, and both the II and the VI can be treated as a secondary dominant. In fact this is usually whats done to these chords in a jazz blues.
    countrychris01
    Modal progressions are easily described as well so you cant throw the whole tonal thing at me. The above example in the key of G? Is also how you would treat a D mixolydian progression. Lets look at Sweet Home Alabama, and notice that the chords are D,C,G...this looks like a 1,4,5 in G, however your resolving to the D. Its D mixolydian. Over those chords you would use D mixoldyian, C lydian and G ionian...
    countrychris01
    Colohue> Dont just tell me I'm wrong, give me examples. A mode is a scale...this is how modes should be taught, to clear up all the confusion. Modes are related to a specific key and chord functionality within that key...Tell me then...what are the notes of an A dorian? A B C D E F# G, How is that not a G scale? Exact same interval distance, exact same sharp note, your just starting from the 2nd note of the G major scale. Modes are simply just inversions of the parent major scale.
    Colohue
    So, basically, you're saying that modes are scales? You'll forgive me if I find what you consider 'modes' to be to be detrimental to the truth.
    countrychris01
    Okay, your almost there kryptic, Yes your exactly right on the first example. If your resolving in that way your playing a C lydian... In the second example...You could play C ionian, but you have to be careful of avoid notes...in this case..The F will be natural in C ionian, in C lydian it will be sharped to reflect the key of G. Think of your major chord scales posted in the previous lesson Gmaj7 - Am - Bm - Cmaj7 - D7 - Em7 - F#m7b5 I ii iii IV V vi vii we have a progression that goes Gmaj7-Cmaj7-D7. I IV V Our modes are ionian, lydian, mixolydian...start and finish from the tonic of each chord... so G ionian, C lydian D mixolydian... if we write out the scale its G ionian - G A B C D E F# G C lydian - C D E F# G A B C D mixolydian - D E F# G A B C D Look at the 1,3,5,7 of these modes...G,B,D,F#=Gmaj7. C,E,G,B = Cmaj7 D F# A C = D7. Look at how i say the order of the modes corresponding to the major scales i have here. Amin in the key of G will always be an A dorian mode, the vii will always be an E Aeolian mode. The listing of the modes in order directly corresponds to the degree of the chord from the scale, you just form the mode of the functioning root of the chord your in. So G Am Bm C D G Ionian, A Dorian, B Phrygian, C lydian, D mixolydian... Grab some backing tracks in G, or use jam center, find a G, C ,D and practice swtiching G ionian, C lydian, D mixolydian and have a listen..
    krypticguitar87
    okay I think I get it, so if I play a Cmaj7 I can just play the notes from the key of G and make sure I resolve to C, E, G,or D... do I have that right? Also if we play Gmaj7-Cmaj7-D7 (I'm trying to stay within G major for simplicity's sake) could I then play C ionian over the Cmaj7 chord, as well, since Cmaj7 is also the root chord in C major? Also would I be able to play G lydian over the Gmaj7 since Gmaj7 is also found in D major? I hope I'm not getting ahead of myself here...
    countrychris01
    The trick comes into it with playing extensions. Lets form a Gmaj9.... GBDF#A . Look at the last four notes, B D F# A, and if you look at the table above, you see its 1,3,5,7 of the phrygian mode....So a phrygian will work just fine over a Gmaj7 chord...
    countrychris01
    Also look at the 1, 3, 5, 7 of the modes above to see the chord spelling of the chord that its used over..
    countrychris01
    And yes...it is staying in the same key and starting on a different note. Thats what modes are. Just another quick examples(because u know how i love examples: G Ionian - G A B C D E F# G A Dorian- A B C D E F# G A B Phrygian - B C D E F# G A B C lydian - C D E F# G A B C I hope your starting to see the recurring pattern here, and how it related to the major chord scales i showed in the previous lesson.
    countrychris01
    Not for a simple I, IV, V no...there is only difference. Except your resolving to chord tones of the I,IV, and V chord. The notes are all G major scale...its just what chord tones you resolve to. So a G ionian is a g major scale being resolved to g,b,d or f, c lydian is being resolved to c, e, g, b and d mixolydian is being resolved to d,f#,a or c. The idea is to use the same bunch of notes but resolve to the individual chord tones for the chord you are playing over. I hope that makes sense kryptic.
    krypticguitar87
    okay, i'm confused, what's the difference between using these different modes, and just playing in the key? uh I guess to clarify, for example: if your in the key of G major, using a I-IV-V progression, G-C-D... is there really a difference between just playing in the key of G major (and hitting the C just as the C major begins and ends, and D when that begins and ends), and switching between G ionian to C lydian to D mixolydian? isn't it just staying in key but starting on a different note?
    countrychris01
    I see ive written there to treat it as a 2 chords, my bad, i havent mentioned that it also works on VI as well
    GeetarHeero
    I realize this may be a bit simplistic in terms of the actual theory, but it helps me to think of modes as an organized way of fitting notes into your playing that AREN'T in the key you're playing in. From these examples, in playing C Lydian here over the Cmaj7 chord, you're still using all the same notes as G major, and as such you're still playing G major over G major, which is fine, but where modes are most interestingly used is in places where one or more of their notes don't match the backing chord. For example, you would get a very interesting sound by playing a G Lydian progression over the G major chord. Compared to the G major, it has a sharp 4 (C#) which isn't found in the G major key. In writing out the notes, you'll notice that in playing G Lydian there you've played D major over G major. Trying choosing different places where you can use and emphasize that sharp 4; with careful note choices you can create a very cool sound. Steve Vai and Dream Theater both use modal playing to create variety in their sounds. Check them out and listen carefully for some very cool examples!