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7 Scales in 7 Days: Mastering Modes in 1 Week (Part 1)

Updated on June 7, 2012

Learning the musical scale and the different modes on guitar is integral to becoming a well-rounded guitar player. Knowing the 7 scales will allow you to play tastefully anywhere on the fretboard provided you know the key of the song, and even break the rules at times to add modal "flavors". In this lesson, I will explain each scale and the context that it is most commonly used in, as well as explaining the differences between the scales, and finally tying all the scales together at the end to see the bigger picture... That it's all really one scale.

Day 1: The Ionian Scale (or Major Scale)

The Ionian, or natural major scale, is the cornerstone of all western music. It is the main scale around which all the other modes circle around. It is also the most used scale, being the basis of most pop and old rock songs. It is the happiest sounding scale of the diatonic (7-note) scales, having no flats or sharps in the key of C. It is also the basis of the I-IV-V chord progression, the most common progression in modern music history. In fact, I recommend you play the scale over a I-IV-V progression, to hear the different harmonies that the scale offers. In the key of C, which is the key that will be used for all examples in this article, the progression is C-F-G. Now let's take a look at the scale, in the key of C.

The Ionian or Major Scale
The Ionian or Major Scale | Source

For a different key, you would simply transpose the starting note of the scale to whatever the key of that song is. Say the song is in the key of G; instead of starting the scale on the 8th fret (key of C), you would start the scale on the 3rd fret, which is G! Also, feel free to try different note combinations of the scale, rather than just running up and down the scale. Remember, these scales are yours to master and the possibilities that can derive from them are endless!

Day 2: The Dorian Scale

The Dorian scale is the second mode of the musical scale. It is the almost the same as the minor scale, differing in that the 6th note is raised a half step, giving it a slightly brighter sound. Examples of songs that take use of this mode are "Greensleeves", "Smoke on the Water" by Deep Purple, and "Telephone" by Lady Gaga. Play this over a Dm-G-Am (note that it's still in the key of C!) progression to hear the color of the scale.

The Dorian Scale/Mode
The Dorian Scale/Mode | Source

Day 3: The Phrygian Scale

The Phrygian scale is the third mode of the musical scale. It is also almost the same as the minor scale, differing in having a flattened 2nd, or minor 2nd. This gives it a darker, more evil sound than the minor scale. For an extra evil sound, raise the 3rd a half step, and you have the Phrygian dominant, or Spanish gypsy scale, to be discussed in a later lesson. Examples of songs written in the Phrygian mode would be Megadeth's "Symphony of Destruction", The Doctor Who theme song, and Dethklok's "Face Fisted". Play this scale over a Em-F-G, giving the progression a distinct Phrygian sound.

The Phrygian Scale
The Phrygian Scale | Source


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