Music Theory For Guitarists • Modes Of The Major Scale Simplified • Scales, Tab, Videos, Practical Examples.
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The Ionian Mode
The Ionian Mode is the first mode of the major scale. In the key of C, this is the C Major scale starting on C: C D E F G A B C . This IS the major scale, the ever popular Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do. Most melodies are based on the major scale. In order to understand the reason for learning the modes, start here. This order of notes (the intervallic structure: tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone) has long been recognized as the most popular scale in music. When you shift the root and form a mode of this scale, the intervallic structure changes (in the same key, D Dorian would be: tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone, tone). You must think of these modes as totally different scales in order to really get behind them.
C Ionian 7th Position
C Ionian Open Position
The Dorian Mode
The Dorian mode is the second mode of the major scale. In the key of C, this is the C Major scale starting on D: D E F G A B C D. In the key of D, this is the D Major scale starting on E: E F♯ G A B C♯ D E. The Dorian mode is prevalent in rock, metal and blues rock. Not quite as dark as the Aeolian Mode, it has a very pleasant sad sort of sound. The melody to Scarborough Fair is written entirely in the D Dorian mode. The lead guitar phrases in Metallica's For Whom The Bell Tolls are excellent examples of the E Dorian Mode. Also check out Jimi's solo in Purple Haze (E Dorian). Carlos Santana makes good use of the Dorian mode in his improvisation.
D Dorian 7th Position
This is the melody to Scarborough Fair, made famous by Simon And Garfunkel. Haunting tune. Note the B on the high E string. If the melody was in D natural minor (key of F Major), there would be one flat, B flat. That one natural B makes this beautiful melody strictly D Dorian.
For Whom The Bell Tolls Lead Guitar Phrases
The Phrygian Mode
The Phrygian Mode is the third mode of the major scale.In the key of C, this is the C Major scale starting on E: E F G A B C D E. The Phrygian mode has a bleak sound, however not as dark and bleak as the Locrian Mode
The Lydian Mode
The Lydian Mode is the fourth mode of the major scale. In the key of C, this is the C Major scale starting on F: F G A B C D E F. This is a very happy sounding mode, used widely by Frank Zappa and Steve Vai
Steve Vai, 'For The Love Of God'
The Mixolydian Mode
The Mixolydian Mode is the fifth mode of the major scale. In the key of C, this is the C Major scale starting on G: G A B C D E F G. This mode is the basis of blues rock and funk. Many standard blues bass lines are formed around this mode. Used extensively by Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, etc.
This very common, simple blues riff is based in three different keys and modes. Measures one to four, seven, eight, eleven and twelve outline the G mixolydian mode. The overall tonality is G7. This chord is the dominant fifth of the C Major scale. When the C Major scale is harmonized, the resulting four note chords are: CMaj7, Dm7, Em7, FMaj7, G7, Am7, and Bdim7. There are no sharps or flats in the key of C Major. This is why the G7 contains a natural F, as opposed to an F sharp (key of G Major). The same applies to the C7 and D7. C7 is the dominant fifth of F Major (one flat: B flat), D7 is the dominant fifth of G Major (one sharp: F sharp). Obviously, these modes can be applied when improvising over these chords. This is a wonderful alternative to the minor Pentatonic scale (in this case: G minor), but not as easy to execute as playing in one scale. It is like driving a car without brakes…you have to plan ahead! The mixolydian mode is widely used in blues, funk and jazz.
The Mixolydian mode over the three chord progression
The Aeolian Mode
The Aeolian Mode is the sixth mode of the major scale. Next to the Ionian mode, this is the most used, most popular mode. In the key of C, this is the C Major scale starting on A: A B C D E F G A. Also called the natural minor scale, this scale is prevalent in all forms of music. Many melodies and solos are based on the Aeolian mode. The vocal line in Stairway To Heaven is sung entirely in this mode
A Aeolian At The Twelfth Fret
This is a very important position for the C Major-A minor scale. Very easy to visualize and symmetrical. Plus all the notes are contained in four frets. Use the four fingers, four frets rule. Keep your hand in one position and stretch the fingers. This may be difficult at first, especially this high up the fretboard, but it is well worth the effort. Use the same fingers every time, this will aid in playing the right notes.
In the video below, I am improvising using nothing but this position and this mode. It is strictly diatonic. Using your ear, you should be able to solo endlessly in one position. In fact, this is a great exercise.
This a portion of the melody to Stairway To Heaven. This is another great example of how these modes sound so different from one another, yet they are all related to the parent Major scale (in this case: C Major). The melody is strictly diatonic, and is played in the twelfth position. This form is the same as C Major played in the open position, but sounds an octave higher. The entire melody is based in A Aeolian.
Stairway To Heaven Melody
Stairway To Heaven Melody
Live version from 1975.
The Locrian Mode
The Locrain Mode is the seventh mode of the major scale.In the key of C, this is the C Major scale starting on B: B C D E F G A B C. This is the darkest of all the modes. It is rarely used as a basis for a melody, but sounds great over the diminished chord that is formed from the scales seventh note.
In conclusion, all the modes of the major scale are formed by shifting the root. There is no magical mystical theory involved. Try it. Find a major scale pattern you like and change the root to another note in the scale. Play from that note to the same note an octave higher. Your ears will hear the difference!
© 2011 Lorne Hemmerling