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Guitar Modes


In this lesson you'll learn what the modes are, how they look on the guitar and how you can use them in your guitar solos and improvisations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What Are Guitar Modes?

Modes are scales derived from the major scale.

Modes are nothing new, the modes as we use them today were formalized around 1675.

You probably have all played modes before, maybe without realizing you were playing them. Can you play a major scale? Then you know the first mode (out of 7), the Ionian mode...

How Do Guitar Modes Work?

The C Ionian mode (aka C Major Scale) is the first mode and contains no sharps or flats. The numbers 1 to 7 make up the "scale formula", a theoretical way to represent a scale:

C Ionian Mode (= C Major Scale)
 
C D E F G A B
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

 

 

Let's play the C major scale starting from the second note. This is the second mode, the Dorian mode. The 3rd and 7th note are a half step lower compared to the Ionian mode.

D Dorian Mode
 
D E F G A B C
1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7

 

 

Now let's play the C major scale starting from the third note. This is the third mode, the Phrygian mode. The 3rd and 7th note are a half step lower compared to the Ionian mode.

E Phrygian Mode
 
E F G A B C D
1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

 

 

We can continue this for the other notes of the major scale, but I guess you get the picture by now. If you scroll down a bit you'll find a list with all 7 modes.

 

Each mode has its own unique sound. This sound depends on how the intervals are mapped across the scale. Although the notes in both scales are exactly the same, the sound of the scale is completely different because the tonal center has changed. In the C Ionian mode, the tonal center is C. In the D Dorian mode, the tonal center is D.

 

Each mode has a related chord. We can find that chord by stacking thirds on the first note of the mode. Let's do this for the C Ionian mode: C E G B. The result is a Cmaj7 chord (if this is Chinese to you, please have a look at the jazz guitar chord theory tutorial):

C E G B
1 3 5 7

 

 

If you build a chord on the first note of the Dorian mode you get a Dmin7:

D F A C
1 b3 5 b7

 

 

Here's an overview of the 7 modes of the C major scale, their formula and corresponding chord:

I Ionian
II Dorian
III Phrygian
IV Lydian
V Mixolydian
VI Aeolian
VII Locrian
1  2  3  4  5  6  7 C D E F G A B Cmaj7
1  2 b3  4  5  6 b7 D E F G A B C Dm7
1 b2 b3  4  5 b6 b7 E F G A B C D Em7
1  2  3 #4  5  6  7 F G A B C D E Fmaj7
1  2  3  4  5  6 b7 G A B C D E F G7
1  2 b3  4  5 b6 b7 A B C D E F G Am7
1 b2 b3  4 b5 b6 b7 B C D E F G A Bm7b5

 

 

You should memorize the names of the modes + the formula. Here's a mnemonic trick to help you remember the names:

I Don't Play Like My Aunt Lucy.

 

 

The Mode Charts

Now we'll see how the modes are played on the guitar. Use all of your senses when learning guitar scales: use your ears (most important), your eyes (recognize the pattern on the fretboard), your brains (memorize the guitar scale formulas) and the feeling in your fingers.

Legend:

Guitar Fretboard Legend : Root : represents the root or 1 of the guitar scale. The letter inside the box is the note name.

Guitar Fretboard Legend : Note : represents a guitar scale note.

 

As well, there is a sample lick included with each mode so you can hear how guitar modes are used.

 

1. C Ionian Mode

  • Formula: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
  • Related chord: Cmaj7
  • Use: on major chords

 

Listen & Play:

The Ionian Mode

 

In this major scale lick, you will use both Fmaj7 and Cmaj7 apreggios starting on the 7th and running up the 1-3-5, which you can see in the first bar. This is a common arpeggio technique applied to jazz scales that you can explore further in your playing.

 

Listen & Play:

major mode licks 1

 

2. D Dorian Mode

  • Formula: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7
  • Related chord: Dm7
  • Use: on minor chords

 

Listen & Play:

The Dorian Mode

 

You might recognize this Dorian lick as beign influenced by the great Miles Davis solo on the tune So What. The large interval leaps really characterize this lick, and are a great way to break up more scale-based ideas in your playing.

 

Listen & Play:

major mode licks 2

 

3. E Phrygian Mode

  • Formula: 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
  • Related chord: Em7
  • Use: on minor chords (this one has a Spanish flavor and is one of the guitar scales frequently used in flamenco)

 

Listen & Play:

The Phrygian Mode

 

Here is a pattern based lick that runs down the Phrygian mode. Running patterns through scales can be a great motivic device, as long as you don't overdo it.

 

Listen & Play:

major mode licks 3

 

4. F Lydian Mode

  • Formula: 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7
  • Related chord: Fmaj7
  • Use: on major chords

 

Listen & Play:

The Lydian Mode

 

Here, you will see diatonic triads from the F Lydian Scale being used to build a longer phrase. Sometimes something as simple as a diatonic triad, in the right place, can be a very effective soloing tool.

 

Listen & Play:

major mode licks 4

 

5. G Mixolydian Mode

  • Formula: 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7
  • Related chord: G7
  • Use: on dominant chords. The Mixolydian scale is one of the scales that is often used in jazz blues.

 

Listen & Play:

The Mixolydian Mode

 

This next lick, based on the Mixolydian Mode, uses common Bebop chromatic notes to connect the notes of the scale, and breathe life into an otherwise pretty plain idea.

 

Listen & Play:

major mode licks 5

 

6. A Aeolian Mode

  • Formula: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
  • Related chord: Am7
  • Use: on minor chords

 

Listen & Play:

The Aeolian Mode

 

This lick focuses on the characteristic note, the b6, of the Aeolian mode. By hanging on this note, you are really outlining the sound of the mode in your lines, differentiating it from other minor modes.

 

Listen & Play:

major mode licks 6

 

7. B Locrian Mode

  • Formula: 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7
  • Related chord: Bm7b5
  • Use: on half diminished chords

 

Listen & Play:

The Locrian Mode

 

The final lick in this lesson starts with a Bm7b5 arpeggio and uses a few chromatic passing notes to create interest within the Locrian mode.

 

Listen & Play:

major mode licks 7

 

 

 


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