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Music Theory For Guitarists • Modes Of The Major Scale Simplified • Scales, Tab, Videos, Practical Examples.

As a guitar instructor at Long & McQuade, I have taught countless students (beginners to advanced) how to play or improve their chops.

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modes-simplified
modes-simplified

Study the article, come back and take the test.

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. How many modes are there in the Major scale?
    • 5
    • 4
    • 9
    • 7
  2. What is the first mode of the Major scale?
    • Dorian
    • Lydian
    • Ionian
    • Locrian
  3. What is the second mode of the Major scale?
    • Mixolydian
    • Lydian
    • Phrygian
    • Dorian
  4. What is the third mode of the Major scale?
    • Lydian
    • Aeolian
    • Locrian
    • Phrygian
  5. What is the fourth mode of the Major scale?
    • Lydian
    • Locrian
    • Ionian
    • Aeolian
  6. What is the fifth mode of the Major scale?
    • Aeolian
    • Mixolydian
    • Dorian
    • Lydian
  7. What is the sixth mode of the Major scale?
    • Dorian
    • Ionian
    • Locrian
    • Aeolian
  8. What is the seventh mode of the Major scale?
    • Mixolydian
    • Lydian
    • Locrian
    • Aeolian
    • Dorian
  9. What is another name for the Aeolian mode?
    • Harmonic minor scale
    • Natural minor scale
    • Melodic minor scale
  10. If you play the G major scale from C, what mode are you playing?
    • C Locrian
    • C Aeolian
    • C Ionian
    • C Lydian
    • C Dorian
  11. If you play the D Major scale from E, what mode are you playing?
    • E Ionian
    • E Lydian
    • E Dorian
    • E Mixolydian
    • E Aeolian
  12. What note would the Mixolydian mode start on in the key of B flat?
    • C
    • B flat
    • E flat
    • F
    • A
  13. What is the second mode in the key of A flat?
    • G flat Locrian
    • C Ionian
    • F sharp Aeolian
    • Em Pentatonic
    • B flat Dorian
    • F Harmonic minor
  14. How many tones comprise the Major scale?
    • 8
    • 1
    • 4
    • 5
  15. In order to form a mode, do you shift the root?
    • Yes
    • No

Answer Key

  1. 7
  2. Ionian
  3. Dorian
  4. Phrygian
  5. Lydian
  6. Mixolydian
  7. Aeolian
  8. Locrian
  9. Natural minor scale
  10. C Lydian
  11. E Dorian
  12. F
  13. B flat Dorian
  14. 5
  15. Yes
modes-simplified

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

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C Ionian Open Position

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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

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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.

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E Dorian 9th Position

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For Whom The Bell Tolls Lead Guitar Phrases

These lead guitar phrases are firmly rooted in E Dorian, the second mode of the D Major scale. Every one of these lines after the intro contains F⌗ and C⌗ played against a progression that is based in E minor. If the scale being used was E Aeolian, the natural minor scale, there would be a C instead of C⌗. Notice how all the phrases have a sound that is somewhere between happy and sad, sort of a lilting, mellow sound. This is a wonderful example of the E Dorian mode in action.

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This is the solo for Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix. This IS not note for note, but the way I have played it for many years with many different bands. Hendrix strays from the prevalent chord progression during the vocals: E7⌗9, G, A to E5, F⌗5, D5 for the solo. If these power chords are embellished to form triads, the cords would be D Major, Em, F⌗m. All of these chords are in the key of D Major, but the song is still firmly planted in the key of E. The addition of the C⌗ and F⌗ into the normal Em Pentatonic scale form the E Dorian scale (E to E in the key of D Major). The numbers below the staff is the fingering.

Purple Haze Solo (Tab Only)

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Purple Haze Solo

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


E Phrygian

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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

F Lydian

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Steve Vai, 'For The Love Of God'

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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.


G Mixolydian

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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.

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The Mixolydian mode over the three chord progression

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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

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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.

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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

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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.



B Locrian

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Wrap Up

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

Comments

John Ramsnder on October 10, 2017:

I noticed that you mainly talk of the blues songs. Will these help me in my contemporary music and my church music which I plan to play?. I have been studying music for some time now an I would say I will fit into the beginners to the intermediate level and would like to advance. Kindly advise as I noticed that you explanations on the top is quite good.

guitar retreats on April 30, 2012:

Great simple lesson as usual Lorne, thanks. I will use some of these examples for my students. Its always best when put into context with a well known piece of music.. you have chosen well!

T M Hoffman on July 10, 2011:

Lorne and Ken - easy entry (thanx Lorne), expansive step (thanx Ken), but still in only considering possibilities through 'tonic shift.' Factor in modes of India (32,848 'basic scales' to start), Turkey, Persia, Arabia,Indonesia & Thailand...now we're talking intergallactic aural time & space travel!...I enjoy going way out there on my two Japanese instruments and voice, have a listen to our IJMEA website. Above all, 'sing on brother, play on drummer'

Lorne Hemmerling (author) from Oshawa on July 09, 2011:

Ken, great point. Thought of that later, should have called it 'Modes Of The Major Scale Simplified.

Lorne Hemmerling (author) from Oshawa on July 09, 2011:

Thank you, Ted. Simplest explanation I could do.

Ken Cory on July 09, 2011:

And beyond modes based on the major scale we can discover modes based on the melodic minor scale (C D Eb F G A B C), the harmonic minor scale (C D Eb F G Ab B C), and the rare harmonic major scale (C D E F G Ab B C). These modes will transport you to India.

Ted Schuhle on July 09, 2011:

Thanks you took the mystery out of modes.

Lorne Hemmerling (author) from Oshawa on July 04, 2011:

@ Graham: yes, I was going to address that. The chords that are formed by harmonizing the scale..... In the key of C: C Dm Em F G Am Bdim in triads.......or CMaj7, Dm7, Em7, FMaj7, G7, Am7, Bdim7 as 4 note chords. Each mode fits over its respected chord. Great point, Graham.

Graham Silbiger on July 04, 2011:

Hi is it worth mentioning that each mode has its respective chord ie: Dominant 7th for Mixolydian, etc etc

neil on July 04, 2011:

One thing I've always been a little unsure of with modes, is the ultimate point of knowing them! If (for ease of reference) I'm playing a song that is in C, and I'm playing over a C major chord, surely I have to be playing in the Ionian mode. The sing key and chord structure would dictate that. Or have I missed something!?

Lorne Hemmerling (author) from Oshawa on July 03, 2011:

@Anna. Yes, whatever key signature the parent scale is in applies to all the modes of that scale. Example G Dorian (being the 2nd mode of F Major), would contain 1 flat.....B. Therefore G Dorian is G A Bb C D E F G. No matter where this scale is played on the fretboard the intervallic structure is the same. Try this: record or have someone play a Gmaj7 then move to Gm7. Over the GMaj7, play the first mode of G Major (Ionian mode) G A B C D E F# G. Then move to G Dorian for the Gm7. This change stands out a mile and sounds great!. Instant jazz!

Anna 2835 on July 02, 2011:

Does one use accidentals of the root scale while in major or minor?

Mark from Alabama,USA on July 01, 2011:

Very accurate Hub - Thanks for the info

6 String Veteran on July 01, 2011:

Lorne, nice Hub. 'Following' you now, btw.

cathie on July 01, 2011:

very useful