The 7 Modes of the Major Scale

  • If you already learned the 5 patterns of the major scale, then you already know all the shapes that are needed for the 7 modes. If you have not learned them yet, it's also OK. You can just learn the patterns for each mode on this page, and build your knowledge of the major scale as you learn these modes.

    This lesson will explain how to get the modes from the 5 major scale shapes that you learned, or which patterns to play for each mode.

  • These modes have names that came from the Greek language. If you are unfamiliar with these names, don't worry, you will remember them soon.

    They are: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian

  • Each mode has a different sound quality.

    2 of the modes are Major (Happy sounding). These are: Ionian and Lydian.
    4 other modes are Minor (Sad sounding). These are: Dorian, Aeolian, Phrygian, and Locrian
    1 mode is Dominant 7th (Happy sounding, but creating tension). This is the Mixolydian mode.

  • To get different modes over the key of C, we will need to play major scales of other keys, but maintaining the root note as C. So the root will always remain as C, even though we are playing major scales in other keys.

    These modes are as follows:

    1. C Ionian          : C major scale over the C root (Diagram 1)

    2. C Dorian          : Bb major scale over the C root (Diagram 2)

    3. C Phrygian      : Ab major scale over the C root (Diagram 3)

    4. C Lydian          : G major scale over the C root (Diagram 4)

    5. C Mixolydian  : F major scale over the C root (Diagram 5)

    6. C Aeolian        : Eb major scale over the C root (Diagram 6)

    7. C Locrian        : Db major scale over the C root (Diagram 7)

  • On the guitar, a good approach is: for each mode, to remember 2 patterns and where the root is in the pattern.

    For one pattern - the root is on the 6th string (Low E).

    For the second pattern - the root is on the 5th string (A).

    By memorizing it this way - you will associate the mode scale fingering to where you will play chords on the guitar with the root being on 6th or 5th strings.

    After you memorize the 2 patterns for each mode and the root position within the pattern, you can connect the rest of the patterns for that mode, by using your existing knowledge of the 5 scale shapes of the major scale.

  • Modes can be confusing, but remember this: You are ALWAYS simply playing the major scale. It is just that you are playing major scales of different various keys (C, Bb, Ab, G, F, Eb, Db) but over (on top of) the same key - C.

  • Ofcourse, if the key of C changes to a different key, and you want to find out the 7 modes of that key, you will have to either use the 2 patterns of the mode you want to play starting with the root of this new key, or figure out which major scales you need to use over this key to get each mode.

    For example: Let's say we want to find out how to play the 7 modes over the key of G.

    You can either use the corresponding patterns for each mode, starting on the root note of G (3rd fret on 6th string or 10th fret on 5th string)

    Or you can figure out that you need to use the major scales: G, F, Eb, D, C, Bb, Ab over the key of G - to get the respective modes of G.

  • Practice switching through all 7 modes in one key!
  • Then practice playing only one mode at a time in all 12 keys.
  • Each mode is only 1 note different from another mode. Learn: which note it is that makes each mode different and what kind of "character" that note adds.
  • The funnest ways to practice modes - is to use them in improvisation over backing tracks. You can also just use a sustaining chord with a drum machine groove on top of it.

    Also, not only are you practicing your modes and pattern knowledge this way, but you are also practicing phrasing, and training your ears to learn what sounds good. It's a 3-in-1 deal!

  • 2 patterns of the IONIAN mode

    2 patterns of the DORIAN mode

    2 patterns of the PHRYGIAN mode

    2 patterns of the LYDIAN mode

    2 patterns of the MIXOLYDIAN mode

    2 patterns of the AEOLIAN mode

    2 patterns of the LOCRIAN mode

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