Working Through The Seven Modes

First, the word mode simply means scale. You can think of a mode as a scale built off the individual notes of a specific key. In Example 1, we have the G Ionian scale, which consists of the notes G, A, B, C, E, F# and G. The Ionian mode is simply the normal major scale starting on the first note of the G major scale, which is G. Put a few G chords on tape and play the notes of this scale in order to hear the sound of the Ionian mode.

In Example 2, we build off the second note of the G major scale, A, and continue with the rest of the scale, giving us A, B, C, D, E, F#, G and A. This is called the Dorian mode. Since the scale starts on A, it is properly known as the A Dorian scale. To best hear how the Dorian mode sounds, record several A minor chords to tape, and play the notes from the scale.

In Example 3, we build off the third note of the G major scale, B, and as before, play the rest of the scale, giving us B, C, D, E, F#, G, A and B. This is called the Phrygian mode. This time, the scale starts on B, and is formerly known as the B Phrygian scale. Now put some B minor chords on tape and play the notes of this scale in order to hear the sound of the Phrygian mode.

Are you beginning to see a pattern? In Example 4, we build off the fourth note of the G major scale, C, and the rest of the scale follows, giving us C, D, E, F#, G, A, B and C. This is called the Lydian mode. The scale starts on C, and is known as the C Lydian scale. To best hear how the Lydian mode sounds, record several C chords to tape, and play the notes from the scale.

To build and learn the remaining three modes:

Example 5:

  • Start on the fifth note of the G major scale - D
  • Play D, E, F#, G, A B, C, D
  • Mode: Mixolydian
  • Scale name: D Mixolydian
  • Play over D chords

Example 6:

  • Start on the sixth note of the G major scale - E
  • Play E, F#, G, A, B, C, D, E
  • Mode: Aeolian (minor)
  • Scale name: E Aeolian or E minor
  • Play over E minor chords

Example 7:

  • Start on the seventh note of the G major scale - F#
  • Play F#, G, A, B, C, D, E, F#
  • Mode: Locrian
  • Scale name: F# Locrian
  • Play over F# minor 7th b5 chords

Example 1:

G Ionian/Major  
  
Notes:   G  A  B  C  D  E  F# G  
E      |--------------------------------------------|
B      |--------------------------------------------|
G      |--------------------------------------------|
D      |----------------2--4--5---------------------|
A      |-------2--3--5------------------------------|
E      |-3--5---------------------------------------|
Fingers: 2  4  1  2  4  1  3  4

Example 2:

A Dorian   
 
Notes:   A  B  C  D  E  F# G  A
E      |--------------------------------------------|
B      |--------------------------------------------|
G      |----------------------2---------------------|
D      |-------------2--4--5------------------------|
A      |----2--3--5---------------------------------|
E      |-5------------------------------------------|
Fingers: 4  1  2  4  1  3  4  1

Example 3:

B Phrygian   
 
Notes:   B  C  D  E  F# G  A  B
E      |--------------------------------------------|
B      |--------------------------------------------|
G      |-------------------2--4---------------------|
D      |----------2--4--5---------------------------|
A      |-2--3--5------------------------------------|
E      |--------------------------------------------|
Fingers: 1  2  4  1  3  4  1  3

Example 4:

C Lydian   
 
Notes:   C  D  E  F# G  A  B  C
E      |--------------------------------------------|
B      |--------------------------------------------|
G      |----------------2--4--5---------------------|
D      |-------2--4--5------------------------------|
A      |-3--5---------------------------------------|
E      |--------------------------------------------|
Fingers: 2  4  1  3  4  1  3  4

Example 5:

D Mixolydian   
 
Notes:   D  E  F# G  A  B  C  D
E      |--------------------------------------------|
B      |----------------------3---------------------|
G      |-------------2--4--5------------------------|
D      |----2--4--5---------------------------------|
A      |-5------------------------------------------|
E      |--------------------------------------------|
Fingers: 4  1  3  4  1  3  4  2

Example 6:

E Aeolian/Minor   
 
Notes:   E  F# G  A  B  C  D  E
E      |--------------------------------------------|
B      |-------------------3--5---------------------|
G      |----------2--4--5---------------------------|
D      |-2--4--5------------------------------------|
A      |--------------------------------------------|
E      |--------------------------------------------|
Fingers: 1  3  4  1  3  4  2  4

Example 7:

F# Locrian   
 
Notes:   F# G  A  B  C  D  E  F#
E      |----------------------2---------------------|
B      |----------------3--5------------------------|
G      |-------2--4--5------------------------------|
D      |-4--5---------------------------------------|
A      |--------------------------------------------|
E      |--------------------------------------------|
Fingers: 3  4  1  3  4  2  4  1

Example 8:

Ab Ionian/Major   
 
Notes:   Ab Bb C  Db Eb F  G  Ab
E      |--------------------------------------------|
B      |--------------------------------------------|
G      |--------------------------------------------|
D      |----------------3--5--6---------------------|
A      |-------3--4--6------------------------------|
E      |-4--6---------------------------------------|
Fingers: 2  4  1  2  4  1  3  4

Notice that in every example the key signature denotes G major (one sharp - F#).

Practice these scales ascending and descending. Also try playing them in different keys. By moving up a half step to Ab major (Example 8), the scale consists of Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, G and A and is known as Ab Ionian. The whole process starts again and can be repeated in any key. I believe practicing these scales daily will help give you a better working knowledge of your fretboard. Remember to always say the notes to yourself. Practice hard and good luck!

Tony Young is a self-taught guitarist from Michigan and currently teaches guitar and theory.

He was interviewed in Guitar Nine's April, 1997 Interviews column.

His latest project is "Saturn Five", a self-produced instrumental guitar CD release.

Tony Young

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