When referenced in a non-modal context, the Aeolian mode is simply
the natural minor scale.
Why "natural"? This helps us distinguish it from other
minor scales (e.g. harmonic and melodic minor). Don't worry about those
Just like the other modes, Aeolian has it's own
unique flavour and is probably the most commonly used minor
scale/mode in western pop and rock music.
the previous minor mode lessons (Phrygian and Dorian), you should be
familiar with the significance of the flat 3rd (b3), also
known as the
This makes Aeolian a minor mode, as it includes the basic minor triad
(also used to create minor chords): 1
You should also know how the flat
7th (b7) is a natural tone used in the minor modes.
We learned that the flat
was part of Phrygian (another minor mode), but because the rest of
Aeolian is slightly different to Phrygian, that flat 6th will paint a
rather different picture, when used with the other tones in the scale.
Listen to the Aeolian interval sequence below, which makes use of its
key tones, to introduce you to its "flavour":
As with the other mode lessons, let's first look at Aeolian mode in its
Later in the series, we'll look at how to expand out of that box and
use more of the guitar's fretboard to play Aeolian. This will free up
your finger movements to allow more fluid
For now though, just get to know where each of
Aeolian's tones lie within that space of 5 frets.
See how it spans 3 root notes, so you effectively have 3 octaves to
What about finger positions?
Watch out for that little back step in the pattern on the G string. You
have a better way of working around that. The above diagram is just a
Playing Aeolian over chords
As mentioned earlier, Aeolian is a minor
(due to the minor 3rd interval) so it will work over... minor chords! As a
mode, it will also work over a sequence of chords, but this will become
clearer when we play over the jam track later.
The key note to be careful with the Aeolian mode is the flat 6th. We heard
it earlier as part of an interval sequence, but over a minor chord it's
See, if you hold the flat 6th over a minor chord, it won't sound too
harmonious. Take a listen:
It may be good for a kind of atmospheric, tense effect.
So how can we use the flat 6th more... musically? There are a couple of
ways to accomplish this. First, you
can use the flat 6th as a passing
tone. This is where you skip over it
as if it's a bridge between two more stable tones in the scale. For
example, you could sandwich the flat 6th within a sequence like this...
5 1 b7 b6 5
the main thing to remember when you're creating phrases in Aeolian is
to glance over that flat 6th tone as part of a sequence,
emphasising the flat 6th as a resting note.
the other tones of Aeolian are pretty neutral as far as minor harmony
goes. In fact, leave out the b6 and you're simply left with the minor
pentatonic scale with an added 9th - used all the time in rock, metal
Aeolian mode jam track
Ok! So here we are with another jam track to help us
with our own ideas.
Just like the other modes, Aeolian can work over more than one chord,
with the right chord progression. We call these modal chord
progressions because they support and highlight a given mode's color.
Below I've created a backing track in the key of A minor, which is
compatible with A Aeolian.
The main chord to focus on is known as the tonic chord.
This is, in
this example, A minor.
The other chords you'll hear in the progression
are also compatible with A Aeolian, but the notes of Aeolian will
interact differently with these non-tonic chords.
So, in a nutshell,
build up phrases over these chords, but focus the resolution of these
phrases on that tonic A minor chord. That tonic chord will bring out
the Aeolian flavour and disperse it through the progression in that context.
have fun with it. Don't, however, just play the Aeolian notes up or
down in sequence from 1 to 7, try skipping strings, staggering the
patterns of your phrases etc. but keep in mind what we've learned about
that rebellious flat 6th tone!