This series will introduce you to the concept of modes on guitar,
with the modes of the major scale.
We'll start by looking at the characteristics of each mode
individually. After that, we'll discover how they work together
on the fretboard and when to use them.
an important introduction to modes, because this is not
something we can just rush into (as you'll soon realise).
What are modes and how are they different to
Watch this video presentation for a good intro...
In a nutshell, modes are "scales within a scale".
In the example in the video, the major scale was the parent scale. All
its modes (children) can be used as scales in a solo, just
like the major
scale itself. But what makes them modes is that they are derived from
the intervals of a parent
That's why we call them modes OF a particular scale (e.g. modes of the
major scale, modes of harmonic minor etc.).
The major scale has 7
tones, and each tone represents a degree of that scale - 1st (root),
In modal theory, each degree of the major scale marks the "start", or
of a new mode, with the same corresponding number.
For example, the 2nd
degree of the major scale also marks the root note
of the 2nd mode
of that scale (see below for the numbered modes).
Play the major scale from
its 2nd tone, and you will be playing the sequence of
tones that make up the 2nd
mode of the major scale.
However, it is only when that sequence of tones is played in context,
over a backing note or sequence of chords
built around that same degree, that its modal colour truly shows. More
on this later!
start by getting to know each of the modes on guitar individually
before pulling it all together.
Take your time, and try not to concern yourself too much with their
unusual names (Ancient Greek origin)!
When you start to understand this intrinsic relationship between the
modes, all connected to the notes of their parent scale, you realise
that you're only ever really playing the major scale
in a relative key.
All 7 modes use the same 7 notes of their parent scale, in other words.
They just "start" from different degrees of that parent scale.
For example, D Lydian
uses the same 7 notes as its parent A
major scale, just "starting" from a different root note...
This is because the note D
is the 4th note
of the A major scale,
therefore D becomes the root note for its 4th mode.
Taking another key, F
major, where do you think its Mixolydian mode
would be rooted?
The answer is the note C.
This is because C is the 5th
note of the F
major scale and therefore corresponds to the 5th mode mixolydian.
All you're doing is picking one of the major scale's degrees and
playing that degree's related mode from that note.
The reason it doesn't always sound like the major scale is because the
backing chord/progression or bass note puts it into the context of one
of its modes.
If you play the D Dorian pattern, the parent scale may be C major, but
if the backing chord is D minor, it will reinforce D Dorian as the
tonal center, even though you're just playing the notes of the C major
It's also useful to be able to see the subtle differences between each
major mode and each minor mode. This will help you identify which
chords a particular mode will work over.
For example, mixolydian
would work over a dominant
7th chord but not a major
7th chord, because
mixolydian has a flat 7th (not a major 7th) interval.
A major chord with a #4 (sharp 4th, also called a #11th) would be best
suited to Lydian, because Lydian has a #4.
The below tables show you which chords each mode tends to be associated
with. The related chord tones are emboldened
and underlined in the intervals column.
Note that, although Lydian's most commonly associated chord is a #11,
it's also commonly used over major or major 7th chords without the #4/#11,
as an alternative to Ionian.
7th (e.g. Cmaj7)
Major 7th Sharp 11th (e.g. Cmaj7#11)
7th (e.g. C7)
6th (e.g. Cmadd6)
Suspended 4th Flat 9th (e.g. Csus4b9)
7th (e.g. Cm7)
Locrian is the "odd one out" because it's the only diminished mode out
of the 7, therefore its related chord is diminished (called half
diminished when extended to a 7th chord).
Diminished (e.g. Cm7b5)
When to Play Modes
The video below gives you some theory behind knowing when to play a
particular mode and some ear training exercises to help you identify
when a movement of harmony is modal (or at least implies a given
Each mode lesson in the contents
training audio and links to popular songs that could be considered
modal, so you'll be able to explore each mode's sound, both melodically
and harmonically, individually.
Have a question about guitar modes?
This is where you can ask any question regarding guitar modes and modal theory.
Guitar Mode Questions From Other Visitors
Click below to see submissions from other guitarists. Feel free to comment on the answers provided and help expand the topic...