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by Afro_Raven

10 Jul 2007
Views: 42612

Hey hey folks! 'Tis the Afro here. Today I am going to (hopefully) explain some of the mystery behind modes.

Ok, the first basic concept we need to get straight; if you have ever sat there thinking 'why do I hear musicians talking about scales all the time? What use can a set of notes played one after the other going up or down possibly have in music?' Simple! Scales play solos! Where would any musician be when it came time to play a solo and they didn't know what notes to use? Just imagine Van Halen mid-song: 1 , 2 - wait there band! OK, so key of E, take the major 3rd, up three semitones, multiply by the relative minor, down a minor 2nd and divide by the root chord. OK band - 3 , 4 ... It just wouldn't happen would it?
By knowing what notes are in that scale, and providing the scale is in key with the rest of the song, you can guarantee that if you hit any one of the notes from that scale, it will sound in-tune.

So, the next step is to mention the mother of all scales - the major scale. The major scale is so called, because it is the one from which all other scales can be created. This can be through the reduction or addition of the number of notes in the scale; or by changing the intervals (spaces) between the notes in terms of steps and half-steps (or of course a combination of the two). However, this lesson is about modes, not the major scale, so to find out more you can look it up in the 'guitar scales' section of the site or Google it. It is a necessity for me to mention here as it is directly linked with what the lesson is about.

Nice Lovely Modes

At last, after all the above garbage I've been yawking on about, we can finally get down to the good stuff!
The question that should be on your lips at this point is either 'what is a mode?' (preferable) or 'when is this guy gonna hurry up and get to the point so I can go grab a beer?' (bear with me).
Well, I'll answer the first question now. Throughout this lesson I will use the key of G major as my example. So let's take the scale of G major - G, A, B, C, D, E, F#. When you play a piece that has mainly these notes only in it, chances are that you are playing with the scale of G major..... or are you? You see a mode is, quite simply, the major scale - but with a twist.
A mode from G major still uses all the notes from the G major scale, but instead of starting on the note G, we start on a different note from the scale and work through each of the notes in order until we hit the original starting note an octave higher. For example, the second mode of the major scale is the Dorian mode. The second note of G major is A, so we say it is A Dorian. The notes in A Dorian are therefore A, B, C, D, E, F#, G. Fairly simple so far right?
Below is the order of the modes as they occur ascending through the major scale. It is worth noting that although it is the major scale when going from G to G, this is also a mode known as the Ionian mode.

I - G Ionian II - A Dorian III - B Phrygian IV - C Lydian V - D Mixolydian VI - E Aeolian VII - F# Locrian

Now, if you know about the idea of major and relative minor keys/scales (if not Google it up-it's really simple and I don't want to use up loads of space on this page!) you should recognise that in the key of G major its relative minor is E minor. 'Then why, oh why' I hear you ask, 'is it written above as E Aeolian?' That's because just as G major is also the mode of G Ionian, E minor is also the mode of E Aeolian.
So in total, there are seven modes of the major scale. These, of course, can all be transposed into other major scales to get modes for every major scale. All good so far?

How To Use Them

Right, the next question you should be asking (if you're still awake after reading all of the above) is 'what is the point of modes? They're all from the major scale, and therefore if I just play the major scale it'll still sound in tune!' Absolutely right - there's nothing wrong with that. But, that's what a lot of people would do, just hit the odd note here, the odd note there - simple. You're not a lot of people though are you? You're better than that, you want to be the best damn guitarist you know right? Read on, my persistent learner!

Let's use a nice simple chord progression from G major - say; G, Bm, D7, G (I, iii, V7, I)
Now we need to ask the question 'what scale should be played over the top?' This sort of question is possibly one of the most regularly asked in the site's forum . In fact, if you find someone asking it again, please direct them here - it's one of the main reasons I'm writing this lesson.
Anyway, addressing the question in hand, we obviously know the scale to use is G major. Apart from the fact that I've told you, we can see that not only does it start on a G major chord (often a tell-tale sign), but also all of the chords in it are in the key of G major(check out Bodom's excellent lesson on 'KEYS' for confirmation). So that's sorted.

Now is the time to get a little more clever about it!

As said before, we could quite easily stick this progression into the loop machine and just widdle with some random notes from the major scale over the top. But we're better than that!
You remember before I said that each mode corresponded to a certain degree of the major scale, e.g. Lydian - 4th mode on IVth degree; Dorian - 2nd mode on IInd degree. Yeah?
Well, you also know that certain chords correspond to certain degrees of the major scale, e.g. degree ii - minor chord; degree V - major chord; degree iii - minor chord (if not, time to check out 'KEYS' again.)
Great news folks! All you need to do is put those two bits of information together and that's it! You see, each mode shares the same degree with the chord of that degree. What I mean is that in the major scale the third chord goes with the third mode, the sixth chord with the sixth mode, and so on. So in G major, G goes with G Ionian, Am with A Dorian, Bm with B Phrygian, C with C Lydian, D with D Mixolydian, Em with E Aeolian and F#dim with F# Locrian.
The reason each chord is linked with each mode is purely for listening purposes. When you hear a C major chord in the key of G, it sounds much better to play the C Lydian scale. This is because that mode's root/starting note is C, as is the chord's root note, so the two sound like they have a closer relationship (isn't that sweet?)
And at last! After that we are finally ready to answer the original question! In a progression of G, Bm, D7, G; what scale to use? G Ionian over the Gmajor chord, B Phrygian over the Bminor chord, D Mixolydian over the Dmajor chord and back to G Ionian for that last Gmajor.

One last thing for now. Suppose you ask me the question 'Yeah, that's fine if you're in a major key, but what about playing in minor keys? Hmmm? What ya gonna do, Afro?' Well, you remember I mentioned earlier how each major key has a relative minor, meaning they both have the same notes in? It means that the modes are still exactly the same! They just appear in a slightly different order as you move through the scale. All you need to do is the same as we did before - look at each chord in the progression, then find the corresponding mode for it in that key. Sorted!
Modes can also be created for both the harmonic and melodic minor scales - but I'll save that for another day.

Congratulations! You've Made It To The End!

And to be honest, I think that's everything you need to know at the moment. You've learned why we need scales; what scale to use and when to use it - in both Major and Minor keys! Bonus!

I would also recommend you visit the site below - it explains modes really well through a game and has some really cool riffs and licks that you can listen to and print off (all based on modes obviously):

What's more, I can thoroughly recommend you buy Frank Gambale's book 'Modes - No More Mystery' which is an absolute gem of a publication.

And, of course, don't forget you can find all the modes in all keys in the 'guitar scales' part of this site!

Please post any questions, recommendations, comments or hate mail (although if it is this last one please also leave your address so I can come after you with a large soup spoon.)

Take it easy all and go grab yourselves that beer - you've definitely earned it!




Great lesson Afro_Raven!


Thanks muchly - spent long enough on it!


if you play a c major scale over a G - C - D - Em progression for example , doesn't it always automatically gives that C lydian sound when you play over the C chord of that progression?


Certainly does dave, but because it's all the same notes, just with a different root, it's all relative as to what the scale 'sounds' like. This is something I have addressed above - it is fine to focus on playing the more general major scale to over a progression, but within your playing there are only fragments of modal sequences that CAN lead to soundling like unfocused 'widdling'. It therefore sometimes works better to use only the corresponding mode for each chord, because the roots are the same and 'sound' more closely linked. Valid point though!

Take it easy,


k , just checking , keep up the good work Afro !


Actually sorry dave, I misread what you had written before. It's only if you play a G major scale that it sounds like C lydian over the top of the C chord. If you play a C major scale it would sound a little weird because it has an F, not F#. What I said before still stands if you play the G major scale though!



well i meant G major haha ,guess we're messing up both:) good you saw it before ppl get confused


great lesson dude...


Hi afro,

just a quickie as i'm confused on somthing.

a C lydian scale is identical to a G major scale (correct me if i'm wrong?). so dosn't that mean that if i pluck away at a gmajor scale, during a G chord, and a C lydian during a C chord, won't it sound the same regardless?


Hey Yablon,
By all means play any mode from the Gmaj scale over any chord from the key of Gmaj. It won't sound 'wrong' as such - read the above post in response to mightydave's question (04)
Take it easy!


thanks for the answer. i understand everything from your lesson and your response so far, thanks!

just wondering how do i actually solo, and how does it actually sound differnt that im plazing the Clydian instead of the Gmaj.

is it because you are making use of 3rd, 5th and 7th tones of that respective scale to accompany the chord it corresponsds to?
so just for ex during the G maj chord i play a solo emphasyzing the 3rd tones in the gmaj scale. then when the cmaj chord is on, i emphasyze the 3rd tone on the Clydian scale?
will there be a lesson on writing solos or would this answer be sufficient?

a learning guitar player.


Hey Yablon!
To be honest, I am not entirely sure what you are asking in the first part of your question! Playing a C Lydian places an 'emphasis' on the fourth note of the Gmaj scale - the C. Other than that, you are free to play any notes you want from G major.
To answer your other question, this is by no means sufficient in helping you write a solo. Solos are as individual as the people who write them, so my idea of an amazing solo is different to yours, his, hers, Clapton's, Vai's or any other guitarist. The best thing you can do is listen to as much music as possible, establish from there what kind of aspects of the music you like, and then try to incorporate similar ideas into your writing. We will all be learning how to write solos 'til the day we kick the bucket!

Take it easy,


Great! Mystery Solved! Now all I have to do is memorize all them DAMN MODES!! LOL!


hello Afro

Thanks for the lesson. really enjoy reading. 1st of all, im self-learner and sorry for my noob.

what i understand is we have Lydian, Mixolydian and major scale it self which they are known as Major modes as well. question is can i use C Lydian/ D Mixolydian over the whole family chord where the root is G Major? OR this just happen for certain chords progression like C Lydian ( Cmaj) or D Mixolydian(D maj)?hope you understand and sorry for bad english.

and usually i use the relative minor over any Major key .. like E Aeolian over Gmaj and such. can we say i applying one of the modes there?

and again great lesson tho' !


Hi ArGee!
In terms of what modes can be played over what chords, you have quite a lot of flexibility, so don't worry too much about that. As long as the mode you are playing is in the same key as the chord underneath you will not have a problem.
However, it is a little dangerous to be playing the aeolian mode over the chord of its relative major, because the sound that is made from the Gmajor chord is very different to the sound of E Aeolian. Those are probably the only 2 where it's best not to mix them up.
Any more problems, feel free to write back - I'm happy to respond. Don't worry, you're english is not bad at all!



yo Afro!

hey thanks for the respond. appreciate it. its getting clear after reading n keep reading your article and answers. coool !



Very good lesson and easy to read as well full marks 10/10


Thank you very much!



This is probably one of the most helpful lessons on this site. Good work!


Ok so I kind of get it. I used the scales part of this site and I followed each chord in the Major scale in the key of A and paired it in order of modes starting from Ionian. I noticed each scale was exactly the same so the point of modes is to simply start on a different note in the Major key?


Nevermind, I saw it wrong.


sweet, afro.
congrats. a great lesson




afro i,am new here ,looking through form and saw this post ,,got to say i now under stand modes,, let me see? so lets say i wanted to solo in the key of G major i pick out the chords ,,,,,,,,,, Gmajor A minor Cmajor .. it would be Ionian,,Dorian,,Lydian
i would play it in that order write on the cords as they come up


I really should write another lesson sometime soon, this one's getting quite old now!


Heck I don't care how old this is! Thanks Afro Raven, I found this very helpful. Thanks again!


Man, good lesson! But i'm a bit confused! My guitar teacher and me are goingthorugh the stuff as well atm, but he said that if i want to play for example Dorian over an A minor chord, i just play the G major scale starting from A. And respectively if i want to play phrygian over Aminor i play the F major scale starting from F. Is that correct like that? Isnt that the main purpose behind the modes?


Your guitar teacher is absolutely right man, but to use your example so am I - you say to solo over Am you play Gmajor starting on an A. What mode is that? A Dorian!

The second part of your post is slightly ambiguous - an Am chord can belong in many key signatures, therefore according to what key you want to imply the root on which you base your Phrygian would change. For example, say you were just using that one chord and you wanted to imply a key sig. of F you would play an Fmaj scale starting on A, but if you wanted to imply a key sig. of Gmaj you would play a Gmaj scale starting on B (B Phrygian) because in Gmaj, an Am chord is chord ii. Make sense? If not post back and we'll work through it.



ah right ok, but then if it is the key of say g major and i would play the notes of the f major scale from whatever starting note, that would have nothing to do with modes?


No that would be a different thing altogether, because you're simply combining two unrelated scales.



Great Lesson, really helped me understand how to constuct a solo over a given chord progression, but I still have one problem. I am currently working a song that follows A-C-D-C(I didn't plan that) progression, and while it conjures thoughts of a famous Tom Petty song, I wrote a solo that sound very Neo-classical, almost like Van Halen or Yngwie like. I used the A minor scale at the start being played over the A chord, then moved into C major over the C, then faded into the D Dorian mode over the D chord then finished it off with C major again over the C. I have two problems actually:
1. I wrote this in C major, so it follows VI-I-II-I chord progression, would that be the correct scale/mode to use?
2. If I did use the scale/mode correctly, did I put the correct modes over the chords for the solo?


Thank you, thank you, thank you, after years of wondering and piles of books it is about time someone explained it in a simple way to understand it. It's not hard at all. Everyone just wants to explain how you make a mode or a mode is the same as a major scale but when it comes to thepart about using them nothing ever really says or you get the some day it will just dawn on you answer. If using the 2nd chord you use the 2nd mode, why isn't that written down anywhere. I finally know, thanks again !!!!!!!


No worries - always good to hear I've helped someone out!




[i]nice work man[/i]! [/b]
(i dunno how y'all type these thangs out so purty n all lol.)
*students close yer eyes*
ya know that'll ole CAGED 'system' ? ... ever try (no sh!t) "EDCAG" ? (same exact function)
Richard Lloyd (a fav o' mine) suggested this
'EDCAG instead of CAGED, Due to CAGED being referenced by musicians cause it (middle C) has simply been the norm forever....
EDCAG = E = lowest note on guitar.
I've been teaching using this method for awhile (took a bit of getting used to) w/ great results.

i also found it re-infused "the wonder of theory" in my old jaded hands/brain.

try it out sometime man, you'd get a kick outta it!

and again ... excellent lesson ! [i]many will learn much from it[/i].



i guess ^^^^ lol no html lol


Hiya! Great lesson! Just wanted to chime in with a clarifying question, hopefully you're still watching this. so if i am playing anything in one key, say a key of C, playing F, G, C. i would be playing the F Lydian G Mixo and C major. but they are the same notes with a changing root, right? is that always the case or am I missing something? i do get that that note should help u stay with the rhythm, but it just feels like it shouldn't be as easy as that... but if it is... Awesome....


Afro I hope you don't mind me answering for you!

They're all in the same KEY - these notes are an alternate way of playing in that one scale alone. This basically means you are playing in the key of C Major but simply touching on a different note (or position) of that exact same key.

We call them modes because they're like sub-scales (like how we have sub-generes e.g. Trance = Psy-trance, acid-trance, etc. etc.)

Does that help at all?


yeah. i see what you're saying. it's a lot clearer today. I think I wanted it to be a lot harder than it was...


Im not sure if anyone has already asked this but.... Can modes dictate the key of the song? meaning, that if i play a progression am i playing in that MODE or that key?



You can have the modes as the leading progression throughout a song, yes.

But with what you're playing... technically there's a key change in your chord progression, your G should be a Gmaj7 to make it the V in the key of C. Since it's not, you can say they're passing chords, or keychanges throughout your song.


Thank you Jazz but i'm not sure that i understand why the G "must" be Gmaj7 in order to be in the key of C.

I thought that i was playing a ( ii V I vi ) type of progression in C. I realize that the C9 is kind of like repeating the I.



I know it's been a long time since you posted this, but I would really appreciate some help, as I'm just getting into the modes.

I just wanted to clear a few things up so I know I'm on the right track...


Is it true that the mode positions are the same as the five from the major scale (Ionian)? just shift them around to get the other modes?

2. I read what you said about if you have a G - C - D progression that you should play the G Ionian, followed by the C Lydian, and lastly the D Mixolydian. But, for more variation, can you use any mode of G, C, etc? I know some will sound off, but you aren't limited to only C Lydian while on that C right?

3. Let's say I wanted to play an A aeolian scale. Based on if my first question is true, which root major scale (does that make sense) do I start with? ...and then move up 5 modes to get? Do you see what my question is? Because one scale may have a C# while others may have just a natural C, how do I know where to start before I move the root of the scale up to A?

I hope all those questions made sense, and I would REALLY appreciate an answer from anybody. Thanks so much, and great lesson! Definitely one of the best I've read on the topic!


Can't say I fully understood your questions dude. But it seems like you are have trouble understand "keys" not scales. All these modes will be in the same key, the patterns do not change when you go from key to key, just the notes.

So you ask what major scale would be relative to A minor? C Major. In the key of C major, you have, C Ionian D Dorian E Phrygian F Lydian G Mixolydian A Aeolian (minor) and B Locrian.

Check out this lesson to help you out some:

Rock on.

If you are playing notes other than those, you are not in the same key; to keep it simple.

You are never limited to any specific scale. You play what you want to hear. If you are playing in G Major, it is most accepted to play only the modes as seen in G major. All of these modes contain the same notes inside of one key, so it makes no difference (as far as key) if you play G Ionian or A Dorian or C Lydian because they all have the same notes. Where the difference lies, is with the intervals which give each mode a different tonality.


Eh, don't know why my reply got effed up... but I am sure you can figure it out.


As Guitarsliger said, G Ionian, C Lydian and D Mixolydian contain all the same notes. They will only sound like the specific mode, when you play them over the right chord in the background. Because your mind will hear the different basenote and then you start up with your intervals from that note. (G-C-D) If you base your G Ionian scale over a Gmajor chord you have the Ionian Intervals. As soon as you play the same scale over the C, your new centre is key, so if youstart the G Ionian scale from G you will get the raised 4th interval which is the specific difference between the G Ionian and the G Lydian.
Of course the Modes are all within the major scale, however they all have different intervals from their starting point. So you need to treat each scale as a seperate on i would suggest. You need to pay attention to their specific characteristic intervals.

Over that specific progression you can play different scales not just the ones stated. Over the C Chord you might want to try CIonian? however, then you are switching keys.


Okay, so let's say I'm playing over a jam track in the key of B...

There are two approaches...I could solo using a scale based off the key, or I could change the scales accordingly for each chord to make it sound better.

My question is how do the modes relate to the key? Let's say I'm jamming over the key of B. Could I play any of, B - Ionian, B - Dorian, B - Phyrgian...etc to get different sounds, or is that improper and should I play any of B - Ionian, C# - Dorian, D# - Phyrgian, E - Lydian, etc. ?

Like do you play each mode but starting literally with the letter B, or does each mode pertain to notes of the B scale?

Also, let's say the progression is B - D# F# (I - III - IV)

If I wanted to solo using different modes over each chord, how would I do so?

And what variation/option do I have for choosing the mode to use? If theres a plain B jam track on Youtube, which modes can I use for that?

You see, my main dilemna is knowing WHICH MODE TO USE OVER WHAT! :( If someone could help me with all my questions I'd really appreciate it.



I think you should check out the lesson I mentioned in my previous post. Should clear up most of your confusion.


Look, I already understand intervals and the major scale and basic theory like what you gave me. It's just no where on the internet or anything I can find explain how to properly use/apply them, or the boxes and how to know which box is for which scale, and why.

Could you try?/answer my questions?

I'd appreciate it.


Your "( I - III - IV)" should be a "(I - III - V)" ^^

Anyway, lets proceed. You can use a variation of scales. I just jammed along to your chord progression and you are pretty flexible with it. You have to look at the notes which are within the chord to know what you are going to play. However, in the end your ear should decide. For example over the second chord the D#minor, looking at what we discussed earlier you surely think: its the third chord so I will play phrygian over it. However when you play an E# instead of E (which gives us D# Aeolian) it also works out quite nicely even though it may seem confusing. Or try to play BLydian over the first chord instead of Ionian, gives it a bit more flavour. You are free to choose if you are going to stick to the view of playing Ionian over the first, Dorian over the second, phrygian over your third degree chord...etc. or if you are going to use a scale just with the chord (as we have here D#Aeolian over the D#minor chord. I personally believe that the second option spices up your music. There is no rule what mode to use when, the whole theory just gives you new ideas i think, what to use when. Try this chord progression and play all the modes over your three chords and then you will quickly hear the dissonant intervals and what mode you can use over the specific chord.
However you have to be careful, for example playing phrygian over a major chord will create a lot of tension, it is very hard to mix major/minor tonality as the phrygian mode has the minor third interval and the major chord has a major third. I don t know how far you are along the way, but when you understood the effect of the intervals and what sound they create then you are starting to understand the modes very quickly.
I hope I could help you!
Did that answer your question?


Thanks a lot for your help so far. I'm starting to grasp this a bit more.

I now know that you can use any mode from that scale, it's just on your preference of sound (That's correct, right?). Let me just see if I understand what you wrote.

Are the modes I can use, for any chord in this progression (B), hypothetically, B Ionian, C# Dorian, D# Phyrgian, E Lydian, F# Mixolydian, G# Aeolian, and A# Locrian? Others, for example F# Aeolian, won't work because F# Aeolian is part of the G# scale, correct? Does the mode have to be derived from the scale you are using?

Of the B Major modes, it would sound best to use the D# Phrygian, or G# Aeolian on the minor chords, because they are minor modes, and are still part of the B Major scale, just with different roots for the different sounds. Am I correct?

Lastly, I don't understand why you say you can play the B Lydian over the B, wouldn't that be a mode from the F# Major scale? And we're in B... shouldn't it be the E Lydian scale you can use?

Thanks so much,

a learning guitar player.

ps. when I play these, am I just taking the five major scale boxes and starting from different notes? When I do this it doesn't really sound too different...are there different boxes? I hope so!


Ok, so first if you listen to the modes, they will only sound like the mode if you have its root note/chord played in the background. So if you are playing say D#Phrygian you will need the D#minor chord otherwise it will just sound like Ionian.

You "can" of course use any mode you want, however they are probably not going to sound good. Ionian, Lydian and Mixo are Major modes, the other ones are minor modes. So if you play a major mode over a minor chord it will probably sound very odd.
The 7 modes you listed are the ones that can be derived from the Bmajor scale, they all contain the same notes. If you play the D#Phrygian pattern, over a B Ionian chord however, it will sound like BIonian, because those scales contain the same notes and your root note is B instead of D# so it will sound like B Ionian, you got that?

You cant say that F#Aeolian wont work because it is from a different key. It wont work probably because you have an F#major chord and Aeolian is a minor scale. However, try to play Lydian! Looking at the rules you should play mixolydian over the F# chord, but i think that lydian also sounds quite cool. Try it! Otherwise you probably wont understand what I am trying to get across.
Ehm, juse because its a minor mode wont necessarily mean that it will sound good over a certain chord. Do you know how the modes differ from each other? If not, then write out the basic structure of one octave on a tab and see the different intervals and how they differ in sound!

You can, but for a start you should pick out one mode and fully analyse it. If you are just going to treat it as another degree of the major scale and not its "own unique" scale with its own intervals, you are probably just going to end up noodling around ^^

Of course, normally you stick to the given patterns, but i think that for example the D#Aeolian will also work instead of the D#Phyrgian. They only differ in one! note. Try it! And you will probably see that it also works.

Hope I could help again ^^

a learning guitar player.




So for example, take La Bamba, that uses the chords C F and G.
When you play the c major chord you're playing in C Ioninan, when you you play F you're playing in F lydian and when you play in G you're playing in G mixolydian.
Have I got it or do I need to read it over again? : )


Great lesson Afro,
I am an amateur, and I wish if you could text me maybe at
help from anyone is appreciated. I just need to clear some things about the application of these modes

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