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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 ModesAt 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 ThemRight, 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!
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...
thanks for the answer. i understand everything from your lesson and your response so far, thanks!
Great! Mystery Solved! Now all I have to do is memorize all them DAMN MODES!! LOL!
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.
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
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!
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:
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Okay, so let's say I'm playing over a jam track in the key of B...
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.
Your "( I - III - IV)" should be a "(I - III - V)" ^^
Thanks a lot for your help so far. I'm starting to grasp this a bit more.
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.
So for example, take La Bamba, that uses the chords C F and G.
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