by Afro_Raven (Jul 10, 2007)

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!