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August 07, 2007

Learning Scales and Modes

I have noticed that a lot of guitar players have sketchy knowledge of the 7 musical modes. Sometimes you hear people say the " modes of the major scale". We are talking about the same thing - the seven musical modes.

The 7 modal scales have funky names. They are called Ionian mode, Dorian mode, Phrygian mode, Lydian mode, Mixolydian mode, Aeolian mode and Locrian mode. They got their names from the good ol' Greeks.

Does it sound complicated to learn all this?

Hey, it is actually pretty easy! The fact is, all the 7 modes can be seen as using exactly the same notes. For example, let's look at the C Major scale. Starting from the root note going up to the octave, we have the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. This is the first mode, and it's called the Ionian mode. We can play all the modes by using the exact same notes:

  1. C Ionian mode - C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C
  2. D Dorian mode - D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D (look at how we start on the 2nd note in the C major scale and play eight notes!)
  3. E Phrygian mode consists of E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E (look at how we start on the 3rd note in the C major scale and play eight notes!)
  4. F Lydian mode consists of F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F (look at how we start on the... well you get the idea?)
  5. G Mixolydian mode consists of G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G
  6. A Aeolian mode consists of A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A
  7. B Locrian mode consists of B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B

When we look at the modes this way, it's not so complicated, is it? We see that all of the modes consist of exactly the same notes - in this case the notes of the C Major scale. The difference between these modes is where the tonal center is. Look at the D Dorian mode. You can view it as the C Major scale where the tonal center has been shifted to the D note, instead of the C note. Because of this shift, we now have a minor scale mode called the D Dorian mode. However, the notes are identical to the notes of the C Major scale.

This is a really cool thing! If you know the major scale shape all over the neck, you can play all the 7 modes of the scale by just moving this "scale shape".

For example, if you play C major over an F Major chord, you have F Lydian. Here are the different modes and how the C major scale relates:

  1. C major scale over C - C Ionian
  2. C major scale over D - D Dorian
  3. C major scale over E - E Phrygian
  4. C major scale over F - F Lydian
  5. C major scale over G - G Mixolydian
  6. C major scale over A - A Aeolian
  7. C major scale over B - B Locrian

In order to hear how these modes fit in over chords, try playing the modes over these chords:

Notice how you can play C Major over all of these chords? Awesome! I know some people who prefer to look at it as playing the major scale over a certain chord, but others may want to view it as a different mode. It doesn't really matter how you view it, as long as you know how it all fits together.

I hope this makes sense to you. Feel free to ask or comment if I was unclear!

By Robert Renman - www.dolphinstreet.com

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Posted by Robert Renman on August 07, 2007

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