Guitar Modes

What is a guitar mode or a scale mode?

Essentially a scale mode is a scale played with a different interval structure.

With modal positions and scales, all you do is move up the fretboard. For example if you are playing in the key of A major and you are playing the A major scale, if you keep returning to the A note, you are in the Ionian mode (or A Ionian/major mode). If you’re still in the key of A major but you solo over a B, you’re going to use that B note as your reference point to return to. So you still play the A major scale but you start and return to the B note. So you just start the scale on the second note of it, in this case B. If you study the charts below, you’ll see that all these modes put together actually are nothing but the major scale covering the span of 12 frets. You use the same pattern for any key, anywhere on the fretboard. So no matter what key you are playing in, as long as you know the key and the progression, you can figure out what note to start on or reference in your soloing based on the chord being played in the progression. It sounds complicated but once you figure out the patterns you’ll find it’s not that bad.

scale modes Ionian Mode: this is the first position of the major scale. The root of the key is the same as the starting position of the scale.
scale modes Dorian Mode: this is the second position of the majorscale. The root of the key becomes a minor 7th to the starting note of the scale.
scale modes Phrygian Mode: this is the third position of the major scale. The root of the key becomes a minor 6th to the starting note of the scale.
scale modes Lydian Mode: this is the fourth position of the major scale. The root of the key becomes a perfect 5th to the starting note of the scale.
scale modes Mixolydian mode: this is the fifth position of the major scale. The root of the key becomes a perfect 4th to the starting note of the scale.
scale modes Aeolian mode: this is the sixth position of the major scale. The root of the key becomes a minor 3rd to the starting note of the scale. This also the relative minor
scale of the key you are playing in. So if you are playing in the key of A major, this would be the A relative minor scale. Or the E aeolian mode, they’re both the same thing.
scale modes Locrian mode: this is the seventh position of the major scale. The root of the key becomes a minor 2nd to the starting note of the scale.

scale modes

Above you can see that all the modes put together = the major scale. Remember a couple of things:

a mode is not a scale, so a D major scale played in dorian position is actually E dorian

the interval pattern is the same for all keys, I just showed A

the patterns I’ve shown you can be played in different ways. That is to say, just like the major scale (ionian) having several positions, so too do the modes. The important thing is to reference or start the scale on that particular note for the scale.

Ionian – 1st, Dorian – 2nd, Phrygian – 3rd, Lydian – 4th, Mixolydian – 5th, Aeolian – 6th, Locrian – 7th

Comments

  1. Joseph says

    Hi,

    Thanks for the information.

    What is the different between playing a C Major Scale vs playing a C Major Scale in Ionian Mode?

    Can I play the same Ionian Mode in different position on the fret broad?

    What is the main purpose of Guitar Modes?

    Thanks again for your help.

    • dakotah kearns says

      Nothing Ionian is 1 it is the major scale. Just like Aeolian is 6 a natural minor it is the minor scale whwwhww. Don’t be overwhelmed. Think of the modes as shifting the major scale intervals the wholes and half’s down one each time. Hope that helps

  2. mark says

    Are all modes played as firsts seconds and fifths from the root? Ie aeolion is first second and fifth in the key of A. Does the same theory apply to all other modes? Thanks

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