2021 Guide to Guitar Scales Modes. The Theory & Benefits!

Confused between Guitar Scales Modes, and Chords? Modes have been the basis of European art music for over a thousand years. Recently Modes have been a part of all types of music from Folk to modern Jazz to Rock and Blues. Are you sure what you understand about scales modes is what they actually are?

Most basically, modes are particular keys. In the past, there were no keys or tonalities, so the only logical way to make tunes was with melodies in different modes. That was with the principle Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do scales, meaning starting from different tones. Along with the development of the music sector “major” and “minor” systems developed. Theoretically, modes are inversions of a scale and through learning major-minor scales with certain alterations, you can master guitar scale modes easily.

Below, we will be explaining the most interesting facts about modes and give you insight into everything you need to know about scales modes as a guitar player. 

Benefits of knowing and practicing guitar scales modes

Build finger strength

Anyone who has even attempted playing guitar may know how important it is to train your fingers and build your finger strength to be a successful guitar player/guitarist. Learning and playing guitar scales and modes will be a great way to achieve your goal as you enhance your knowledge at the same time as training your moves. 

Develop Your Ear

Recognize the relationship between notes and the location on the guitar and understand the music better.

Read Music

Starting from notes to scales to chords and modes. The ability to read music will take you one step closer to being a professional musician and as well as increase the accuracy of your playing.

Learn Songs Easier

It is no secret that you ought to know notes to learn songs. When you learn your notes, learning about scales, chords and modes is only getting easier and interesting. 

Learn Chords Faster

As we mentioned, chords are made of notes and scales. Once you know your scales and chords, guess what’s next, Modes! wink*

Write Some Songs

It is a big dream of many musicians/guitarists to write their own songs and melodies. And you are reading this means that dream is not too far away from reality for you. Developing from notes to scales to functions and chords is more than halfway improvement towards your dreams. Understanding modes is only taking you further forward towards your goals. 

Taking C major scale as the parent scale is the best way to learn modes easily.

Musical modes are seven different scales with seven different exclusive sounds. The easiest way to practice all the modes is to take the C major scale where each mode can be played over the entire guitar neck. 

The modes in the C major scale is written in two octaves: Ionian (from C to C), Dorian (D to D), Phrygian, (E to E), Lydian (F to F), Mixolydian (G to G), Aeolian (A to A) and Locrian (B to B). Ionian, Lydian, and Mixolydian sound major, while Dorian, Phrygian, and Aeolian sound minor, and Locrian sound diminished. All the seven modes may share the same seven notes, but each one has a distinct sonic identity. 

Clearer segregation;

  • CDEFGABC = 1st mode: Ionian (major scale)
  • DEFGABCD = 2nd mode: Dorian (start from 2nd note)
  • EFGABCDE = 3rd mode: Phrygian (start from 3rd note)
  • FGABCDEF = 4th mode: Lydian (start from 4th note)
  • GABCDEFG = 5th mode: Mixolydian (start from 5th note)
  • ABCDEFGA = 6th mode: Aeolian (start from 6th note, minor)
  • BCDEFGAB = 7th mode: Locrian (start from 7th note)

As you see, when you change the order of notes you change the structure of scale together with their functions related to chords. 

The first mode (major scale) broken down to elaborate the relation between notes, (W=whole step/two frets, and H=half step/one fret);

  • Ionian W-W-H-W-W-W-H
  • Dorian W-H-W-W-W-H-W
  • Phrygian H-W-W-W-H-W-W
  • Lydian W-W-W-H-W-W-H
  • Mixolydian W-W-H-W-W-H-W
  • Aeolian W-H-W-W-H-W-W
  • Locrian H-W-W-H-W-W-W

Let’s compare the modes between major and minor scales making it easy to comprehend and memorize. 

Start with C major

The C major scale runs from C to C and has no sharps or flats. C major scale is also the first mode, the Ionian mode;

Note: The black dots are the other notes of the mode

Formular: Numbering of each note of the scale from 1 to 7. 

Intervals: W=whole step/two frets, and H=half step/one fret

Major;

  1. Ionian = major scale

The first of seven musical modes and well known among all major scales.Consists of a root (1), second (2), major third (3), fourth (4), fifth (5), sixth (6) and major seventh (7). The ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth correspond to the second, fourth and the sixth. 

Intervals: W-W-H-W-W-W-H

You may apply the Ionian mode over any major chord. Ex: Major (maj), major seventh (M7), major sixth (M6 or 6), major ninth (M9), and six/nine (6/9).

How to play in 12 Keys;

  • C major scale : C-D-E-F-G-A-B 
  • Db major scale : Db-Eb-F-Gb-Eb-Bb-C
  • D major scale : D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#
  • Eb major scale : Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C-D
  • E major scale : E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#
  • F major scale : F-G-A-Bb-C-D-E
  • F# major scale : F#-G#-A#-B-C#-D#-E#
  • Gb major scale : Gb-Ab-Bb-Cb-Db-Eb-F
  • G major scale : G-A-B-C-D-E-F#
  • Ab major scale : Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-G
  • A major scale : A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G#
  • Bb major scale : Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-A
  • B major scale : B-C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A#

Examples Of The Ionian Mode In Use:

Eric Johnson – Cliffs of Dover (G Ionian)

 If I Was A Blackbird by Silly Wizard

  1. Lydian = major scale with IV#

The normal major scale has a perfect or natural 4th (simply 4) and Lydian has a sharp 4th, also called an augmented 4th (♯4). 

Try playing F and B notes on your guitar to hear the clashing sound. Play the notes and notice how F becomes your new root note as you play F Lydian.

Intervals: W-W-W-H-W-W-H

Avoid: Accidentally Turning The #4 Into A Leading Tone

This scale is just one semitone different from a major scale so be aware you are placing your finger. However, Lydian has a leading tone in C (B-C movement) which will confirm your key. 

Also be aware on the movement from F#-G as well as that can also have the same leading tone feel. For accurate results, you need to remain in the Lydian mode paying attention to the fact that your melodies can accidentally lead you towards unwanted tonal modes.

Examples Of The Lydian Mode In Use:

  1. Mixolydian = major scale with VIIb

One of the  most popular modes of guitarists in any genre. This mode needs a bit of technical knowledge. It is constructed by taking the standard major scale and lowering the seventh note by half a step, creating a dominant seventh interval between the roots. Mixolydian mode is only one note away from the standard major scale. 

Intervals: W-W-H-W-W-H-W

The flatten 7th introduces a tension to the sound creating somewhat darkness in the sound. 

How to play in 12 Keys;

  • A Mixolydian Mode : A,B,C#,D,E,F#,G (parent key D)
  • Bb Mixolydian Mode : Bb,C,D,Eb,F,G,Ab (parent key Eb)
  • B Mixolydian Mode : B,C#,D#,E,F#,G#,A (parent key E)
  • C Mixolydian Mode : C,D,E,F,G,A,Bb (parent key F)
  • Db Mixolydian Mode : Db, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, C (parent key Gb)
  • D Mixolydian Mode : D,E,F#,G,A,B,C (parent key G)
  • E Mixolydian Mode : E,F#,G#,A,B,C#,D (parent key A)
  • Eb Mixolydian Mode : Eb,F,G,Ab,Bb,C,Db (parent key Ab)
  • F Mixolydian Mode : F,G,A,Bb,C,D,Eb (parent key Bb)
  • F# Mixolydian Mode : F#,G#,A#,B,C#,D#,E (parent key B)
  • G Mixolydian Mode : G,A,B,C,D,E,F (parent key C)
  • Ab Mixolydian mode : Ab, Bb, C,Db, Eb, F, Gb, Ab (parent key Db)

Examples Of The Mixolydian Mode In Use:

Minor;

  1. Dorian = minor scale with VI#

One of the most impotent notes in any scale, and if you successfully stay in the note it feels “final”. 

Intervals: W-H-W-W-W-H-W

This note sounds a bit more dark, it’s exciting how you can use that dark sound to your advantage. This sound comes from two very important places such as, minor 3rd that connects the tonic C to the Eb & the G to Bb up at chord V. 

At the same time it also has a little brightness to it, and there is only one note different between the minor and D notes. 

That natural 6th is the core of the Dorian mode so play around it making sure it’s natural and not flat. But you do not want to use the natural 6 as the leading tone. 

Dorian has a strong association with Jazz. Having that said, the versatility of this note is best at Harmony. 

Examples Of The Dorian Mode In Use:

  1. Phrygian = minor scale with IIb

Phrygian gives a lot of melodic freedom, sounding very natural. But it can also offer you rather a darker minor scale sound. This is also a great note for improvisation. Nothing too complicated about this note when you think it’s just a minor scale with the second note flattened. 

Great for rock & hip hop tracks, but as mentioned, you may utilize this to improvise other genres along the road. 

Although the Phrygian note gives you a beautiful natural and dark touch to the sound, there is no need for you to stay in the tone. When it doesn’t sound right you are free to change. If you think a D natural would sound better in place of a Db a then feel free to go ahead. 

Examples Of The Phrygian Mode In Use:

  1. Aeolian = natural minor scale

Commonly known as the relative minor or natural minor scale as it is built from the sixth degree of the scale. 

Intervals: W-H-W-W-H-W-W

Scale Modes:

A Aeolian:

  • Am
  • Bdim
  • C
  • Dm
  • Em
  • F
  • G

C Major:

  • C
  • Dm
  • Em
  • F
  • G
  • Am
  • Bdim

Examples Of The Aeolian Mode In Use:

  1. Locrian is minor scale with IIb and Vb

An absolute rare note that you may almost never see it being used, but the note is also quite effective when used. 

The sound gives a natural darkness through its flattened notes. It’s minor third as a start, moving to the minor sixth, then minor second and diminished fifth basically covers darkness from every aspect. You are not able to get any brightness from the tone which is why the usage of this note is quite rare. 

Examples Of The Locrian Mode In Use;

Modes: Sound & Tonality

Different modes speak different emotions. More sharps and fewer flats are used in a mode, the more uplifting and happy the sound feels, in contrast, more flats are being used to bring out darker or sinister sounds. For example;

  • Lydian and Ionian Modes: happy and spiritually uplifting music
  • Mixolydian & Dorian Modes: often in blues and gospel music
  • The Aeolian (minor) Mode: melancholy and sad music 
  • Phrygian and Locrian Modes: scary, dramatic, and sinister/alien sounds

Bright to darkness Modes;

  • Lydian: 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7 (Brightest)
  • Ionian: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
  • Mixolydian: 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7
  • Dorian: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7
  • Aeolian: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
  • Phrygian: 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
  • Locrian: 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7 (Darkest)

Eight Degrees of Major Scales

Eight degrees of major scales have specific names; 

  • 1st – tonic
  • 2nd – supertonic
  • 3rd – mediant
  • 4th – subdominant
  • 5th – dominant
  • 6th – submediant
  • 7th – leading tone
  • 8th – tonic (octave)

Bottom Line

So as we said, studying music theory and language is going to help you as a guitarist in many ways. Knowing music theory is going to allow you to have a better understanding of music, grow your confidence as a musician, let you play many variations, improvise, and write your own music. Strive to be well sounded, as all the best producers, DJs, guitar players, and musicians definitely do. A key is the root of a song, know your roots in detail, cause that knowledge does help you everywhere along the way.

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