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An Intro to Modes
Written by Roger

When I was younger and first heard about 'modes,' the concept seemed very confusing to me. As I learned more about them though, I realized that the modes were not as complicated as they first seemed to be. I thought I would write an article to help explain what these scales are and how they can be used.

So, what exactly are 'modes'? Modes are a set of scales that are related because they are all made up of the exact same group of notes. The only difference between modes is that each one begins on a different note of the notes from the group. Because any scale can be started on any of its notes, every scale can be thought of as having modes. But, when someone says 'the modes,' they are usually talking about the modes of the major scale. The modes of the major scale then are a set of scales that all contain the exact same notes as the major scale, but each start on a different note of the scale. Since every major scale has seven notes, every major scale has seven modes. Think of the seven notes of the major scale as being numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. The first mode, which is called the Ionian mode, is the major scale itself and starts on 1. The second mode, which is called the Dorian mode, would start on 2 and would go: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 2. In the key of C, for example, the first mode starts on the note C and is C Ionian. The second mode starts on the note D, which is the second note, and is D Dorian.

Each of the seven modes of the major scale has a name. They are:
  1. Ionian (Major scale)
  2. Dorian
  3. Phrygian
  4. Lydian
  5. Mixolydian
  6. Aeolian
  7. Locrian

Now, why would you want to learn the modes? A major benefit is that knowing fingerings for the modes of any major scale means that you can play that scale all over the neck. Because all of the modes of any major scale, or key, are made up of the exact same notes, you can use all of the modes to play or solo in that key. For example, if you are playing or soloing in the key of G, you can play G major starting on G on the 6th string - 3rd fret, A Dorian starting on A on the 6th string - 5th fret, B Phrygian starting on B on the 6th string - 7th fret, etc. All you have to do is know the fingering for each mode. This can really open up the guitar neck and help to avoid getting stuck in one position!

One thing that's important to understand is that when playing over a chord progression in a key, playing in different modes of that key will sound exactly the same as playing in the major scale of that key. The modes will not sound any different from each other because they start on different notes. This is why in the key of G, for example, you could play not only the G major scale, but all of the modes of the G major scale as well. There are certain situations that bring out the individual sound, but don't worry about that for now. When first becoming familiar with the modes, you want to know each one's name, but mainly think of them as different fingering for the major scale that they came from.

This is just a brief introduction to how the modes work. There's definitely a lot of information about them that is not covered here. But, this is a basic overview of how they work and how you can apply them to add some new possibilities to your playing.

Thanks a lot for reading and I hope you found the article helpful!

Roger Panella is a Chicago-based guitarist and teacher. He is the owner/operator of Village Guitar Studio. If you live in the Chicago area and are interested in guitar lessons, check out the website.
 
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