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340 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
The guide is coming along nicely. The modal section is almost done, and I'll start posting the sections here as they're finished. Eventually, I'll cover intervals, chord/scale construction etc. I'm not starting the guide with modes, I'm just writing it first because it's easier for me.

340 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 · (Edited)

There are two principal approaches to modal theory. The first, and by far the most common, attempts to explain modes by comparing them to a relative major; if any of you have tried and failed to grasp exactly what modes are, this is likely the system you are familiar with. In a nutshell, this approach describes modes as major scales starting on a different root note. The modes of the C major scale are generally listed as…

C Ionian: C-D-E-F-G-A-B
D Dorian: D-E-F-G-A-B-C
E Phrygian: E-F-G-A-B-C-D
F Lydian: F-G-A-B-C-D-E
G Mixolydian: G-A-B-C-D-E-F
A Aeolian: A-B-C-D-E-F-G
B Locrian: B-C-D-E-F-G-A

This system is entirely valid, but doesn't explain at all how the modes are to be used, or why they sound the way they do. I believe that this approach is responsible for the majority of confusion surrounding modes, especially among those new to music theory.

We can go a step further than this approach and compare each mode to its parallel major in order to understand what makes each mode unique. We already know that F Lydian contains the notes F-G-A-B-C-D-E and is built off of the fourth note of the C major scale. This is where many theory students make their first mistake. Many guitarists will simply play the notes of the C major scale, from C to C, alongside the nodes of the F Lydian mode, from F to F, and conclude that there is no difference. The problem with this approach is that there is no harmonic context. Without context, diatonic notes will naturally establish themselves as either the major or minor scales, since those scales have the strongest pulls towards the tonic. Guitarists are being confused into thinking that they are playing different scales when they are merely playing the same scale in different positions on the fretboard.

In order to compare any mode with the major scale, it must be compared with its parallel major. Instead of comparing F Lydian with C major, we can compare it with F major and see exactly why the mode sounds the way it does.

F Lydian: F-G-A-B-C-D-E
F Major: F-G-A-A#-C-D-E

By comparing it with its parallel major, we can see that Lydian has a #4 compared to the major scale (in the case of F Lydian, a B compared to a A#). The Lydian mode can therefore be expressed with the formula "1-2-3-#4-5-6-7" We can use this formula to find the note of the Lydian mode with any tonal center. In order to find C Lydian for example, we take the C major scale (C-D-E-F-G-A-B) and raise the fourth note as indicated by the Lydian formula, which gives us the notes: C-D-E-F#-G-A-B. It is this raised fourth that gives Lydian its distinctive sound. Each of the diatonic modes, and the modes of any scale, can be compared the major scale in this way in order to determine its unique notes and unique sound.

Because modes are made by rearranging the notes of a parent scale, each scale has as many modes as it has notes. Although modes of the harmonic and melodic minor scales are frequently encountered in jazz and instrumental music, the modes of the major scale are by far the most common in popular rock and metal. The next post outlines the structure, characteristics, and uses of each of the diatonic modes.

340 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)


The cornerstone of all Western theory, the Major scale is a highly consonant scale with a strong pull towards the tonic. It is the only diatonic scale in which a V7-I progression occurs naturally, making the Major scale extremely stable and very easy to establish a tonal center with. The Major scale is generally associated with an up-beat and "happy" sound.

For the jazz guitarist: The Ionian mode is generally played over chords that emphasize the major third, sixth, and seventh, although it is possible to play it over any chord who's notes fit properly into the scale. A few common chords would include maj, 6, sus2/4, maj7. It should be noted however, that the fourth note of the scale is considered an avoid note over a maj7 chord, which is why the Lydian mode is preferred.

The Ionian mode can be heard in the following songs…
Joe Satriani - Friends
Steve Vai - Whispering a Prayer
Eric Johnson - Cliffs of Dover



Made by flatting the third and seventh of the major scale, the Dorian mode is most often associated with Jazz because of its dark and sophisticated character.

For the jazz guitarist: Dorian is generally played over chords that emphasize the natural sixth, and minor third and seventh. Chords such as min7, min11, min13, and min6 are all commonly used. Looking at the notes, min7/11 chords can be played under the Aeolian mode as well, but some experimentation should show you that the b6 is an avoid note over a min7/11 chord.

Some songs in the Dorian mode…
Steve Vai - Tender Surrender
Metallica - One
Joe Satriani - Surfing with the Alien



The Phrygian mode is made by flatting the second, third, sixth, seventh notes of the major scale. The flat second is characteristic of this mode and gives it a dark and exotic quality. The sound of this mode is reminiscent of Egypt and flamenco music.

For the jazz guitarist: Works over a standard minor chord, but the b6 makes this a poor choice over a min7 chord. The real key here is the b2. Look for a chord with a b9 and you're set; just be careful that your b9 chord doesn't contain a major third, which would indicate the super exotic Phrygian Dominant scale, a mode of Harmonic Minor.

Some songs in the Phrygian mode…
Metallica - Creeping Death
Yngwie Malmsteen - Blitzkrieg (Malmsteen modulates frequently between Phrygian, Harmonic Minor, and Phrygian dominant. This is common in much of his work)
Al Di Meola - Race with the Devil on a Spanish Highway



One word defines this mode, and that word is "Steve Vai". If you have heard any of Vai's work, you have heard the Lydian mode in action. The characteristic raised fourth gives this mode an intense feeling of movement and an almost dreamy atmosphere. Looking at the notes, you might get the impression that this mode sounds very similar to the major scale, since they differ in only one note. On closer inspection, however, you will notice that the raised fourth is enharmonic to a flat fifth, a tritone. This interval is extremely dissonant and gives the Lydian mode a very unusual sound compared to the major scale.

For the jazz guitarist: Works very well over major and maj7 chords, but the characteristic note here in the raised fourth. Look for anything with a #11, such as a maj7#11 chord. The #4 gives us some other interesting options as well. If you're feeling a little rebellious, you might try a maj7b5 chord for an interesting effect.

Some songs in the Lydian mode…
Steve Vai - Almost everything (e.g. The Riddle)
Joe Satriani - Flying in a Blue Dream



The major third and minor seventh make this a dominant scale, and also form a tritone, giving this a darker sound than the Ionian mode. You'll often see this mode in blues and rock due to its dark but energetic sound.

For the jazz guitarist: Dominant chords are generally associated with this mode, but as with the Ionian mode, the fourth is an avoid note. Because the purpose of a V7 chord is to resolve to the tonic, the dissonance created by the avoid tone is not always unwelcome, as it can strengthen the resolution, but we have other options if we wish to avoid it. Suspended chords are a good choice here, including a chord called a 7sus, which is tailor made for the mixolydian mode.

Some songs in the mixolydian mode…
John Petrucci - Glasgow Kiss
Joe Satriani - Summer Song
Steve Vai - Juice



First things first! It is common to use the terms "natural minor" and "aeolian mode" interchangeably, but there are subtle differences between the two that must be understood in order to avoid violent confrontations with offended jazz musicians. The two scales are the same in theory; they have the same notes, and are constructed the same way. The difference is in the way the two are applied in practice. "Aeolian" refers specifically to a scale with the formula 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7, and this definition is quite rigid. Once any of these notes are altered, it ceases to be the Aeolian mode.

The term "minor" refers to the much broader concept. Although "minor" technically refers to the same set of notes as Aeolian, the concept allows for certain modifications of the backing harmony that have become staples of jazz and classical music. Because the v-i resolution is quite weak, the dominant is often changed to a major chord, giving us a V-i progression. This alteration is not permissible under the Aeolian mode.

You might notice that raising the third note of the dominant, we have raised the seventh note of the scale. This gives us the formula 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-7, which happens to be known as the harmonic minor scale. As the name suggests, this scale is largely the basis of jazz and classical harmony because of the very strong pull towards the tonic. Regardless of which you're using, the Aeolian mode can be described as peaceful and sad. Paradoxically, this mode is commonly featured in heavy metal music, where its weak pull towards the tonic gives the crushing rhythms a smooth and flowing quality.

For the jazz guitarist: The Aeolian mode is used less often than the Dorian and Phrygian modes, but is most often played over m7 or m7b6 chords.

Some songs in the Aeolian mode…
Led Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven
Steve Vai - For the love of God



The black sheep of the family.
The Locrian mode is the only mode of the major scale with a diminished chord as its tonic, which makes the mode very dissonant and unstable. The mode is so dissonant that creating an actual progression is almost impossible, and the notes will almost always establish themselves as their relative major. This scale is rarely seen outside of jazz, except for a few instances in heavy metal or progressive music. The Locrian mode has a very dark and tense sound, and is usually not sustained for any significant length of time.

For the jazz player: Diminished and m7b5 chords. The second note is considered dissonant (dissonant-er?) and is often raised to create Locrian #2 (technically, natural second), a mode of the melodic minor scale.

Some songs in the Locrian mode…
Metallica - Sad but True

235 Posts

good initiative, thanks ! :)

may I suggest that each section (modes, harmony, etcetc) becomes a sticky (using a numbering)?
by separating the lessons it would be easier to ask questions.

keep up the good work: I need to learn!! :)

754 Posts
looks pretty good so far. only question i have is about this:

Look for anything with a #11, such as a maj7#11 chord. The #4 gives us some other interesting options as well. If you're feeling a little rebellious, you might try a maj7b5 chord for an interesting effect.
enharmonically, #11, #4 & b5 are all the same note, but lydian specifically calls for the #11 or #4. b5 implies that there is actually a different 4 in the scale or chord (perfect 4th probably) which means there would be scalar steps that would clash with lydian proper. maybe that's why you said 'if you're feeling rebellious'.

340 Posts
Discussion Starter · #12 ·
looks pretty good so far. only question i have is about this:

enharmonically, #11, #4 & b5 are all the same note, but lydian specifically calls for the #11 or #4. b5 implies that there is actually a different 4 in the scale or chord (perfect 4th probably) which means there would be scalar steps that would clash with lydian proper. maybe that's why you said 'if you're feeling rebellious'.
That's exactly why I added that last statement. The note functions as a b5 and not a #4 in the chord, but aesthetically, the lydian mode is still usable. I quite enjoy the sound actually.
I'll make sure to explain the concept of enharmonic notes in the article, I just need to wait until next week to get started, when I have spare time.
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