Guitar Modes

Guitar Modes
Modes aren’t really separate scales and they certainly don’t require learning separate patterns. Modes are based on the major scale and its patterns. In order to understand modes, you must understand the major scale.

The Major Scale
The notes of the major scale are scattered all over the fretboard. Trying to memorize the huge pattern as one unit is nearly impossible. The way to learn the whole scale pattern is to focus on small parts of it at a time. The most common way to do this is to break the large pattern up into 5 pieces. Once you memorize the individual pieces (a.k.a. positions or patterns) you can connect them and complete the whole fretboard. Even though each pattern is unique, they all are simply pieces of the entire unit. In other words, on their own the patterns don’t become anything more than they are together. They are always major scale notes. For detailed instruction with diagrams see Fretboard Theory Chapter 5 The Major Scale.

Major Scale Chords
The major scale can be played over any one of its notes or chords. For example, the G major scale can be played over a G major chord, Am, Bm, C, D, Em or F#mb5. When you play the G major scale over a G major chord the sound is the typical, happy major sound. You can play any part of the G major scale in any position or pattern. It doesn’t even matter what note you start on. Just simply jump into the scale (anywhere you like) and play the notes (any order you like).

Now, play the G major scale over an Am chord. Suddenly, the sound changes. It’s now dark and jazzy. You can play any part of the G major scale in any position or pattern. It doesn’t even matter what note you start on. Just simply jump into the scale (anywhere you like) and play the notes (any order you like).

Modal Sounds
In the above example, why did the sound change? Because mixing notes and chords is exactly like mixing colors. Yellow and blue make green but red and blue make purple. Likewise, the G major scale over a G chord makes the so-called “Ionian” sound while the G major scale over an Am chord makes the so-called “Dorian” sound. So, it doesn’t matter what kind of pattern or position you’re actually playing the scale in nor does the note you start on mean anything. It all depends on what note or chord the scale is being mixed with. For detailed instruction on modes see Fretboard Theory Chapter 8 Modes, and Guitar Modes – The Modal Scales of Popular Music DVD.

You’ve Got to Hear It!
In order to understand how colors change when mixed is something you have to see. Likewise, in order to understand what modes are you have to hear the sound of the scale change as you mix it with different chords. All the explaining in the world won’t get the point across. You must play and hear it!

Modal Scales
Each scale note, or chord, has its own unique sound characteristics and identifying modal name. The seven Greek names, which have origins in the church, are Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian. For a detailed description of each mode’s characteristics along with song references see Fretboard Theory Chapter 8 Modes, and Guitar Modes – The Modal Scales of Popular Music DVD.

How to Learn Modes
Modes is a concept that springs from the understanding and application of other musical elements. To learn modes, first learn the major scale and its patterns. Next, learn how the major scale is used to build chords. Finally, learn how these chords are used to make progressions.

Major Scale Patterns
As stated above, major scale notes are scattered all over the fretboard. An easy way to learn the notes is to break them up into five patterns. Focus on each one individually, moving on to the next only when the previous pattern is completely memorized. After you can piece all five together from memory, the next step is to transpose them into new keys by duplicating the patterns in new positions. Finally, learn lots of popular songs that use the scale. Parts can include melodies, riffs, solos and bass lines. Each example you learn will show you exactly how the scale is supposed to be used. For detailed instructions along with song references see Fretboard Theory Chapter 5 The Major Scale.

Building Chords
The major scale has seven notes and each one can be played as a chord. To build chords, each note is combined with notes three and five degrees ahead in the scale. What results is a sequence of seven major and minor chords. For a more detailed explanation with diagrams see Fretboard Theory Chapter 6 Building Chords and Progressions or Guitar Chord Progressions and Playing By Numbers DVD.

Chord Progressions
Chord progressions are movements through the major scale chord sequence. You can stay on just one chord, use them all, or choose any combination. Progressions can revolve around any scale degree (or any chord). The root chord in a progression determines the mode. For a more detailed explanation with diagrams see Fretboard Theory Chapter 6 Building Chords and Progressions, Guitar Chord Progressions and Playing By Numbers DVD and Fretboard Theory Chapter 8 Modes.

Fretboard Theory
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