Intro To The Modes

Before getting into modes it is advised that you have a strong knowledge of music theory in regards to the following topics:

  • Full, 7-note, Major and Natural Minor Scales.
  • Relative Major and Minor Scales – can you work out the relative Major scale of any given Minor?
  • Scale Construction – do you know what kind of 6 is in a Minor scale? Do you know what a perfect interval is?

If you’re comfortable discussing those topics please do carry on. If not you’ll be much better off learning about them before you work on The Modes.

Similar to a scale, a mode is a collection of notes from which chords and melodies can be derived. You probably recognize by now that a Major scale sounds generally up-beat and happy, while a Minor scale will be more solemn and moody. Each mode has it’s own distinct feel and it’s pretty important that you decide for yourself what those particular feelings are. For now, get used to playing these shapes as separate and self-contained exercises.

The difference between a mode and a scale is that you probably won’t be writing songs in a mode. It’s more likely that phrases of a mode will be thrown into a Major or Minor song just to add something a bit different.

As mentioned in the video, you should already know the Aeolian and Ionian scales because, to reiterate:
Ionian = Major
Aeolian = Minor

So! You only have 5 new shapes to learn. Below are links to the focus lessons all of which include the tab for that mode, it’s formula, examples of songs and an etude:
Dorian Focus Lesson & Etude
Phrygian Focus Lesson & Etude
Lydian Focus Lesson & Etude
Mixolydian Focus Lesson & Etude
Locrian Focus Lesson & Etude

Happy modings.

The Mixolydian Mode

Mixolydian is the fifth mode of the Major Scale. It’s often referred to as the Dominant Scale, because it is built upon the 5th degree of the major scale. That’s also where we get the name for Dominant chords, which are a major triad with a flattened 7.

And that’s all there is to it, if we take our Major scale, (in this case G)…
R    2     3    4    5     6     7
G    A    B    C    D    E    F#

And turn that 7 into a minor 7…
R    2    3     4     5     6     7
G    A    B    C     D    E     F

That’s the Mixolydian Mode. Below is the tablature for G Mixolydian, which relates to the C Major scale.


Remember this is a moveable pattern, so if you were to play it a fret higher it would be Ab Mixolydian; another 3 frets on top of that would make it B Mixolydian, etc, etc.

Here’s a few examples of songs written in the Mixolydian mode:
Summer Song by Joe Satriani
Yoü And I by Lady Gaga
Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Where No Man Has Gone Before, (the Star Trek theme tune) by Alexandar Courage

Mixolydian Etude

And now, because I’m incredibly generous, I’m going to give you a short piece demonstrating the real character of the Mixolydian mode. It’s a short etude in B Mixolydian, consisting of an intro with a lead guitar melody, a relative minor section to solo over, then an outro with a similar melody. Here’s the video…

First off, here’s the tab for the rhythm in the intro and outro. Note that this might not be the way you’d normally play these chords. It’s actually the available, (and suitable), open strings that I wanted to go for to get a nice ambient sound from the clean guitar, but here’s the names of those chords for anyone interested.image

Now, the first lead part, (this is the same as the tab in the video, but I’ve put it here to save you from running back and forth between frames. I’m nice like that)


The relative minor section is included so you can really hear the difference between the mode and the minor scale – that is, when the tonal centre is moved between something very familiar, (Natural Minor Scale), and something a bit different, (Mixolydian Mode)


Note: I’m not going to upload a tab, (or even bother to work one out), for the lead vamp. That would be pointless, all I’m doing is improvising in the C# Natural Minor scale, and occasionally dipping into the B Mixolydian pattern used to make the melody. If you want tips on how to solo in the minor scale, then you’re definately in the wrong place!

Here’s the tab for the last lead section, which is played over the same chords as the intro.


The Locrian Mode

(Occasionally spelt “Lochrian” by awkward people)

The modern Locrian is interesting. It exists more as a theoretical entity, but derived just the same as the other modes. It’s very seldom used in music, as there’s not much in it that listeners want to hear, but it does exist and can be applied nonetheless. Moreover, if you’re going to learn the modes, you may as well learn all the modes.

Locrian is the 7th mode in the Major Scale, and most closely resembles the minor formula, so that will be our starting point.

B Natural Minor
R    2    m3   4    5   m6   m7
B   C#    D    E   F#   G    A

In the Locrian mode we flatten the 2 and the 5, (we usually call that a diminished fifth)

B Locrian Mode
R   b2   m3   4   b5   m6   m7
B    C    D    E    F     G     A

The oddness of this mode is largely down to the lack of the natural 5th, which can make resolutions just plain difficult. Below is the tab for B Locrian.


As mentioned in the video, entire songs in Locrian are very rare and often unpleasant. The only example I’ve come across of a good-sounding song in the Locrian Mode is John Kirkpatrick’s Dust To Dust.

The Locrian Etude is currently being written, so in the mean time enjoy this 1, 4, 5 progression.

   I                                    IV                                    V
Cdim                               Fm                                 Gb
Cm7b5                            Fm7                             GbMaj7

The Lydian Mode

Welcome back to the modes, today we’re focusing on Lydian, the fourth mode of the Major scale.

Lydian is essentially a major scale so we’ll start off with that formula, this time in F.

R   2    3    4    5    6    7

F   G    A    Bb   C    D    E

Now we sharpen that 4th.

R   2    3   #4    5    6    7

F   G    A    B    C    D    E

And it becomes F Lydian.

This is the tablature for playing F Lydian.

Now for some ear training. The following songs are written in the Lydian mode:
Man On The Moon by R.E.M.
For The Love Of God by Steve Vai
Dancing Days by Led Zeppelin

Now onto the chords.

As a general rule you’re unlikely to write music in a given mode as they can be a bit weird sounding, but if you’re into virtuoso or complicated-for-the-sake-of-complicated music you can go right ahead. So, while it’s unusual to have modal chord progressions, practising them will be a good exercise to get to grips with the sound of this particular mode.

So here, have some chords.
   I                                     IV                                    V
   C                                 F#dim                                 G
CMaj7                            F#m7b5                           GMaj7

The Phrygian Mode

Today we’re looking at the 3rd mode of the Major Scale – the Phrygian Mode.

Phrygian is a minor scale, so lets start with that formula. Here’s E Minor

R   2   m3   4    5    m6   m7
E   F#  G    A    B    C    D

The Phrygian mode has a flattened 2nd, but is otherwise identical.
R   b2   m3   4    5   m6   m7
E    F    G     A    B    C    D

Here is the tab for how you would play this, (refer to the video above for fingering)


Here is a list of songs written in the Phrygian Mode, (there’s a couple more than mentioned in the video – my gift to you!):
White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane
Hunter by Björk
Doctor Who Theme by Ron Grainer
War by Joe Satriani
Stargazer by Rainbow

While I’m busy working on the Phrygian Etude play around with this I, IV, V in Phrygian.

   I                                    IV                                       V
Cm                                 Fm                                   Gdim
Cm7                               Fm7                                 Gm7b5

The Dorian Mode

In this lesson I’m going to go over the 2nd mode of the Major Scale: The Dorian Mode.

The Dorian mode most closely resembles the Natural Minor Scale, so we’ll start with that, here is the D Natural Minor Scale.
R   2   m3   4    5  m6   m7
D   E    F    G   A   Bb    C

To turn this into the Dorian Mode we need to sharpen the m6. So our new pattern is this.
R   2   m3   4    5   6   m7
D   E    F    G   A   B    C

Here is the tablature for D Dorian. Remember, this is a moveable shape so you can, for instance, play it 2 frets higher and make it E Dorian.


It’s important to make your own mind up about what the modes sound like, and what particular thoughts or feelings they invoke. Take some time to play around with the above pattern, maybe work out a couple licks and slip them into your regular solos, or over simple backing tracks.

You could also listen to the following tracks as an aural study, as these are all written in the Dorian Mode:
Oye Como Va by Tito Puente, (popularized by Santana)
Billie Jean by Micheal Jackson
Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple
Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles

I will be uploading a Dorian Etude in the near future, but in the mean time you could mess around with this Dorian I, IV, V progression:

   I                                   IV                                     V
Dm                                 G                                    Am
Dm7                               G7                                  Am7