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Introduction to Modes (Guitar Lesson)

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Chris Liepe

Introduction to Modes

Chris moves on to the subject of modes. He explains where modes come from, how they sound, and how they are used.

Taught by Chris Liepe in Rock Guitar with Chris Liepe seriesLength: 30:04Difficulty: 4.0 of 5
Lesson 7: Introduction to Modes

This lesson's objective is to learn the basics of how modes are derived, how they sound (compared to a basic major or minor scale), and how they are applied over a single tonal center -- with our trusty backing track collection found in lesson 2. Applying modes over chord progressions will be covered in a later lesson.

First, we look at how modes are derived:

If you recall Lesson 2 (3 on a string scales in the key of G), you'll recall that if you play any of those sequencing exercises from start to finish, you're playing a G Major scale the whole time, but you're starting on a different scale degree with each position. First you start on G, then you start on A, the B, you move up the neck. This is a perfect picture of how modes are derived. Simply put, the 2nd mode of the major scale is derived from starting and ending on the 2nd degree of any given major scale when that 2nd degree is perceived as the tonal center of the song or musical passage. So, if you're playing over an "A" note, but playing a G Major scale starting and ending on "A" and emphasizing the "A" as the tonal center in your playing, you'd be playing modally. The same would be true if you're playing over a "B" note and playing a G Major scale starting and ending on "B" when your tonal center is also B.

Each mode built from a scale degree of the major scale has it's own unique name. Here they are in order:

1. Ionian
2. Dorian
3. Phrygian
4. Lydian
5. Mixolydian
6. Aeolian
7. Locrian

Now, let's look at the beginnings of how modes are applied:

In the supplemental content, I've provided all modes starting from root "C". You can choose to play them starting from any one root, but notating in C helps you see the relationships between each scale because there are no sharps or flats in a C major scale. Each scale has notes written above it that include its "parent key" (the major scale that the mode was derived from) and whether it is basically major or minor (refer to the video and the notes below).

Instead of choosing one key (multiple scale degrees), like we did with the 3 on a string scales, we're going to play the same shapes that you played starting on each scale degree but starting on the same note each time. This is going to create 7 distinct scales starting from the same root. As you're playing through the scales from root "C" and reading along with the supplemental content, take note of which notes make the scale sound different from the very first scale on the page. Then, you'll be ready for the following...

Each one of these scales/modes has a "basically major", or "basically minor" sound. This sound is determined by whether the 3rd in the modal scale is major or minor. Locrian, which is built from the last note in a major scale, is considered basically minor with a diminished, or b5 sound. It's pretty sinister sounding.

The rest of the modes are divided up like this:

major or basically major: Ionian, Lydian, Mixolydian

minor or basically minor: Dorian, Phrygian, Aeolian

Ionian and Aeolian are true major and minor scales respectively. The other 4 modes have what we call "key tones" that set themselves apart from being truly major or minor.

Lydian is identical to a major scale except that the 4th degree is raised a half step (1 fret)

Mixolydian is basically a Major Scale except the 7th is lowered a half step.

Dorian is basically a minor scale with a raised 6th degree.

Phrygian is basically a minor scale with a b2.

After pouring into this lesson, the charge to you the student, is to play the 3 on a string scales over different roots with the backing tracks in lesson 2 and do this exercise:

Choose a mode that you want to play in, say Dorian. Then choose one of the roots to play over in the provided backing tracks. Let's say that you choose root "A" and want to play in A Dorian. You'll need to determine the parent key so that you can play in A Dorian all over the neck using the 3 on a string positions. To find the parent key, simply acknowledge which scale degree your chosen mode is based on. In this case, it is the 2nd scale degree. Then, ask yourself which major scale has "A" (your chosen root) as its 2nd note. The answer is G. So, the parent key of A Dorian is G. So, you'd play the 3 on a string scales derived from the parent key of G all over the neck emphasizing the A over the tonal center "A" and you're playing in Dorian. Here's another example:

Try playing over a G tonal center using the backing tracks and play in G Mixolydian. Mixolydian is the 5th Mode of the major scale. G is the 5th of what major scale? ...C! So you'd transpose the 3 on a string patterns so that the 1st of the patterns you learned in the key of G in lesson 2 starts on your 8th fret C note on the 6th string.

This is a great way to get started with modal playing. Have fun!

Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

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Brandon30Brandon30 replied

Hey Chris awesome lesson, just a little cornfused though, when you say first degree, second degree, etc. are you referring to scale positions?

HeyGerryHeyGerry replied

Hey Chris, so if Im playing in the key of A and the rhythm is A-D-A-Fm etc..i play Ionian for Chord A starting on note A with the Ionain shape then Lydian for D..sliding to a D and the Lydian form etc..for Fm its Aeolian starting on F.. seems complicated. Is there a simpler way?

bobs6stringbobs6string replied

I have finally seen the modal light. Thanks Chris. You are a six-string ninja.

gibstratgibstrat replied

excellent instructor, my only complaint is that your guitar volume is so much higher than your vocal

donnydarkodonnydarko replied

Chris, Let me see if I understand this. If im playing a simple progression for ex. A-G-C-A. keeping it in G Ionian maybe switching to G Lydian, as long as im accenting the proper note with the current chord, Im playing in key, or am I way off?

donnydarkodonnydarko replied

nm, i just took a look at the key tone/ harmony chart

blacktoothblacktooth replied

I have seen the light

add9eradd9er replied

I am having the same problem as guitarlibman. I memorized the 3-on-a-string patterns but can't connect them so that i can flow up and down the fretboard. How are you doing this Chris? Thanks!

neef68neef68 replied

The volume of this lesson is extremely low. I can barely hear it with my Macbook Pro's volume turned all the way up. For comparison: I had lower the volume on the lesson introduction/solo..

neef68neef68 replied

Rather- Chris' voice is really hard to hear in this lesson..

neef68neef68 replied

I have to be in a VERY quiet room with my volume turned all the way up to hear this lesson(all Jamplay's other lessons are set at good volumes). Sucks because, I really want to get into this lesson but, anytime there are people at home with me I have to turn it off until late :-(

sdlatsonsdlatson replied

I don't know if they fixed it or not, but it sounds perfectly fine on my macbook pro...

qubaquba replied

Hi Chris. Very interesting lesson. Just for a clarification and reassurance. Does this pattern of key tones apply to modal scales based on different root note? Thanks

GondekGondek replied

Excellent...wrote out the theory of modes and have a working knowledge of them. You help clear up a foggy area...thanks again!

GondekGondek replied

Enter your comment here.

csg148csg148 replied

Chris, pardon my confusion... I was taught modes many moons ago as they apply to each position of the pentatonic scale. And maybe I missed it, but playing the three on a string scale in each mode, are you still having to figure out what notes to raise or lower? Or is that already figured in when playing the major scale based on the root note for that mode? In other words If I want to play a c lydian scale all I have to do is play a F major scale?

Chris.LiepeChris.Liepe replied

you got it! both ways of thinking about modes that you mentioned are correct

bob22bob22 replied

cris iam a little comfused if you play the f magor scale c would be mixalitian would it, not c ly

GuitarLibManGuitarLibMan replied

I am really hoping to start moving up and down the neck. I get the scales, it's moving outside the pattern or putting the patterns together so I can improvise. I don't like sounding scaley. Thanks. Good lesson.

add9eradd9er replied

Enter your comment here.

deluxedeluxe replied


Chris.LiepeChris.Liepe replied

question deluxe?

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Chris Liepe

About Chris Liepe View Full Biography Chris Liepe was born on September 17th, 1981 in Portland OR. His first instrument was piano which he pursued until discovering his love for the electric guitar in high school. He became fans of such groups as Soundgarden, Collective Soul and U2 inspiring him to start singing, songwriting and helping others in their musical endeavors with teaching, co-writing and album production.

Having moved to Colorado with his family, he began gigging, recording and teaching in a number of music stores as well as out of his apartment until deciding to pursue music full time. He moved to Denver, CO to complete a Bachelors in Music Technology and was then hired on by Sweetwater Productions, a division of Sweetwater Sound and one of the largest, most successful recording studios in the Midwest.

Chris spent nearly 4 years at Sweetwater as a producer, recording engineer, studio musician and writer. During this time he had the privilege of working with many artists including Augustana, Landon Pigg, Jars of Clay, and Mercy Me. He also wrote for and played on numerous independent albums and hundreds of radio/TV commercials.

Wanting to get back to his favorite State in the world (Colorado) and feeling the urge to 'go freelance', Chris moved to Greeley, CO and opened his own recording and teaching studio. He continues to write and produce music for artists and agencies and is happy to be among the proud instructors.

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