JRS Survival Guitar Lesson 9: Introduction to Modes

In this lesson you’ll learn about special scale forms that are commonly called the Modes. Learning these patterns will allow you to tie the entire guitar neck together. You will be able to play in key, anywhere on the guitar! Also, utilizing a special trick I’ll show, you can treat the modes like their own scales and get all kinds of new sounds by playing the modes along with certain chords. Sound interesting?

First off, let’s define Modes. The Survival Guitar definition of Modes is, “Modes are scales built using the notes from the Major Scale. Each Mode begins on a different note from the Major Scale”. So what does this mean? Let me explain by defining each Mode, and showing the notes in the Mode.

For this example we’ll use a C Major Scale. The notes in a C Major Scale are: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C (the octave of the first note). So, our Modes will be built using these notes. The first Mode starts with the first note in the C Major Scale. Each successive Mode starts with the next successive note in the C Major Scale. So, here goes:

(To reiterate), Notes in C Major Scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C

Mode Notes in Mode (Scale)
Ionian C D E F G A B C
Dorian D E F G A B C D
Phrygian E F G A B C D E
Lydian F G A B C D E F
Mixolydian G A B C D E F G
Aeolian A B C D E F G A
Locrian B C D E F G A B

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Well that’s all very interesting I’m sure, but what good is that to me?” The answer is that learning to play each of the Modes, starting on each successive note in the Major Scale, allows you to play in key using the entire guitar. Playing in key means that you can be confident that the notes you play in your solo will sound good over the backing chords. Learning the modes unlocks the guitar. In guitar player terms, learning the modes let’s you play huge scales that cover massive fretboard area, look impressive, sound cool, and may get you a date.

I might be exaggerating a little about getting a date :)

Still with me? Good. Continue through the next several lessons to learn each Mode. After you’ve learned them all, I’ll tie them together across the fretboard for you. Then, I’ll show you a trick with Modes that makes cool sounds. Instead of thinking of the Modes as re-arrangements of the Major Scale, you can treat them like their own unique scales. Played over the proper chord, they open up another huge sonic palette for your music making pleasure. So, go forth and learn your modes!








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