Solving the Mystery of Guitar Modes


Guitar scales, mode, and the guitar itself as a whole are indeed fascinating. Still, before the mystery of guitar modes can be solved, first, you should understand the concept of how the scale mode guitar works. And to get a proper grasp of that, you need to understand what guitar modes are, for a start.

Guitar modes are the derivatives of a major scale. However, there is a need to understand what the Scale mode guitar means before delving into solving guitar modes’ mystery.

Thus, scale mode guitar is the derivation of the different modes from the parent scale of a guitar. Keep in mind that the parent scale is an alternative name for the major scale.

The first step to solving the mystery of guitar modes is understanding how the major and minor scale works. However, to ease your understanding, you should familiarize yourself with the scale terminologies. Recall that the parent scale was mentioned earlier in the 3rd paragraph of our introductory text in this article.

What are parent modes?

Parent modes are pattern variables used to efficiently play in other modes of the scale across the neck of the guitar.

Another terminology to take note of is the mode.

In the stone age, there was no such thing as tonalities (several keys) so, the only means by which many tunes were produced was by composing melodies in several modes of the tonic solfa (that is, the “Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do” scale). In recent years, a major/minor scale has been discovered and defined, and it is still much relevant in the music world today. For effortless mastery of the guitar modes, you should become well versed with the major-minor system with some tweaks to pull through.

Understanding the modes

Recall that the modes are derivatives of the major scale. To ease learning, the C major scale will be used as a reference.

  • 1st mode (Ionian ) – CDEFGABC; it is the major scale
  • 2nd mode (Dorian) – DEFGABCD; begins from the 2nd note
  • 3rd mode (Phyrigian) – EFGABCDE; starts from the 3rd note
  • 4th mode (Lydian) – FGABCDEF; starts from the 4th note
  • 5th mode (Mixolydian) – GABCDEFG; begins from the 5th note
  •  6th mode (Aeolian) – ABCDEFGA; minor scale, starts from the 6th note
  • 7th mode (Locrian) – BCDEFGAB; starts from the 7th mode

The notes are the same for all modes, but when the order of these notes is altered, the scale structure is being changed, affecting their functional relation in playing chords.

Using the first note as a reference point, the relation between notes (ranges) are Lonian W-W-H-W-W-W-H. (Note; W represents the whole step/ two frets, and H represents half step/one fret.). The second mode is totally different from the first, and it looks like this: W-H-W-W-H-W-W. Better put, it is a minor scale with an alteration. That is, it has an elevated half step VI note.

Other modes :

Ionian W-W-H-W-W-W-H

Dorian W-H-W-W-W-H-W

Phrygian H-W-W-W-H-W-W

Lydian W-W-W-H-W-W-H

Mixolydian W-W-H-W-W-H-W

Aeolian W-H-W-W-H-W-W

Locrian H-W-W-H-W-W-W

So far, the simplest way to learn the modes is by juxtaposing them with the major and minor scales, as you will see below

MAJOR SCALE & similar modes:

  • Lonian – major scale
  • Lydian – major scale having IV#
  • Mixolydian – major scale having VIIb

MINOR SCALES & similar modes:

  • Dorian – minor scale having VI#
  • Phrygian – minor scale having IIb
  • Aeolian – natural minor scale
  • Locrian – minor scale having IIb and Vb. Although this was only a concept, it was not put to use.

Modes played in harmony (chords)

What makes each mode unique is how the above changes in major and minor scales influence the harmony.

Hence, #IV in Lydian produced the major II chord in a major key in place of the typical minor and diminished IV, which is insignificant.

  • The bVII in Mixolydian produces the minor V chord in place of the major and diminished III chord.
  • #VI in Dorian produces the major IV in place of minor and diminished VI chord.
  • bII in Phrygian produces the major chord as a II chord in a minor key in place of diminished – also called the Neapolitan chord and minor chord as a VII chord in place of major.

Overall, this is not a one-time read. Still, meticulous mastery of the above explanations will help demystify the guitar mode’s mystery. Although it may be challenging to understand the theory (which is entirely extinct now), and reading a public domain may further confuse you. Still, you wouldn’t like to go through the stress of reading something so complicated that you end up being so frustrated, thus the need to update your knowledge on the modes and scales, which is precisely what this article is all about.


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