Guitar Modes

Guitar modes produce different colors or moods. Each mode within a scale is associated with a 'parent' scale. The relationship can be confusing but can be understood with a some patience and thought.


1) Things you know already:
a) How to play a major scale.

Things you will soon realize:
a) If you can play a Major scale up and down the fretboard you can play all of the modes available from the Major scales on the guitar. This is simple. This is true.

Things that will initially be elusive:
a) Recognizing the relationship between the parent Major scale and the particular Mode of interest. As an example, when you are playing A Dorian, you are playing the very same notes found in the G Major scale, but, and this is a big but, you are establishing the A note as your point of musical resolution or tonal center and not the G note. This means the A Dorian mode is centered around the A note and not just a rehash of the G Major scale. Huh?
b) Achieving the color or mood of each mode. This takes practice. This requires that 'whatever' and can be slippery.

Things that will initially present an obstacle.
a) The names. Not a big deal. Trust me. Of course, they may be an issue if you suddenly find yourself in a spelling bee.

5) A thing you should know.
a) You can still become quite an accomplished and tasty guitarist if you never again read a word about the modes. True.


Major modes for guitar
This first diagram shows the Mode names, the scale degree the mode is based upon, and the primary tonal quality of the mode. This is a good starting point, If you have no familiarity with the modes found within the Major scales.

You should begin to familiarize yourself with the Greek names associated with the seven modes, and, while your at it, learn to associate the appropriate scale degree and tonal quality with the mode name.

Ionian mode is the same as the respective Major scale. C Major is interchangeable with C Ionian mode. A very important and easily understood point.

Guitar Modes C
Please look at the image to the left.

These are the modes that are sourced from the C Major scale. The C Major Scale is the parent scale of the D Dorian, the E Phrygian, the F Lydian, the G Mixolydian, the A Aeolian, and the B Lorcrian mode.

This diagram is based on the Major key of C and shows the mode names and the starting tone of each note of the specific modes. D Dorian starts on the second tone of the C Major scale, the E Phrygian mode starts on the third tone of the C scale, and so forth.

This particular aspect of the modes holds no mystery. The various mode names are associated with the position of a tone within a scale. These mode names will be in the same order regardless of the Major scale being played. Remember in the case of this particular diagram the C Major scale is the parent of the various tonal modes found within.

First step is to associate the starting tone of the Ionian mode with the first tone in the scale. In C Major this would be the C tone. The Ionian is the equivalent to the Major scale. You play C to C and points therein.

The different starting points or tones within the original scale create a particular color or mood. This is due to the movement of the whole and half steps relative to the starting note or tone. Huh?

We will move a little further down the road with the concept of parent scale on the next lesson.

Sometimes this is difficult to assimilate all at once, and other times, it assimilates quite nicely.

The names will become familiar to you and, as you learn them, you will discover the predictability of modes.

Guitar modes simmer slowly. Not to hurry, not to worry. Remember the concept of parent scale.
Please now take a look at the diagram below. Essentially what this is 'trying' to suggest is that each tone of the scale has a specific name when associated with the modes. You will have a different step pattern based on the starting tone. Please give it some review.

You should recognize that D Dorian mode is associated with a D tonal center, and the E Phrygian mode is associated with the E tonal center and so forth.

Of course, if someone were to ask you what is the parent scale of D Dorian, you would answer C Major.

This is because the D note is the second tone in the C Major scale and Dorian refers to the 2nd tone of a Major scale. Then only Major scale you will find the D note as the second note in the scale is C Major.

Of course, if someone were to ask you what is the parent scale of E Phrygian, you would answer C Major.

This is because the E note is the third tone in the C Major scale and Phrygian refers to the 3rd tone of a Major scale. Then only Major scale you will find the E note as the third note in the scale is C Major.

You can continue this question and answer with each of the tones in the C Major scale.

The C Major scale is the parent scale of each of tone (CDEFGAB) specific modes listed in the diagram below.
C Major Modes
One more diagram to review on this page. This diagram shows how the starting tone alters the steps between the notes of the C Major scale. You can see that all of the notes in the diagram are from the C Major scale. Changing the starting tone changes the step pattern.
Modes in C Major