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Fig.1. The simplicity of Modes (beginning on the “C Note”).

-Quite simply, a mode is defined by the starting point on a scale.

-For example. Take the Diatonic Major Scale. Its notes are Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Si Do.
Its 7 distinct notes start and end on the same note in a repeating cycle of Octaves.

-There are only 7 notes which you can start this scale on. They are (Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La & Si) as follows:

1. Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Si Do

2. Re Mi Fa Sol La Si Do Re

3. Mi Fa Sol La Si Do Re Mi

4. Fa Sol La Si Do Re Mi Fa

5. Sol La Si Do Re Mi Fa Sol

6. La Si Do Re Mi Fa Sol La

7. Si Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Si

These 7 ways of playing this scale are known as the 7 Modes.

-Note: Only the starting point changes. The Sequence and intervals remain the same.

When you change the starting note of the scale from Do to Re, for Example, you are playing in a different Mode & in a different Key:

Re Mi Fa Sol La Si Do Re.

Is the 2nd Mode and is known as the “Dorian Mode”.
Since it begins and ends on the D note, as shown in the example of Fig.1, it is in the Key of Dm (The Key is minor because minor is the scale sound associated with the 2nd Mode(see the list below)).
*Note that the Major Scale interval also shifts 1 degree to follow (W-H-W-W-W-H-W) as shown in Fig.1.

-If you start on Mi you are playing in the Mi Fa Sol La Si Do Re Mi (3rd Mode) with intervals of  (H-W-W-W-H-W-W)…. and so on for each of the 7 notes of the Diatonic scale.  This 3rd Mode is also known as a minor sounding therefore its Key is “E minor”.

-Following this means that there are 7 different Modes for any given Diatonic Major Scale.
Each Mode has its own unique sound/ feel as follows:

Modal Sounds mode JPEGFig.2. List of the Modal Sounds for the Major Scale.

More about the Diminished HERE

-Each of the Modes in Fig.2. has its Greek name as follows:
(1st) Ionian   (2nd) Dorian    (3rd) Phrygian    (4th) Lydian    (5th) Mixolydian    (6th) Aeolian    (7th) Locrian

HAT Trick RevealedThe trick to remembering them is to remember: If Dora Plays Like Me All’s Lost.

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Video 1. Each Mode played after playing its Primary Chord (Triad).  This allows you to hear the Mode in context of its Key.  

Each Mode within the “C Major” scale shape is in a different key.  The Tonic Chords are different for each modal sound. In fact, it is the Tonic Chord which defines the modal sound.  It is the consonance of the individual Tonic Chords which provides a reference tone for the Mode to resolve to.

-It is possible to play each Mode in the “Key of C”.
-The Ionian Mode is the 1st mode of the “C Major ” Scale (the familiar Do-Re-Mi scale).
-The Dorian Mode of the “C major” Scale uses the exact same Scale SHAPE & Fingering as the Dorian Mode of the D Major Scale but repositions the Tonic D Note (played with the Pinky) down 2 frets to the “C note” position.
It is this transposition of the scale shape which allows us to keep every mode in a given Key.
The 1st note of each Mode must be repositioned to the nearest “C note” on the same string  in order to maintain the same fingering pattern.
By this same method, you can move the Tonic to any desired note on the same string to change Key at will (just as repositioning the Major scale up and down the fretboard will result in a change of Key). 

Diatonic Modes in the Key of C

Fig.3.  Repositioning the Modes to play each one in the “Key of C”.
Try playing the above Modes with their associated sounding “C Chord” (“C Major”, “C minor” or “C diminished”).
OR use these handy backing tracks to improvise over the I-IV-V Chords:

Improvise with Modes button

Play the different Modes in the “Key of C” to get a feel for their sound
The common I-IV–V Chord combination is used in the examples.
Use the GFT Chord Worksheet to create your own chord combinations to improvise over HERE.

Line (straight)

Video 2. Exploring the sounds of the Modes.  Here’s what the different Modes of “C” sound like when played in the Key of C with their associated Chord Type (C Major, C Minor & C Diminished).

-Further to its 7 different Modes, the Major Diatonic Scale can begin with any of the 13 notes (the “C” note of Fig.1 was randomly chosen as an example in this lesson).

-This means that there are 91 different scale sounds available. That’s 13 different notes (A-A#-B-C-C#-D…) x 7 Modes (for the Major Scale associated with each note) = 91 SCALES.

-The beauty of the Fretboard Layout is that it is Repetitive and once you know just a few Scale shapes, patterns and relationships the others fall into place with little effort.

-Remembering the Modal names is not as critical as understanding what they are and how they can be manipulated.
Understand that you change the Mode you are playing simply by changing the starting point on the scale.  And that this starting point may be relocated to bring the notes into your desired Key.

-Modes will be used extensively when improvising Lead Solos.

-Don’t get caught up in Memorizing the Modal names for now but do understand the concept-

So far Power Chords and Triads (the simplest of chords) have been used as examples for the Tonic Chords.
It should be noted that other Chord Types may also be substituted including:

Chord Type and Scale Degrees

 Quiz Question: What is the Modal Sound for the 6th degree of the Major scale?


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