Many students have difficulty understanding guitar modes. I agree that much of the information available can seem very confusing, if not down-right impossible to comprehend. Perhaps this problem exists because the subject requires a basic knowledge of music theory and scales. At least that’s how it appears to me.
Before going any further, let me just say that I do believe your understanding of modes will be greatly enhanced by getting a good grasp of major scales and their relationship to the Circle of Fifths. I suggest learning as much as you can about these two areas, especially if you have trouble following the information I provide in this post.
Guitar Modes 101
UNDERSTANDING GUITAR MODES:
Assuming you have no prior musical education, I will try to keep my explanation as simple as possible. Let’s begin by covering some basic music principles and their application as they relate to the guitar…
- There are 7 Guitar Modes:
- Each mode is based on a corresponding degree of the Major Scale
- Each degree of any major scale can be used to produce a specific mode.
- The 8 degrees of a C Major scale are: C D E F G A B C
- The 7 Modes produced from a C Major Scale are:
1st Degree = C = Ioninian Mode = CDEFGABC
2nd Degree = D = Dorian Mode = DEFGABCD
3rd Degree = E = Phrygian Mode = EFGABCDE
4th Degree = F = Lydian Mode = FGABCDEF
5th Degree = G = Mixolydian Mode = GABCDEFG
6th Degree = A = Aeolian Mode = ABCDEFGA
7th Degree = B = Locrian Mode = BCDEFGAB
- Playing each tone of the C Major Scale alphabetically from the 1st degree (C) to the 8th degree (C) produces an Ionian (major scale) mode.
- Playing each tone of the C Major Scale alphabetically from the 2nd degree (D) to the 8th degree (D) produces a Dorian (minor scale) mode.
- To construct a Phrygian (minor scale) mode from the C Major Scale you would begin and end on the tone E. Simply repeat this process for each consecutive mode.
Playing a Dorian (minor scale) mode in first position on guitar…
The D Dorian Guitar Mode can be played in various positions on the fretboard. Below is a simple exercise you can use to practice the mode in first position over a Dm7 chord…
Soloing over chords is a fun way to practice playing modes and scales. The exercise above can be used to practice soloing over the Am7 and Em7 chords too.
The 7 guitar modes are constructed from the 7 degrees of a related Major Scale. I hope this makes sense… At least a little!