As you begin to delve into the world of scales, you might feel a little overwhelmed.
There are a lot of different scales in music, many of which aren’t immediately applicable to the musical situations you’ll likely find yourself in, especially as a beginner. But you probably won’t know the difference between what matters now and what should come later, unless you’re being guided along by a mentor or a teacher.
First of all, you should focus on learning these five scales. Once you begin to feel comfortable with those, you’re ready to start exploring the seven modes of the major scale.
You should also know that you’re basically getting seven scales for the price of one – you aren’t really learning seven whole new scales! I’ll talk more about how that works, but let’s start with the first mode of the major scale.
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Major Scale 1: The Ionian Mode
It may have a very odd sounding name, but the Ionian mode is basically just the major scale with no alterations.
In the key of C, for example, the notes in the Ionian mode would be: C, D, E, F, G, A, and B.
There isn’t a whole lot more to be said about the Ionian mode, because its use in popular music is widespread and ubiquitous. It's a happy sounding scale and is synonymous with most familiar melodies.
2. The Dorian Mode
The second mode of the major scale, the Dorian mode, is basically the major scale starting and ending on the second note of the major scale.
So, if we were to use the C major scale as an example again, the notes in the D Dorian mode would be: D, E, F, G, A, B, and C.
Simple enough, right? The other modes work exactly the same way. What changes is the note you’re starting and ending on.
But comparing it to the C major scale isn’t really helpful in terms of developing context. It’s better to compare it to the D major scale, which is: D, E, F#, G, A, B, and C#.
So we can see that the D Dorian mode differs from the D major scales in two ways: the F# and the C#. So we would say that the Dorian mode has a “flatted” third and a “flatted” seventh.
Because of this, the Dorian mode has a slightly exotic “minor” sound to it. It is often used in jazz and blues improvisation.
3. The Phyrigian Mode Is A Major Guitar Scale
The notes in the Phyrigian mode are: E, F, G, A, B, C, and D.
The E major scale, on the other hand, looks like this: E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, and D#.
As you can see, there are quite a few altered notes here. The Phyrigian mode has a flatted second, third, sixth, and seventh.
This mode is also a minor mode of sorts, and is often associated with Spanish or flamenco style guitar.
Major Scale For Guitarists 4. The Lydian Mode
If you’ve been following so far, you should have a pretty good idea of what notes are in the Lydian mode, but let’s go over them anyway. They are: F, G, A, B, C, D, and E.
The F major scale has a flatted fourth (Bb), so in this case, the Lydian mode has a raised (#) fourth.
It goes nicely over a maj7 chord, and is among my favorite modes. It is often used in the beginning of movie soundtracks because it has that “hero embarking upon an adventure” type sound.
Joe Satriani’s “Flying In A Blue Dream” is a pretty famous example of the Lydian mode in popular music.
5. The Mixolydian Mode
The Mixolydian mode has the following notes in it: G, A, B, C, D, E, and F.
The G major scale has a raised seventh (F#), so the Mixolydian mode would have a flatted seventh in it.
The Mixolydian mode doesn’t have a dark, sad or incomplete sound to it, so it’s definitely not a minor scale. But it isn’t exactly a major scale either.
It’s closer to a dominant scale because it plays nicely over dominant chords (like G7). It can often be heard in jazz, blues, and funk music.
6. The Aeolian Mode
The sixth mode of the major scale or the Aeolian mode is essentially just the natural minor scale.
In the key of A, for example, the notes would be: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.
The A major scale has a raised third, sixth, and seventh, so the Aeolian mode has a flatted third, sixth, and seventh.
The major scale and minor scale are pretty interchangeable, especially if you understand how relative minors/relative majors work. The Aeolian mode is also all over pop music, and its sound isn't likely to take you by surprise.
7. The Locrian Mode
The Locrian mode is the oddest mode of the major scale, and may not have many practical uses.
The notes in it are: B, C, D, E, F, G, and A.
It has a flatted second, third, fifth, sixth, and seventh, which links it to m7b5 or diminished chords.
There are some classical compositions that were based on the Locrian mode, and there are some musicians like John Kirkpatrick or Björk that have used it in their music.
You can also think of it as a “jazz scale” of sorts since m7b5 chords do not have a habit of appearing in most other forms of popular music, though they might occasionally turn up.
The seven modes of the major scale are each separate entities, though they are all essentially derived from one scale, namely the major scale.
In order to understand these differences, you have to compare each mode to their major counterparts, as that will allow you to see which notes were altered to create the scale.
The use of modes may require a little bit of planning. Most of the time, it doesn’t make any sense to bring a mode into a standard chord progression (like G, C, D). Rather, there are “modal” progressions that really accentuate and emphasize the nature of each scale, and this is how to really bring a mode to life.