Guitar Mode On.

There are these mythical things called modes that are talked about in hushed tones by musicians world wide. I wish I was paid a shiny pound every time a student mentions them and how a “mate” does them and he is really good. They then go on to tell me how complicated they are and then mispronounce each of them. Oh it’s a beautiful thing.

What is a mode? Well it is defined as

A way or manner in which something occurs or is experienced, expressed, or done

Well modes are great ways of expressing moods, a word quite similar to mode. Linguistic coincidence? There are no coincidences 😉

Lets first look at the Major scale, itself a mode. Known to those who are enlightened as the Ionian mode. A case of you potato I say Potato, someone else says, “what the hell you talking about root vegetables for? ” It is merely a name given to a collection of notes that express something.

Each of the modes of the Major scale have names. They are as follows.

  • Ionian
  • Dorian
  • Phrygian
  • Lydian
  • Mixolydian
  • Aeolian
  • Locrian

Wow, you didn’t mention I need to be able to speak Greek. Did I not? Don’t you? What a huge disappointment.

The Ionian mode, contains 7 notes. Lets put those notes into the key of C. The notes are C D E F G A B C. Simple.

Now between each of those notes is an interval. C to D is a Tone, D to E is a tone, E to F a semi tone, F to G is a tone, G to A is a tone, A to B is a tone and B to C is a semi tone. This is a unique combination of Tones and semi tones that identifies this scale/mode. I call this 2Ts 3Ts

Each of the modes have different, sometimes quite subtle combinations. Each of these make them unique. This combination sounds kinda happy, it is familiar. We give this a formula, and as the major scale is our blue print for everything we give it the formula 1 2 3 4 5 6 7. The pattern that all others are judge and compared to.

Lets look at the Dorian mode.

We’ll stick with the notes of the C major scale for now, thus making D Dorian as a scale. The notes are

D E F G A B C D . Now we have Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone.

Play these notes have a listen.

How does it sound? Think simply, happy or sad? This will allow you to decide whether it is major or minor… clue it’s minor!

It’s like the minor you may already know, except there is a lighter feel to it.

The notes from D through to D are the same notes that were present for C major but now they sound sad. Weird! The distances between notes changed. We don’t have a formula that fits for a major scale. We now have a formula that is 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7. This is the Dorian formula.
All the modes have formulas. We will go about learning these.
We need to look at this scale formula. It’s minor. 1,b3,5. There is a b7 as well. We can play the Dorian mode over a minor 7 chord. Cool! So let’s get a d min or d min7 chord and play this scale over it. In the example I played the scale ascending and descending. You need to play and explore the scale. The exciting note I’d the 6th, in this instance, for key of D, the B note.
Each of the modes have what we refer to as character notes, henceforth known as C.N. these are notes that are different from the other modes. The notes that make them unique. We will investigate each of these CN’s and get our ears to recognise them as best we can. These things take time though. Hope you are in for the long run.
Just as a sneak peek here are the formulas for the other modes

Ionian. 1234567
Dorian 12b3456b7
Phrygian 12b345b6b7
Lydian 123#4567
Mixolydian 123456b7
Aeolian 12b345b6b7
Locrian 1b2b3 4b5b6b7

As you can see these are all completely different. Each has their own character. Some are light and breezy, others are dark. You decide.

So for now, have some investigation of the Dorian mode. We shall resume with another mode shortly.
Hopefully you can understand that these modes aren’t mystical or too difficult to grasp.


~ by Geoff Lea Guitar on July 1, 2013.

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