Theory Without Tears (part 2 :Major and minor modes )

In Part1 of "Theory without Tears" we  covered notes and scales.In this Column we will cover a  very important concept called "Modes".

Major and minor modes
A mode is a way to put the notes of a scale in certain order on the fretboard of the guitar so that you get easy to remember patterns. In fact, what we do is cut the fretboard into little pieces.

There are 7 modes for every scale. The modes repeat themselves at the 12th fret (which is normal since the notes do the same).
Major scale modes :
The Ionian mode :
This is in fact another word for the basic major mode.
This mode starts with the root-note on the 6th string (we count from bottom to top)
Example : key of C (I will no longer add the "major" when referring to the major key, this is hardly ever done)
This is what the fretboard looks like when we put the notes of the C major scale on it :
E
F

G

A

B
C

D

E
B
C

D

E
F

G

A

B
G

A

B
C

D

E
F

G
D

E
F

G

A

B
C

D
A

B
C

D

E
F

G

A
E
F

G

A

B
C

D

E
open
1

3

5

7

9


12
Now when someone asks you to "play the major scale", this is what you play :
B
C

(D)

G

A
D

E
F
A

B
C
E
F

G

C

D
7

9

The C-note is the root-note. This is why we call the mode the "root-to-root" mode, since it starts and ends with that root-note.
The D between brackets can be played 'cause it is part of the scale, but it does not belong to this mode.
Now watch : we take the D major scale and put the notes on the fretboard :
E

F#
G

A

B

C#
D

E
B

C#
D

E

F#
G

A

B
G

A

B

C#
D

E

C#
G
D

E

F#
G

A

B

C#
D
A

B

C#
D

E

F#
G

A
E

F#
G

A

B

C#
D

E
open
1

3

5

7

9


12
We now locate the D-note on the 6th string :
C#
D

(E)

A

B
E

C#
G
B

C#
D
F#
G

A

D

E
9


12
As you can see, the structure of the mode (the position of the notes on the string) is exactly the same as for the C major scale :





















ROOT


This means that if you know the notes on your 6th string, you can play any major (or Ionian) mode you want without even knowing the notes on the other strings ! Still, it is recommended that you learn those too, starting of by finding the root notes.
The Dorian mode :
You might have heard of the Dorian scale. Don't confuse scales and modes, they are not the same !
The Dorian mode is the mode that starts with the 2nd of the scale, on the 6th string of the guitar.
Let's take another look at the C major scale first :
------^^----^^-----^-----^^-----^^----^^-----^-------
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
C
D
E
F
G
A
B
C
The 2nd is the D, so the Dorian mode will start on the D of the 6th string (in this case I well have to go further than 12 frets in order to explain the full mode).

D

(E)
(F)

A

B
C
E
F

G

B
C

D


G

A


D

E
F
9


12

Remember : the Dorian we're talking about here is only the name of a mode, not a scale ! So, when someone asks you to play a C Dorian, don't play this ! This is a C major, played with a Dorian mode.
For the key of D, just search the 2nd (E) and put in on the 6th string. You'll see you'll get the exact same structure.
The Phrygian mode :
Once again, don't confuse this with the Phrygian scale !
The Phrygian mode starts with the 3rd note of the major scale on the 6th string.
Example : in the key of C, it starts on E
For a change, we'll use the open strings notes. You can also play the same mode at the 12th fret :
E
F

G
B
C

D
G

A

D

E
F
A

B
C
E
F

G
open
1

3
In tablature form, you play this mode like this :
-------------------------------------------------0--1--3-----
---------------------------------------0--1--3---------------
--------------------------------0--2-------------------------
----------------------0--2--3--------------------------------
------------0--2--3------------------------------------------
--0--1--3----------------------------------------------------
This mode (with the open strings) is used a lot for playing simple melodies while learning to play the guitar.
It is also used very much in classical music since it alows to use open strings as bass notes.
The Lydian mode :
This mode starts on the 4th of the major scale on the 6th string of the guitar.
E
F

(G)
B
C

D
G

A

D

E
F
A

B
C

F

G
open
1

3
This mode is almost identical to the Phrygian mode, except for the fact that it starts and ends on the 4th and not the 3rd. So if you know how to play a Phrygian, you know how to play a Lydian.
The Mixolydian mode :
This mode starts on the 5th of the major scale on the 6th string of the guitar.
Example : in the key of C, the 5th is G

G

(A)


D

E
F
A

B
C

E
F

G

B
C

D


G

A


3

5

Dont confuse this one with the Ionian mode, it looks a lot like it.
The Aeolian mode :
This mode starts on the 6th of the major scale on the 6th string of the guitar.
This one is very important (and used a lot), because the 6th is the related minor of the key you're playing in.
Memorize it well, it will be very usefull when you learn minor modes and pentatonic scales.

A

B
C

E
F

G
B
C

D


G

A


D

E
F

A

B
C

5

7


The Locrian mode :
This mode starts on the 7th of the major scale on the 6th string of the guitar.

B
(C)

(D)
F

G

A

D

E
F

A

B
C

E
F

G

B
C

D

7

9


Learning modes :
Now we have covered all 7 major modes. The easiest way to learn them is one at a time.
Play them with a steady beat (tap with your foot if necessary) while cross-picking (downstroke-upstroke-downstroke-upstroke-etc.), this will improve your technique at the same time.
Play the modes up and down. Start on the 6th string and play down. Once you get to the 1st string, move up again.
Once you know how to play them seperately, try combining them. Start at the 12th fret (or further) to move up to the open string, changing from one mode to the other. After a while you'll know the whole fretboard and you'll never play a wrong note again (or almost...).
Now, when you hear a major chord progression and you know what key it is in, you can create your own solo's by using these modes.
Using modes to find the key of a song :
Here is how you can find the key a song is played in by using the modes we have just seen :
  1. pick the mode you prefer and know best
  2. start with a key (you can see which one you are playing in by looking at the first note of your mode on the 6th string).
    Warning
    : when you are playing a D Dorian mode, you are in the key of C and NOT D !
  3. while listening to the song, move the mode up and down the neck and play it over and over again untill all notes fall into place with the melody of the song
  4. once you have found the position that works, look at the first not of your mode on the 6th string again and you'll see right away what key the song is in
I must warn you, in the beginning it's not easy. You need to develop a kind of feeling for the music. Some of these modes are so simular that it is quite easy to make mistakes.
Here are some tips :
  • start in the key of C or G, those are the most common ones, especially in rock music
  • while you play the modes, limit yourself to the first 3 or 4 strings. They sound brighter than the lower strings and this way you can hear the notes you're playing more clearly
  • don't play the song too load, make sure you can hear your own guitar
  • start of with easy and slow songs
  • avoid songs that change keys in the middle of it (p.E. "To be with you" by Mr. Big changes at the end, "Livin' on a prayer" by Bon Jovi changes right after the solo)
Minor scale modes :
There are 2 important minor scales (there are other, but they are not an issue here) : the natural minor scale (which we have already covered earlier) and the harmonic minor scale (my personal favorite).
Just like the major scale, both these minor scales have 7 modes.
The natural minor scale :
We already know what the natural minor scale is all about.
I will use the A minor scale, this way I can compare it better with the C major modes we've just covered (A minor is the related minor of C major, remember ?)
This is the scale :
------^^-----^-----^^-----^^-----^----^^-----^^------
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A
Well, once again : if you know the major modes, you automaticaly know the natural minor modes. Isn't that great !
The only thing that changes is the note the mode is based on (the one you start the mode with on the 6th string).
Here's a little overview :
Mode
First note of the mode
Major scale
Minor scale
C major/A minor
Ionian
1st
3rd
C
Dorian
2nd
4th
D
Phrygian
3rd
5th
E
Lydian
4th
6th
F
Mixolydian
5th
7th
G
Aeolien
6th
1st
A
Locrian
7th
2nd
B
This means all you have to do to play natural minor modes is use the modes of the related major. This is logical since both scales contain the same notes.
So, when you play in solo over a song in the key of C or Am, you use the notes of the C major/A minor scale.

The harmonic minor scale :
Altough this is a beginner's course, I'd like to tell a little something about the harmonic minor scale, 'cause it's somewhat special in rock music.
Instead of basic rock sounds, it gives an exotic, classical flavor to the music.
The scale is used a lot by players like Yngwie J. Malmsteen and Al Di Meola, since they both play classical influenced music.
The harmonic minor scale has the exact same notes as the natural minor scale, except for the 7th of that scale that will be raised by ½ step.
Let's compare both :
Natural minor
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
Harmonic minor 1 2 3 4 5 6 7# 8
Example :
A minor
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A
A harmonic minor A B C D E F G# A
Because of this, the modes of the harmonic minor scale are different from those of the natural minor scale (which is normal, since there is 1 note that has changed).
These modes have no specific name, they are simply called 1st mode to 7th mode.
As an example, here you have the first mode of the A harmonic minor scale (the yellow fret contains the "raised" 7th) :
G#
A

(B)
(C)

E
F


B
C

D



G#
A


D

E
F

A

B
C

5

7

I see no use in showing all of these 7 modes since you can just alter those of the natural minor scale above. 

Original Source @ Major and Minor Modes

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