home > guitar theory > major scale modes overview

Guitar Theory:
Major Scale Modes Overview:

     SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend


In this posting I wanted to cover the topic of the major scale modes.  I would like to start by telling you about a great video that's out there called,  Modes No More MysteryModes No More Mystery. It was released in the early 90s by a jazz fusion guitar player named Frank Gambale.  It is probably the most clear and concise instructional lesson I have ever seen which discusses the major scale modes.  He covers some great ideas that you can do to both practice and study the theory behind them.

In this posting I wanted to cover a couple of things.  I have included a PDF of our Modes hand-out that we use here around the studio. It is a very brief introduction to the most popular major and minor modes. These include the major modes of, “Lydian & Mixolydian.” And, minor modes of; “Dorian & Phrygian.” In this posting I'm not going to get into a lot of detail about the modes.  The modes are such a huge topic, that it would just take far too long to get into that kind of detail.  What I can tell you is that the more you practice the modes the better you will get at them. The more you read about them, the more you will understand them.  And, the more chord progressions that you play over, which utilize the unique sounds of the modes - the better you will get at applying their various sounds.

What I would like to cover here are some of the most basic elements of getting started into the study of modes. I have included three modes study tips for you…

Modes Study Tip #1).
Never treat the mode you are studying as simply another step of the major scale. Instead, treat the mode as its own separate scale.  For instance; let's take the, “A” Dorian mode.  That mode is the second mode of the key of, “G major.” So, if you're going to study that, it is a good idea to focus quite heavily on the root of, “A.” Memorize the pattern built off of the root of, “A,” to create the Dorian scale. Do not see it as the second step of “G major scale,” but rather, view this pattern as a scale unto itself. As well, focus on the other important scale and arpeggio sounds built off of that root. This would include; the A Minor triad and A Minor 7th arpeggios, as well as, the A minor pentatonic scale.  I think it is very important that - as you study modes - you think of all of these things. They are all intertwined and part of one big picture when it comes to melody. It is important to remember that this mode is minor and these other minor sounds, (the arpeggio and pentatonic), will work alongside of the mode to create strong melodies.  So, you must always pay attention to the tonality of the mode and match other sounds of the same tonality while you practice creating your melodic lines. And, as mentioned before, I would really stress that you learn the shape of the mode on the fret-board off of the root of the mode rather than seeing the shape come from the original major scale.

Modes Study Tip #2).
I strongly believe that as you study modes it is important to also study harmony.  Start by building chord scales on your guitar fret-board in several keys each day.  This is often referred to as fret-board harmony. Harmonizing your major scales across your fret-board will help you understand the tonality found off of each step of the major scale.  Each step of the major scale carries a tonality of either major or minor.  This tonality is also equal to the tonality of each mode built off of the same step.  For example; Dorian mode is found on the second step of a major scale and the second step of a major scale is a minor tonality step.  In the key is F major, the second step is a G note. The chord built off of this step when harmonizing the F major scale is a G minor.  The next step in that same key is an A note. The chord found on that step is an A minor chord. If we built a scale off of this step.  The scale would be called Phrygian mode, (the third of mode of the major scale).

Modes Study Tip #3).
Get to know how to build practice progressions for each of the modes of the major scale.  Building jam track progressions for each of these modes will help you better than any other way to get the sound of each mode into your playing style.  So when you're working on a particular mode such as perhaps Dorian, and you build a practice progression for that particular mode it will create a really nice backdrop for highlighting appropriate notes to that mode.  A well-designed practice progression will really bring out the color and sound of the mode.  This will help you become better at using the mode to create melody.

In Summary:
The PDF handout included with this posting will cover some of the most basic information in relationship to modes.  Get to know all of this information like the back of your hand and practice the scales on a daily basis for several months.  This work combined with practice creating melody using jam tracks will help you integrate the sound of each mode into your normal playing.  My favorite players of all time have used modes for both solos riffs and they use them in all kinds of different ways.  It is important to remember that there are a lot of different ways that you can use modes.  Aside from perfectly harmonized progressions that work specifically for the sound of the mode there are other ways you can use them too.  I would highly recommend you spend quite a bit of time on this topic.  Modes are a fantastic sound to add into your playing.  With a lot of hard work and hours of practice put into the modes the payoff in the end will be well worth the effort.



The PDF Document below contains an introduction to modes handout


To Download > Left Click > Select: Save
Adobe Acrobat Reader is required to Open PDF Handout