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Lyle Ronglien >> Understanding Modes >>

Understanding The Modes - part 1

Lyle: Hi and welcome to the first lesson in this series. In this lesson you will learn the Modes that are related to the major scale and hear examples of how they sound when used in an improv. In later lessons you'll learn how, when, and why to use the modes. Your goals with this lesson are:

1. memorize to names of each mode,
2. memorize its intervallic formula,
3. memorize its relationship to the major scale,
4. and most of all, memorize how to play each mode!

Lyle: As you listen to this first audio sample, Here's an audio sample where I'm playing all 7 modes, one at a time, against a jam track that is in the key of E. Notice how the "flavor" or tonality changes about every 8 bars or so. That's because each of the 7 modes has its own unique sound. This is why it's important to learn Modes so you can expand your own sound.

sample all the modes

Lyle: Here's a chart for the modes:

modes chart 1

Lyle: In the chart you'll see that the first mode, Ionian has scale tones from 1 to 7, which is the major scale. The 2nd mode, Dorian, starts on the 2 degree of the same scale and ends 1 octave higher than where it started. All the modes work this way. Even though they all use the SAME notes of the original major scale, they will have a different placement of the whole step and half steps within creating a different sound.

Lyle: Here's the first mode, the E Ionian. This is the E major scale. Ionian is the major scale. Formula: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 degrees of the major scale.

Lyle: And here's a 6 string version for you to learn:

Lyle: Learn these two scale patterns and play along to this looping jam track:

Looping Sound Clip 1

Lyle: Listen to this audio sample of me improvising against this jam track using the two scale patterns:

Ionian sample

Lyle: The purpose of you doing this is to become familiar with the mode pattern and the unique sound it has.

Lyle: The 2nd mode is called "Dorian". It starts on the 2nd note of the major scale and continues to the 9th. Check out this tab example, you'll see and hear me playing the E major scale followed by the F# Dorian mode:

Lyle: Now you'll learn the E Dorian mode. The Dorian is a minor scale built off the 2nd degree of a major scale. Formula: 1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7 as compared to a major scale. Now learn these next two tab patterns for E Dorian.

Lyle: Use this new looping jam track to play the E Dorian patterns with:

Looping Sound Clip 2

Lyle: Listen to me playing these two patterns with this jam track.

Dorian sample

Lyle: Note" The E Dorian mode is the 2nd mode in the D major scale.

Lyle: The next mode to learn is called the Phrygian. Like the Dorian, it too is a minor mode. The Phrygian is built from the 3rd degree of a major scale. So the E Phrygian is the 3rd mode of the C major scale. Phrygian: 1-b2-b3-4-5-b6-b7. Learn these two patterns for E Phrygian, then play them against the same jam track you just used for the Dorian.

Lyle: Listen to this sample of me playing the E Phrygian. You'll notice how strong a "minor" sound it has.

Phrygian sample

Lyle: The next mode, built off the 4th degree of a major scale is called the Lydian mode. It is a major type of scale. So the E Lydian is the 4th mode of a B major scale. The Lydian is: 1 - 2 - 3 - #4 - 5 - 6 - 7. The only thing different between the E major scale and the E Lydian is that the E Lydian has a #4. Here's two tab files of the E Lydian.

Lyle: Use this jam track to practice improvising the E Lydian:

Looping Sound Clip 3

Lyle: Here's a sample of me playing the E Lydian with this jam track:

Lydian sample

Lyle: Next is the Mixolydian mode. It's built from the 5th degree of a major scale. So E Mixolydian is the 5th mode in the A major scale. Formula is: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - b7. It is called a dominant mode because of the major triad with a flatted 7th. Sounds major but when you get to the b7th, it has a bluesy tone to it. Here's E mixolydian:

Lyle: Use this jam track to practice the E Mixolydians with:

Looping Sound Clip 4

Lyle: Listen to a sample of me playing these two patterns together.

Mixolydian sample

Lyle: Next is the Aeolian mode. Built from the 6th degree of a major scale, this mode has several names; the relative minor, natural minor and pure minor. They all mean the same thing. So the E Aeolian is the 6th mode in the G major scale. Aeolian formula: 1 - 2 - b3 - 4 - 5 - b6 - b7. Here's two patterns for the E Aeolian minor mode:

Lyle: Use this looping jam track to practice the Aeolian with:

Looping Sound Clip 5

Lyle: Here's a sample of me playing these two patterns:

Aeolian sample

Lyle: The final mode is called Locrian. Built from the last note of a major scale, the 7th degree, it is also a minor type of scale but this time with a flatted 5th. So the E Locrian mode is the 7th mode in the F major scale. Locrian formula: 1 - b2 - b3 - 4 - b5 - b6 - b7. Here's the E Locrian mode:

Lyle: Use this jam track to practice the E Locrian with:

Looping Sound Clip 6

Lyle: Listen to a sample of me playing these patterns with the jam track:

Locrian sample

Lyle: Now you have learned all 7 modes of the major scale. Look at this chart for a quick review:

modes chart 2

Lyle: In the sample at the very beginning of this lesson, you can hear me playing all of these modes back-to-back. Once you have memorized all of the patterns from above, try playing them along to either one of these jam tracks.

Looping Sound Clip 7

Looping Sound Clip 8

Lyle: You should become familiar with each of the mode names, formula, which degree the mode comes from within the major scale and the sound that makes each mode unique.

Lyle: If you would like further study on this topic or any other topic, email me at for info on how you can get your own customized guitar lessons like this using Riff Interactive technology. Your private lessons can be downloaded to your pc for anytime, anywhere study. I can even teach you how to play your favorite songs! Thanks and see you at the next lesson. - Lyle

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