Introduction to guitar scales – Modes

Seven 0’clock, and the alarm clock starts screaming. Ionian Mode rolls out of bed to get an early start on the day. He starts by making his wife Dorian Mode a couple pancakes and wakes her up by the smell of the pancakes so she can eat them in bed. Ionian then goes to wake up their 5 kids to get ready for school. He first wakes up his daughter Phrygian who is a sweet little 7-year-old girl. Then Ionian wakes up his 2 sons Lydian and Mixolydian. Mixolydian is their oldest son and he shows many traits like his father. Then Ionian finally finishes waking up the horde with yelling for their daughters Aeolian and Locrian to wake up. Now that everyone is awake they continue to live their day.

What does the above story have to do with modes? Well it is quite simple. A mode is a family of scales. They have a parent scale which all of the scales come from.  As mentioned in the above story Ionian (Major) Scale is the father of the mode family. All of the other modes contain exactly the same notes as the father. In other words, each mode has the exact same biological Make. There is only 1 difference between these scales.

The note these scales start and end on is what determines the mode. You have the major (Ionian) scale, if you start the major scale on the second note and end it on the second note then it becomes a Dorian Scale.  If you continue this process and start the major scale on the third note and end it on the third note it then becomes a Phrygian scale.  Pretend you are playing musical chairs. There is 1 black chair and 6 white chairs. The black chair is the root chair. You start walking around the chairs and the music stops. You sit down on a white chair. This chair is one of the modes of the major scale. The music starts to play again so you walk around over and over, stop! You sit down on the black chair. This is the major scale chair.

You may be asking what the difference between a guitar scale and a mode is. The difference is a Scale is a group of notes played in Ascending and Descending motion. A mode on the other hand is a Scale derived from another scale. A mode is part of a family. It has a father and siblings.

There is one more lesson to be learned from the first story. The Gender of a Scale is important. Is it a major scale or a minor scale? In the story above all the major scales have been labeled as Males. Likewise, all the minor scales have been labeled as Females.  This is important to know because you will be using these scales over chords and different keys. I recommend you memorize the names of the major scale modes, the order in which they go and if they are minor or major scales. To learn the scale shapes for all the major scale modes please check out my other blog post on mode shapes here. Below is a list of the major mode names in order.

Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian.

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