• Another Approach To Modes & Improvisation (Advanced)

    in Experienced players,Scales

    Yesterday, we briefly introduced modes.

    We learned that although they have fancy greek names and sound all intricate, they are no more than individual scales that simply start and end on a different tone of the major scale.

    So you literally play ONE scale but you start and end on different notes of that scale, depending on the mode you want to play. It’s that simple.

    What I’ll show you now isn’t quite as simple as yesterday’s concept, but still easy to grasp.

    Consider the single note, “F.”

    As we learned yesterday, F is the 4th tone of C major and thus creates the lydian mode.

    Playing a simple C major scale starting and ending on “F” is known as F Lydian.

    Say you’re on an F chord (in the key of C major), this mode would definitely be something to try.

    But guess what? You don’t have to be confined to F Lydian. And you don’t have to be confined to one key. ANY time you go to any F chord in ANY key, you can think of the various modes with F as starting note.

    Sure, F is the 4th tone of C major and the Lydian mode but what if you got a little creative and incorporated other modes with F as starting note?

    That means, you ask yourself:

    1) In what key is F the first tone of the scale?

    Answer: F major

    Play F major from F to F and you get F Ionian (pretty simple because all Ionian modes are essentially major scales since they start and end on FIRST TONE).

    So F Ionian (a.k.a – “F major scale”) would be one option to try whenever I’m on an F chord.

    Again, I may be in C major (or maybe in any other key) but that doesn’t stop me from venturing outside and playing other F modes.

    2) In what key is F the 2nd tone?

    Answer: Eb

    That means, you could play an Eb major scale starting and ending on F.

    Pop quiz? What’s this called?

    Answer: Whenever you play a scale starting and ending on the 2nd tone of the scale, you’re playing the DORIAN mode. (We learned this yesterday!)

    Now just add “F” to the front of that name and you’d call this “F Dorian.”

    F Dorian is simply playing Eb major from F to F.

    Note: You have to know your modes very well and be able to think backwards a little bit. If the dorian mode is ALWAYS the 2nd tone of the scale and you want to play F dorian, you basically do what we did above and ask yourself, “In what key is F the 2nd tone of the scale?”

    3) In what key is F the 3rd tone?

    Answer: Db major

    That means, you can play F Phrygian by playing the Db major scale from F to F.

    This might also be something you try when on F.

    Note: Each mode carries a different feeling. Some are more associated with major scales. Others are more minor.

    4) In what key is F the 4th tone?

    Answer: C major

    We already know this mode. It’s the first one we did above where we played C major scale from F to F. This is the F Lydian mode.

    5) In what key is F the 5th tone?

    Answer: Bb major

    So you’d simply play a Bb major scale but starting and ending on F. That gives you the F Mixolydian mode.

    6) In what key is F the 6th tone?

    Answer: Ab major

    By now, you should have it. Play an Ab major scale starting and ending on F and you’ve got yourself an F Aeolian scale.

    7) Lastly, in what key is F the 7th tone?

    Answer: Gb major

    Simply play Gb major scale starting and ending on F, the 7th tone of that scale, and you’ve got yourself the F Locrian scale.


    Wow, you’ve just now learned 7 possibilities. Keep in mind, not all will work. Some are associated with major, some minor, some diminished. They all have alterations that should hint you at what chords they work best with. But at the end of the day, use trial and error and let your ear be the final judge.

    I won’t kid you… this takes some work to get used to.

    #1 – You’ve got to memorize your modes and what scale degrees they fall on.

    #2 – You’ve got to be good at knowing each major scale as numbers (i.e. – “what is the 2nd tone of the scale?”)

    #3 – You’ve got to be able to quickly recall the major scale and play it starting on the appropriate tone.

    This should keep you busy for a while. :-)

    Until next time –

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.



    { 15 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Humberto

    Jermaine, thank you so much for your teachings. You explain music theory in a way that is both simple and relevant (and even fun). I have taken your advice to heart and now practice my chord progressions and do other exercises IN ALL 12 KEYS. Although I am not yet at the point where I can do this instinctively in all the keys without stopping to think at times, I know that with patience and persistence – and planned and purposeful daily practice – I will get there.

    Regarding your posting on modes and improvisation, to make sure I understand it all, would this be correct?

    G Ionian would naturally use the notes of the G Major scale.
    G Dorian would use the notes of the F Major scale.
    G Phrygian would use the notes of the Eb Major scale.
    G Lydian would use the notes of the D Major scale
    G Mixolydian would use the notes of the C Major scale
    G Aeolian would use the notes of the Bb Major scale (same as a G minor scale)
    G Locrian would use the notes of the Ab Major scale.

    Would you add some thoughts on the use of melodic minor scales to improvise?
    On two other topics, a question each:

    Do you plan on releasing soon more volumes of the Hanon exercises videos?

    About the Song Robot (what a terrific tool!) would it possible for the Robot to start all songs with a couple of empty measures with just a metronome click to establish the tempo of the song in the student’s ear before the first notes are played?

    Thanks and God bless you and your family.

    Humberto Cruz


    2 Jermaine Griggs

    You are absolutely correct. If u don’t change the G and only the mode, the underlying major scales change as you’ve described and u ask yourself in which key is G the 1… E 2… The 3… The 4…. Etc. These are all scales to experiment with when playing various chords.


    3 Humberto

    Jermaine, thanks very much for your quick reply!

    in reference to my previous posting, please consider making available additional instructional videos on Hanon exercises and whether it’s possible to add a couple of measures with metronome tempo clicks at the beginning of a Song Robot playback.

    Again, thanks for all you do



    4 Neal | Sax Station

    Hey Jermaine,
    Thanks for writing about this topic. The other day I had a sax player ask me about playing ideas in the key of C since that’s the one he’s most comfortable in. I thought about it for a minute and was thinking that you can definitely play melodies that have a major sound with the C major scale, but you can play a LOT more than that if you understand the concept of modes. Hopefully he’ll get more comfortable in other keys too though…. haha



    5 lily

    this is a terrific article. For me there is lots to learn and work on here, but it is so great to have this foundation laid. I feel totally privileged to be able to partake of this. Thank you!!


    6 Peter

    I learn a lot form this lesson i think these scales are useful in creating fills and runs thanks for the great tips that u constantly give us i pray that God will continue to bless work work


    7 robert

    Sorry Guys, I’m completely stumped starting and ending on the modes could someone help me please? i’ve read it but do not understand he concept.


    8 Jermaine Griggs

    Please let me know where you are stuck. And make sure to start here: https://www.hearandplay.com/main/the-secret-to-modes

    This current post is a follow up to that one.


    9 meg godwin

    I read your first lesson on modes. Can you send your second lesson about applying various modes in a practical and simple way. Thank you.


    10 custom metal stampings

    I appreciate your helpful blog. great stuff. I hope you produce more. I will continue watching


    11 Tigermonkey Creative

    Howdy appreciate this blog witness mine


    12 Meguiars

    Bonjour adore this paper check out ours


    13 David S Dent

    EXCELLENT, presentation, thank you….




    14 john jeffry

    i m really blessed with this little teaching……..thank you very much


    15 Jo

    Hi, great post! A question please. In the key of Eb major where F is chord 2, I can play the F aeolian Mode(Ab major)on that F chord? Thanks. Pls reply.


    Leave a Comment

    Previous post:

    Next post: