• The Secret To Modes

    in Piano,Scales

    In your playing, there comes a time when you start getting into soloing and improvisation… and one place to start is “modes.”

    Every major scale comes with 7 modes. At first glance, they can appear intimidating:


    These are greek names to describe each mode of the scale. They sound harder than they are to play, trust me!

    The concept is very simple.

    Take any major scale and play the SAME notes of the scale starting and ending on a tone of your choice.

    In fact, you may already know one of the modes if you’ve been following me for a while.

    The AEOLIAN MODE (a.k.a. – “minor scale“) is created by playing a major scale starting and ending on the 6th tone.

    So, in C major, since the 6th tone is A, you’d simply play the same notes of the C major scale but starting and ending on “A.”

    This is the concept of modes in a nutshell.

    Ionian – Starting and ending on the 1st tone
    Dorian – Starting and ending on the 2nd tone
    Phrygian – Starting and ending on the 3rd tone
    Lydian – Starting and ending on the 4th tone
    Mixolydian – Starting and ending on the 5th tone
    Aeolian – Starting and ending on the 6th tone
    Locrian – Starting and ending on the 7th tone

    “Ionian” and “Aeolian” tend to be the most commonly played modes since they are essentially the major and minor scale.

    Think about it… playing C major from the 1st tone of the scale to the 1st tone of the scale is the same old regular major scale you’ve always played! No changes needed! We’re just calling it something different here (Ionian mode).

    Same with the 6th tone — it’s a regular minor scale but now we’re calling it the aeolian mode.

    The others are not so known but carry the same easy concept.

    Dorian – Simply start on 2nd tone of scale. In C major, that’s D E F G A B C D.

    Phrygian – Simply start on 3rd tone of scale. In C major, that’s E F G A B C D E

    Lydian – Simply start on 4th tone of scale. In C major, that’s F G A B C D E F

    Mixolydian – Simply start on 5th tone of scale. In C major, that’s G A B C D E F G

    Aeolian – As you know, start on 6th tone of scale. In C major, that’s A B C D E F G A

    Locrian – Simply start on last tone of scale (7th tone). In C major, B C D E F G A B

    Later, we’ll talk about how and where to use them.

    But for now, just remember each mode can be played with each diatonic chord of the scale.

    C major 7 – Play C Ionian

    D minor 7 – Play D Dorian

    E minor 7 – Play E Phrygian

    F major 7 – Play F Lydian

    G dom 7 – Play G Mixolydian

    A minor 7 – Play A Aeolian

    B half-dim 7 – Play B Locrian

    Just by understanding modes, you’ll develop tons of things to do off every tone of the scale.

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    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.


    { 13 comments… read them below or add one }

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    10 Ron

    The secret to modes????????? Hold on you are totally misleading people here. What you explained are modes in serial, all based on the parent major scale. Therefore by playing serially, you are just playing the Ionian mode. Nothing more and nothing less. Of course, targeting notes based on the chord helps with solo or harmony.

    You left out the explanation of modes in parallel which brings out the true nature of modes and gives each one it’s distinct tonal flavor.

    If you have another post explaining parallel modes, I apologize, but I did not see a link leading to it.


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