Simple Guitar Modes

Modes Explained Simply For Guitarists

Modes are a tricky subject, I remember the first lesson we had on them back when I was at guitar school and the number of blank expressions in the room showed how tricky they are to understand when you first encounter them. So I’ll my best to attempt to explain them to you guys…

My Guitar Lessons‘ suggests that the best place to start is with the C Major Scale which contains the notes…


Now modes are simply using those same notes starting from different points of that scale. So playing…


Would be the next mode. You’re playing the same notes, just in a different order! So here is a list of all the modes in the key of C Major

C D E F G A B (C Major Scale – aka Ionian mode)

D E F G A B C (Dorian)

E F G A B C D (Phrygian)

F G A B C D E (Lydian)

G A B C D E F (Mixolydian)

A B C D E F G (Aoelian)

B C D E F G A (Locrian)

These modes correspond to chords that belong to the key you’re playing in (still with me?). The chords that belong to C Major are…

C Maj – Play Ionian

D min – Play Dorian

E min – Play Phrygian

F Maj – Play Lydian

G Maj – Play Mixolydian

A min – Play Aoelian

B dim – Play Locrian

Try playing each mode on a single string over each of these chords and you’ll notice they each have a unique individual flavour. If this stuff seems confusing to you, just spend some time getting used to this concept before you take it any further. You can easily melt your brain by trying to go too fast too soon with this stuff!

So essentially, it’s all about how these notes gel with the chords over which you’re playing. So in order to use this stuff you’ll need to know exactly what chord you’re playing over at any given time, you can’t just wail away with these like you can with the pentatonic/blues scale.

To use this practically, try recording yourself playing a 12 bar blues using the chords C F and G. Then practice playing Ionian over the C, Lydian over the F and Mixolydian over the G. Again, don’t get too complicated too quickly. simply play the individual notes up and down a single string to start with, then if you want to take things further, try learning some shapes for each mode and using them.

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