Major Scale Modes (colour code chart here)

Ionian Mode

The musical examples that supplement each mode have been created using only the notes of a particular mode,
for instance, the bass lines and other harmonic accompaniment use notes of the relative mode only.

The modes are based on a system whereby you take one scale and alter the starting points within it to create different tonal qualities.

The major scale has a sound that you should be very familiar with, it is one of the first things they show you in music class at school; DO RE MI FA SOL LA TI DO.
The major scale has a consonant sound; the name given to the scale in the modal system is the ionian mode.

Ionian Example



Dorian Mode

Starting on the 2nd note of the C major scale and continuing to the octave of that note D, is the dorian mode.

Dorian Example



Phrygian Mode

Starting on the 3rd note of the C major scale and continuing to the octave of that note E, is the phrygian mode. This mode has a distinct Spanish flavour.

Phrygian Example



Lydian Mode

Starting on the 4th note of the C major scale and continuing to the octave of that note F, is the lydian mode. The lydian mode has a sharpened 4th.

Lydian Example



Mixolydian Mode

Starting on the 5th note of the C major scale and continuing to the octave of that note G, is the mixolydian mode.
The mixolydian has a b7 and is played over dominant 7 chords.

Mixolydian Example



Aeolian Mode

Starting on the 6th note of the C major scale and continuing to the octave of that note A, is the aeolian mode. Incidently, the aeolian mode has the same intervallic construction as the natural minor scale.

Aeolian Example



Locrian Mode

Starting on the 7th note of the C major scale and continuing to the octave of that note B is the locrian mode. The locrian mode fits with the minor 7b5 Chord.

Locrian Example



As you can see by starting on different notes of the major scale you create different moods and sounds, this diversity is derived from one scale, the major scale.

Sometimes confusion arises with regards to improvising using the modes, my students often say ‘if I have a D min 7 chord vamp can I play a C major scale over it?” Because D dorian is related to the C major scale, being the mode that starts on the 2nd degree of the C major scale the answer is yes, but when starting out its best to concentrate on the corresponding scale as a means to improvise with, in other words C major chord vamp - C major scale, D min 7 chord vamp - D dorian mode, E min 7 chord vamp - E phrygian mode etc... Although the D dorian and E phrygian are derivatives of the C major scale you must also think of them as being independent with their own uniqueness, otherwise you will not get the full benefit of the characteristics that give each individual mode its sound. If I think D dorian mode when improvising over a C major chord vamp I could be missing out some important chord tones that can only be used if I think C major chord vamp - C major scale.

However, as you progress you will find that everything you read in the last paragraph contradictory, see the scale substitution page, but you will understand better than if you hadn’t taken time to learn the basics necessary to put you on track for the more challenging aspects later on.