If you play the major scale from root to root it has a certain characteristic sound. The root note is the tonal center, sort of the home base. You have to return to the root note to feel at rest. But when you play the scale from any other note it takes on a different characteristic and the note you began with becomes the tonal center. So each note of the scale can become the root note of a different scale. The different scales built from the various notes of the scale are called modes.

Each mode of the major scale contains the same notes as the major scale (which is also a mode), but the root note is different. And each mode of the major scale has a funky Greek name that goes back over 1000 years. In fact, Gregorian chants were all written in particular modes.

Modes of the C Major Scale:

Ionian Mode 1
C
2
D
3
E
4
F
5
G
6
A
7
B
8
C
Dorian Mode 1
D
2
E
♭3
F
4
G
5
A
6
B
♭7
C
8
D
Phrygian Mode 1
E
b2
F
♭3
G
4
A
5
B
♭6
C
♭7
D
8
E
Lydian Mode 1
F
2
G
3
A
+4
B
5
C
6
D
7
E
1
F
Mixolydian Mode 1
G
2
A
3
B
4
C
5
D
6
E
♭7
F
1
G
Aeolian Mode 1
A
2
B
♭3
C
4
D
5
E
♭6
F
♭7
G
8
A
Locrian Mode 1
B
b2
C
♭3
D
4
E
b5
F
♭6
G
♭7
A
8
B

As I mentioned above, different modes have different sounds or feelings, even though the notes are all the same. Different styles of music typically use particular modes. For example, the Dorian and Lydian modes are often used in jazz. The Aeolian scale is common in blues and rock. The Phrygian mode has a Spanish sound, and the Ionian mode is a very happy sound.

The modes are also associated with specific chords. This will be discussed in greater detail in the section on chord construction.

Modes can be thought of in a couple of different ways:

1. By the degree of the major scale from which they are built.

For example the Dorian mode is built from the second degree of the major scale, so it is the 2nd mode of the major scale. To play the Dorian mode all you have to do is play the major scale starting on the 2nd note.

2. Modes can be compared to the major scale.

We can think of the Dorian scale as the same as the major scale but with a ♭3, a ♭6 and a ♭7.

It’s important to know from which degree of the major scale a mode is built but for the modes to be truly useful, you should get inside the scales and understand them. Comparing any scale or mode to a major scale is a great way to grasp its pattern.

If you want to be a versatile lead guitarist you need to know your modes inside and out. These scales are some of the most important tools you have. You can hear the modes in the music of Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Carlos Santana, Eddie Van Halen, and many other great guitarists.