How do you use modes?

Guitar Tricks Forum > Music Theory > How do you use modes?

New Member

Joined: 04/02/02

Posts: 3

Hi there. I am trying to find out how to use modes. I know a kid who uses them, and I don't know if he just doesn't want to or what, but whenever I ask him to explain them to me, he can't seem to do it.
I know there is something to do with the key I'm playing in, as well as the other chords in the progression, and I know that each mode has its own characteristic sound...but I still can't figure out exactly what to do with them. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

#1

Hi there. I am trying to find out how to use modes. I know a kid who uses them, and I don't know if he just doesn't want to or what, but whenever I ask him to explain them to me, he can't seem to do it.
I know there is something to do with the key I'm playing in, as well as the other chords in the progression, and I know that each mode has its own characteristic sound...but I still can't figure out exactly what to do with them. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

is Super Fabulous

Joined: 03/06/01

Posts: 1623

Well . . .

There are a ton of old posts on this you can search through, but I can give you a quick answer.

A 'mode' is an inversion of a scale. Yup, just like you can invert chords, you can invert scales. To get a mode, all you have to do is start playing any scale from a note other than the root. Example - Take a C major scale, and start playing from the G note (the 5th). You'll have a G mixolydian (one of my favortites)

Going from a major scale you get 7 modes. You can look these up on GT or on Wholenote.com. Each mode has a distinctive sound, or feel, to it, and is useful in different situations. The mixolydian that I mentioned is used in blues and celtic music. Phrygian sounds really dark and is used in just about every form of music (from flamenco to death metal). And etc . . .

#2

Well . . .

There are a ton of old posts on this you can search through, but I can give you a quick answer.

A 'mode' is an inversion of a scale. Yup, just like you can invert chords, you can invert scales. To get a mode, all you have to do is start playing any scale from a note other than the root. Example - Take a C major scale, and start playing from the G note (the 5th). You'll have a G mixolydian (one of my favortites)

Going from a major scale you get 7 modes. You can look these up on GT or on Wholenote.com. Each mode has a distinctive sound, or feel, to it, and is useful in different situations. The mixolydian that I mentioned is used in blues and celtic music. Phrygian sounds really dark and is used in just about every form of music (from flamenco to death metal). And etc . . .

Registered User

Joined: 03/28/02

Posts: 569

I'd like to expand upon what Chris said. He said each mode has a feel or flavor to it, and that's absolutely correct.

This is a list of what I think about for each mode
Ionian=happy, plain
Dorian=jazzy
Phyrgian=dark, spanish
Lydian=spacey, out there
Mixolydian=blusey, celtic
Aeolian=lighter than phyrgian, but still dark
Locrian=really heavy, death metal-ish

Now, you can match chords to modes (i.e.-use ionian or lydian over a maj7, mixolydian over a 7, etc.), but sometimes it's hard to think like that while improvising. Check your chord progression. Em, D, C, D for example. The tonal center is 'E' (that's what chord it sounds good to end on). Now, just use any 'E' mode - whichever suits the sounds you're hearing in your head.

One might argue that the progression is in E Aeolian, but playing E Phyrgian over the progression sounds great and gives the piece a Spanish feel. If you play E Dorian, you get a brighter, jazzier sound.

You may want to make sure that if you're in a minor key (E Minor here) that you use a minor mode, just to be safe. However, that's no hard rule. For example, for one piece my band does in A major, I sometimes play A Dorian over it (I'm really aiming for a D Mixolydian sound, and D Mix. is what I'm thinking about, but translated into an A mode, since A is the tonal center, I get A Dorian).

To summarize all this garbage, try every mode (keeping the root the same as the root of the chord progression) over a progression (try G Ionion through G Locrian over a G, C, D) and see how each mode "feels". You'll soon catch on to the sound of each mode and the feel for when you should use them.

DISCLAIMER - Remember that this is only my OPINION on ONE way to treat modes. There are many other ways. Try TRY THEM ALL OUT and keep the one you like best. Or, if you're like me, trash everyone's ideas and find your own approach.

#3

I'd like to expand upon what Chris said. He said each mode has a feel or flavor to it, and that's absolutely correct.

This is a list of what I think about for each mode
Ionian=happy, plain
Dorian=jazzy
Phyrgian=dark, spanish
Lydian=spacey, out there
Mixolydian=blusey, celtic
Aeolian=lighter than phyrgian, but still dark
Locrian=really heavy, death metal-ish

Now, you can match chords to modes (i.e.-use ionian or lydian over a maj7, mixolydian over a 7, etc.), but sometimes it's hard to think like that while improvising. Check your chord progression. Em, D, C, D for example. The tonal center is 'E' (that's what chord it sounds good to end on). Now, just use any 'E' mode - whichever suits the sounds you're hearing in your head.

One might argue that the progression is in E Aeolian, but playing E Phyrgian over the progression sounds great and gives the piece a Spanish feel. If you play E Dorian, you get a brighter, jazzier sound.

You may want to make sure that if you're in a minor key (E Minor here) that you use a minor mode, just to be safe. However, that's no hard rule. For example, for one piece my band does in A major, I sometimes play A Dorian over it (I'm really aiming for a D Mixolydian sound, and D Mix. is what I'm thinking about, but translated into an A mode, since A is the tonal center, I get A Dorian).

To summarize all this garbage, try every mode (keeping the root the same as the root of the chord progression) over a progression (try G Ionion through G Locrian over a G, C, D) and see how each mode "feels". You'll soon catch on to the sound of each mode and the feel for when you should use them.

DISCLAIMER - Remember that this is only my OPINION on ONE way to treat modes. There are many other ways. Try TRY THEM ALL OUT and keep the one you like best. Or, if you're like me, trash everyone's ideas and find your own approach.

Registered User

Joined: 03/28/02

Posts: 569

Sorry about writing so much... all my posts are so long...

#4

Sorry about writing so much... all my posts are so long...

New Member

Joined: 04/02/02

Posts: 3

So, modes are just like different boxes of the major scale...? If I'm playing C, Dm, Em, F (key of C) I can, say, start each chord out with a 1-3-5-7-9 arpeggio and then just carry on in that chord's major scale box, and then when the next chord comes, change over to it, and so on...? Wouldn't that sound exactly like the major scale, though? This is very interesting.

#5

So, modes are just like different boxes of the major scale...? If I'm playing C, Dm, Em, F (key of C) I can, say, start each chord out with a 1-3-5-7-9 arpeggio and then just carry on in that chord's major scale box, and then when the next chord comes, change over to it, and so on...? Wouldn't that sound exactly like the major scale, though? This is very interesting.

New Member

Joined: 04/05/02

Posts: 10

i might have an answer

I've been through many books trying to figure out scales, modes, chords and how to make them and relate them. Not to long ago I purchased Grimoire's Guitar Book and it opened up alot of doors for me. Its broken down so even some as confused as me could easily understand it. I also heard that the Fretboard logic series is real good,too.

#6

i might have an answer

I've been through many books trying to figure out scales, modes, chords and how to make them and relate them. Not to long ago I purchased Grimoire's Guitar Book and it opened up alot of doors for me. Its broken down so even some as confused as me could easily understand it. I also heard that the Fretboard logic series is real good,too.

Registered User

Joined: 03/28/02

Posts: 569

No, no... you don't switch major scale boxes, that's not it. If you play G-C-D as your chords progression, you can play an E Aeolian Box, an A Dorian Box, D Mixolydian Box, or whatever, but it's still G Ionian. You see, it's all about the tonal centers. G is the tonal center of the progression. The idea is to play G modes, like G Ionian, G Lydian, or G Mixolydian over the progression. Playing A Dorian is the same as playing G Ionian.

However, if you have a tonal center of D in a progression of Dsus2-D, Cadd9-G, the tonal center is D, even though the progression show that the key is G Major. In this case, you would use D Mixolydian, D Ionian, or D Lydian. You want to use modes based off the tonal center of the progression, not modes of one single major scale (because as you said, they would all sound the same). Using G Ionian, A Dorian, etc. over this progression would sound just like G Ionian the whole way through.

#7

No, no... you don't switch major scale boxes, that's not it. If you play G-C-D as your chords progression, you can play an E Aeolian Box, an A Dorian Box, D Mixolydian Box, or whatever, but it's still G Ionian. You see, it's all about the tonal centers. G is the tonal center of the progression. The idea is to play G modes, like G Ionian, G Lydian, or G Mixolydian over the progression. Playing A Dorian is the same as playing G Ionian.

However, if you have a tonal center of D in a progression of Dsus2-D, Cadd9-G, the tonal center is D, even though the progression show that the key is G Major. In this case, you would use D Mixolydian, D Ionian, or D Lydian. You want to use modes based off the tonal center of the progression, not modes of one single major scale (because as you said, they would all sound the same). Using G Ionian, A Dorian, etc. over this progression would sound just like G Ionian the whole way through.

New Member

Joined: 04/10/02

Posts: 7

Since you're at it, you could help me!

I've been trying to solo over a progression:

Em-F#m7-Em-CM7-Em-Am-B7-Em

I think it is in E minor with some borrowed chords (F#m7,B7).

The only scale that seems to fit this is E minor. Maybe E harmonic minor too. But that's all. All other E modes sound like crap, or at least some of their tones crash awfully with the chord tones.

Any advice?

#8

Since you're at it, you could help me!

I've been trying to solo over a progression:

Em-F#m7-Em-CM7-Em-Am-B7-Em

I think it is in E minor with some borrowed chords (F#m7,B7).

The only scale that seems to fit this is E minor. Maybe E harmonic minor too. But that's all. All other E modes sound like crap, or at least some of their tones crash awfully with the chord tones.

Any advice?

is Super Fabulous

Joined: 03/06/01

Posts: 1623

[QUOTE]Originally posted by DarkSarx
Em-F#m7-Em-CM7-Em-Am-B7-Em[/QUOTE]

I don't see how you could be playing just E aeolian over this. The F#m7 forces a change to dorian. The Cm7 forces it to harmonic . . . then back to aeloian (Am), and then back to harmonic for the B7.

#9

[QUOTE]Originally posted by DarkSarx
Em-F#m7-Em-CM7-Em-Am-B7-Em[/QUOTE]

I don't see how you could be playing just E aeolian over this. The F#m7 forces a change to dorian. The Cm7 forces it to harmonic . . . then back to aeloian (Am), and then back to harmonic for the B7.

New Member

Joined: 04/10/02

Posts: 7

Yes, you are right.

I meant C Major 7th, not Cm7 so I think I could use E aeolian here.

Maybe it would be more correct to play a F#m7b5, but people around me complain about it being too odd.

And the B7 needed to be there. It gives it a more 'leading' sound to that v-i prog. Do you think that B mixolidyan could suit that chord?

#10

Yes, you are right.

I meant C Major 7th, not Cm7 so I think I could use E aeolian here.

Maybe it would be more correct to play a F#m7b5, but people around me complain about it being too odd.

And the B7 needed to be there. It gives it a more 'leading' sound to that v-i prog. Do you think that B mixolidyan could suit that chord?