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Musical Theory Abound!!!
 #10491  by jn
 Wed Nov 22, 2006 11:57 am
This is how I learned to play all the modes in all the keys. I finally had a nice quiet day to write this all out so that it might help some other people “get it.” I tried to go nice and slow since I'm no music theory genius and a lot of the mode lessons I read were lost on me because they assumed too much knowledge on my part.

As soon as I got my first guitar two years ago, I wanted to get to the point as fast as possible where I could jam over Dead tunes, but this got complicated fast because the Dead use so many different scales, and B Mixolydian or F Lydian is pretty baffling to a beginner. The problem I had with modes was how to actually use them for soloing or improvising. The hardest part was to learn the patterns on the fretboard with the same confidence that I could use the major scale or pentatonic minor scale. I finally figured out how this could be simplified when somebody clued me into the fact that the modes are actually the same scale played all over the fretboard. I’ll explain that. All you have to know to start out is two things. First, you need to know how to play the major scale (I first learned it in A but any key will do) in all of its five positions. These are the only five patterns you have to memorize, and then you simply re-order the positions to play in the various modes. Below are the five positions as I learned them in the A Major Scale (but the same concept will apply even if you learned the positions a little differently, just adapt the system to the way you play the positions):

Position 1 (home position):
E A D G B e
- 4 4 4 - 4
5 5 - - 5 5
- - 6 6 - -
7 7 7 7 7 7

Position 2:
E A D G B e
7 7 7 7 7 7
- - - - - -
9 9 9 9 9 9
10 - - - 10 10
- 11 11 11 - -

Position 3:
E A D G B e
9 9 9 9 9 9
10 - - - 10 10
- 11 11 11 - -
12 12 12 - 12 12

Position 4:
E A D G B e
12 12 12 - 12 12
- - - 13 - -
14 14 14 14 14 14
- - - - 15 -
16 16 16 16 - 16

Position 5:
E A D G B e
2 2 2 2 2 2
- - - - 3 -
4 4 4 4 - 4
5 5 - 5 5
- - 6 6 - -

Just to make sure you’re with me, Position 1 is the home position because the root note on the low E string is A. If you know your five major scale positions, you can play the Major scale in any key. For example, slide Position 1 down to three frets from the fifth to the eighth fret (C on the low E string) and you’re playing the major scale in C. All the other positions shift down three frets, too (so Position 2 starts on the 10th fret, Position 3 starts on the 12th fret and so on).

Alright, you’ve got that? Good. Now back to the key of A. Figuring out how to play any mode in A is just as simple as shifting Position 1 from A to some other root note to play A major in another key. The only difference is that, instead of playing the same positions on different frets (sliding Position 1 up or down), you play different positions on the same frets. In other words, to play a different mode in A, play another scale position starting at the fifth fret. This is what I mean: Play the Position 2 pattern starting on the 5th fret. That’s the Dorian mode. The positions just shifted up to the 5th fret so that you are playing Position 2 at the 5th fret, Position 1 at the 2nd fret, Position 3 at the 7th fret, and so on. You will probably notice that G Major (playing Position 1 at the 3rd fret) is the same as playing in A Dorian. The same thing happens whenever you shift A Major down to C Major (playing Position 1 starting on the eighth fret). If you play that pattern all over the fretboard, you will notice that the pattern being played starting on the 5th Fret in C Major is Position 5. C Major is the same as A Aeolian. Here’s a more familiar example: When you play Position 4 in A Major (the position starting on the 12th fret), you are playing in E Mixolydian Mode. Yes, A Major is E Mixolydian.

If you want to check this out, get a scale book that shows all the modes in all the positions on a fretboard – you can see how the same position patterns repeat on different frets. Let’s take a random example...something fairly obscure like C Phrygian. Position 1 for C Phrygian looks like this:

E A D G B e
8 8 8 8 8 8
9 - - - 9 9
- 10 10 10 - -
11 11 11 - 11 11

That pattern should look familiar. It’s the same Position 3 used in the A Major scale (starting on the 9th Fret). In other words, whenever you play Position 3 over the root fret (5th fret for A / 8th Fret for C / 12 Fret for E and so on), you are playing in Phrygian Mode. You always still find the Position 2 pattern above Position 3 and Position 4 is below Position 3 and so on.

Okay, hopefully I’ve been able to show you how there is a pattern. Now how do you remember this easily so that you can shift positions (and thus modes) on the fly when you are playing? The second thing you have to memorize is the order of the modes, which is Ionian (major), Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian. I really suggest that you memorize them in order using some sort of mnemonic like “I Don’t Particularly Like My Aunt Lucy” (if you can think of something less lame, let me know).

Quick side lesson: If you understand modes basically you know why they go in that order; if not, here’s why: the Major Scale (the same as the Ionian mode) is played from the starting note (the key of the scale) and in the following intervals: Whole Step (i.e. 2 frets) / Whole Step / Half Step (1 fret) / Whole Step / Whole Step / Whole Step / Half Step. For short: WWHWWWH. If you start on any note, you will wind up exactly one octave higher at the seventh note. Here’s how it goes in A: A, one whole step to B, one whole step to C#, half-step to D, one whole step to E, one whole step to F#, one whole step to G#, and one half-step brings you to A. Modes just re-order the WWHWWWH sequence. So for Dorian it is WHWWWHW – you took the first W and put it at the end of the sequence.

Phrygian: HWWWHWW
Mixolydian: WWHWWHW
Aeolian: WHWWHWW
Locrian: HWWHWWW back to…

See? Every mode starts from a different step of the WWHWWWH pattern.

The reason that this is important is that the modes more or less track the scale positions you have learned. So here’s what position to play over the root note (i.e., the 5th Position in the key of A) for every mode:

Ionian: Position 1
Dorian: Position 2
Phrygian: Position 3
Lydian: Also Position 3, but one fret up = in other words, you play the Position 3 starting on the 4th Fret for A Lydian
Mixolydian: Position 4
Aeolian: Position 5
Locrian: Position 1, but one fret below the root note = so to play in A Locrian, play Position 1 starting on the 6th fret instead of the 5th.

Once you figure out what position to play over the root fret, you will know where the rest of the positions are because they will always be relative to each other.

I hope that helps somebody figure out an easy way of finding the modes. If so, then I've finally been able to give something back. Good luck.

 #10499  by squire758
 Wed Nov 22, 2006 4:55 pm
excellent post man, pat yourself on the back for that one

 #10513  by fatcat
 Thu Nov 23, 2006 10:13 am
yes this is an excellent way to remember the modes and excactly how i learned them. This also helps you with constructing a song too. if you start with say an A major cord, you can see from the modes that Bm, C#m, and F#m can be used because they have a flattened third. also in this case, an E7 would be nice because the E mixolydian(which is the same as the original A maj) has a flattened seventh.

I use this to construct basic songs or even more complex ones. This order can also be aplied to pentaonics too. you can learn your pentaonics all the way up the neck, which also makes it easy to solo over any song.