Intro to Scales #5: Modes of the Major Scale

Early morning, as you leave the house, a bald eagle drops a $20 bill directly in front of you.  

You bend to pick it up, but a local bully kicks you in the butt.  

You fall and break your glasses, but see right in front of you there is a pouch of real diamonds and a number that says "Call Gary to sell, no questions asked".

Needless to say, your mood can vary from one minute to the next.  

This is also true for the Major scale.
But how can this be?  It's only one scale!

That's where you are wrong, my eager pupil.  

The Major scale provides us with SEVEN possible scales.  These are known as MODES.

Modes are scales that are created by using different scale degrees as the Tonic.  The Modes are the different moods of a given scale.

You can take THE C Major scale, and follow the formula of tones and semitones, but start on the 2nd scale degree.  

This gives you a new scale, with a new sound, but using the same scale formula.  You only change the Tonic.

Tone - Semitone Scale Formula for the Major Scale/Ionian Mode.

Tone - Semitone Scale Formula for the Dorian Mode.

Here is an example: C D E F G A B is Ionian, or the first mode of C Major.  

D E F G A B C is now the Dorian, or the second mode of C major.  

The scale pattern stays the same, but the Tonic is what changes.

Here is a chart of the Modes in the key of C Major:


Scale Deg.      I

Mode            Ionian

Alterations     None

to Maj Scale

Key of C Major - C Ionian


Scale Deg.     II

Mode           Dorian

Alterations     b3, b7

to Maj Scale                                                

Key of C Major - D Dorian


Scale Deg.      III

Mode           Phrygian

Alterations     b2, b3, b6, b7

to Maj Scale

Key of C Major - E Phrygian


Scale Deg.       IV

Mode           Lydian

Alterations       #4

to Maj Scale

Key of C Major - F Lydian


Scale Deg.         V

Mode           Mixolydian

Alterations       b7

to Maj Scale

Key of C Major - G Mixolydian


Scale Deg.       VI

Mode                 Aeolian

Alterations     b3, b6, b7

to Maj Scale                                              

Key of C Major - A Aeolian

    TONIC      Scale Deg.       Mode          Alterations to Maj Scale                                        B             VII               Locrian                    b2, b3, b5, b6, b7

For extra supreme detail, I will also provide this chart, showing each set of modal alterations to a C Major scale, so you can get a full visual grasp of how each mode looks:

Don’t have to hate me quite yet, but you should be practicing each of these for a few reasons.  Getting different sounds under your ear is important, gaining a command of the fretboard outside of box or position playing, becoming familiar with altering scales, learning SIX new scales to play with.  If that doesn’t tickle your fancy?...well then file this under “You’re gonna hate me” because you have to do it.
Sorry for ruining your good mood.
We will further examine each of the modes in a later chapter.
Head over to the EXERCISES here and cover these topics:

Previous article in this chapter:Intro to Scales #4: Major Key Signatures
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Lazer Monk

Lazer Monk

Hamilton, Ont