Master the Theory Of Guitar Modes


In this lesson I will try to help you understand and master the theory of guitar modes. Many guitar players would use major scales or pentatonic scales to create solos. These scales do sound great when you know how to use them.  But are they the only scales you should know or you should use? Well, the answer depends on you. But let me to tell you that modes allow you to add more depth or flavors to your solos. Understanding guitar modes is very important if you really want to advance your guitar skills.

One of the trickiest music theory concepts I find hard to teach is modes. Understanding modes is really simply if you understand the Major Scale and the Major Scale Formula. Major scales are the foundation of modes and you must understand them well in order to understand modes. If you need to learn about major scales, you can read my other post on “The Major Scales”. If you continue reading this guide, I am going to assume that you know your major scales.

What are modes?

Modes can be described as scales based upon the tones of the major scale. In other words, modes are just variations of the major scale.

Modes don’t require learning additional patterns. Modes are derived from the same patterns as the major scale. Understanding how to play and apply major scale patterns is the key to understanding the modal concept. When we apply modes to the guitar, we are going to be playing the major scale but starting and emphasizing a different note other than the root note.

The Major scale has 7 modes, because it has 7 tones, in order they are:

Ionian (Major)

Major scale = Ionian mode 

Dorian (Minor)

Dorian is a minor mode, although you can use it in some major chords progression. But generally it sounds good to play over minor chords.

Phrygian (Minor)

Generally, you can play this mode over minor 7 chords.

Lydian (Major)

Lydian is a very major mode. It is almost the same as a major scale except that it has a sharp 4th.

Mixolydian (Major)

You can play this mode over 7th and 9th chords.

Aeolian (Minor)

Aeolian is a minor mode. It is also called a pure minor, natural minor or relative minor scale.

Locrian (Minor)

This mode is used a lot in Jazz over min7b5 chords

Understanding modes

To understand modes let us take a closer look at the major scales diagram below:

Master the Theory Of Guitar Modes

The first note of any major scale is called Ionian, 2nd note is Dorian, 3rd note is Phrygian, 4th note is Lydian, 5th note is Mixolydian , 6th note is Aeolian, 7th note is Locrian.

How to use modes?

Let’s say our song is in the key of D and this is our chord progression, Em – G – Bm – Em

If I want to harmonize this chord progression, I can play an E Dorian mode when the song is on the E chord, when the song is on the G chord I can play a G Lydian mode and when the song is on the Bm chord, I can play a B Aeolian mode.

There’s no need for you to learn new formulas for every type of modes. Just remember the names of the modes and use the major scale chart.

Example 1

Let us see another example. If I ask you to play an E Phrygian mode, you have to use the major scale chart, look at the ‘Phrygian column ‘, find the E note and start playing from the E note, F note, G note, etc  and back to the E note to get a Phrygian mode.

Example 2

Steps to play a C Mixolydian mode

Step 1: Use the chart, look at the “Mixolydian column”

Step 2: Find the C note, and start playing from the C note, D note, E note, etc and back to the C note to get a Mixolydian mode.

Example 3

Steps to play a F Locrian mode

Step 1:  Use the chart, look at the “Locrian column’

Step 2: Find the F note, and start playing from the F note, Gb note, Ab note, etc and back to the F note to get a F Locrian mode.


I see a lot of teachers who explain modes do so by giving formulas for every type of modes. I don’t like teaching modes that way because that would just waste your time. Instead I recommend you to master your major scales, use your major scale chart and build modes with the help of the chart. It is very important that memorize the names of the modes as well.

If you like this post, please leave a comment.

I’d appreciate it 🙂


2 Responses

  1. Normally I do not learn post on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very forced me to take a look at and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thanks, quite great article.


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