If you’re just getting into the modes or things haven’t quite clicked yet, here’s a rundown of the most common methods for learning modes, their advantages and pitfalls. We’ll look at the theory then see how to put it into practice as this is usually where the confusion enters. I’m assuming you’ve been experimenting with modes for a while.
Theory: Parent Scale Method – The major scale is the parent scale i.e. C major is the parent scale of D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian, A Aeolian, B Locrian. Each mode is simply the C major scale starting on a different note.
Practice: This method is the easiest to understand in theory but the most difficult and time-consuming to put into practice. To make this method work you need to know the notes of the major scale in question all over the fretboard and be beyond scale patterns. If you’re still relying on scale patterns then all this method will do is give you a wishy-washy sound for every mode; what I’m getting at is it’s hard to bring out the sound of each mode if you’re still a slave to the scale patterns. Once you’re beyond scale patterns it’s fantastic because you can play, for example, the C Major scale from the perspective of D and you’re free to roam all over the fretboard. Check out the PDF lesson below for a more in-depth look at how to make the Parent Scale Method work.
Theory: Modes are scales in their own right – This is probably a good place to start as modes are scales in their own right at the end of the day.
You have the three major modes: Ionian, Lydian, Mixolydian. Ionian and Lydian are great over major and major 7 chords while Mixolydian is nice over dominant 7 chords; and the three minor modes: Dorian, Phrygian and Aeolian plus Locrian for diminished and m7b5 chords.
Practice: This is a good place to start with modes. It would be wrong not to shamelessly recommend my own 2 Position System for learning the modes this way as it’ll have you playing them all over the fretboard in no time.
Theory: Parallel Modes – This is where you learn the modes by playing them from the same starting note i.e. you play C Ionian then C Dorian then C Lydian and so on.
Practice: This is a good way for your ears to get used to the sound of the different modes but will be just as time-consuming, if not more so, than the parent scale method as you're (unnecessarily) giving yourself more patterns to learn.
Theory: Building the modes from triads – In this method you build up the structure of each mode by gradually adding intervals to the major/minor/diminished triads.
Practice: This method, as well as being great for your ears, does not involve learning scale patterns so is by far the most fun. Try it out using the free PDF lesson below:
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