Some people have a natural gift for music. They can pick up an instrument and start playing by ear, but even the gifted should take the time to learn some music theory. To master all seven guitar major modes easily, it’s worth knowing what they are and the music theory behind them. Before we share some tips to help you master the modes, let’s define them.
What Are the 7 Major Guitar Modes?
A guitar mode is a type of scale. A scale is a set of notes organized by pitch. Modes derive from a parent scale. A mode has the same notes as its parent scale, but each mode starts on a different note in the scale.
Modes kick up a solo’s quality because they add unique touches to the music. A mode also determines the tonal center. If you have heard of the Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do scale, you have heard tonal sounds. Since a mode determines what note you start a scale with, it controls the tonal center.
The seven modes are:
You can play each mode on a different parent scale. For example, on the C scale, the notes for Ionian, or the first mode, are CDEFGABC. The second mode, or Dorian, begins with the second letter in the scale changing it to DEFGABCD. The seventh mode, or Locrian, starts with the seventh note and renders BCDEFGAB.
Since modes are dependent on scales, learning the major and minor scales is one tip for learning the seven modes easily. Ionian, Lydian, and Mixolydian are major. Dorian, Phrygian, and Aeolian, as well as Locrian, are minor.
How to Master the 7 Guitar Modes Easily
Now that you have a little music theory under your belt, we can move into how to master the seven guitar modes. Learning to play the modes is no different than learning a new language or other skill. Set aside some time and space where you can practice. You’re going to memorize, visualize, and add music.
An orchestra plays with their sheet music in front of them. If you’re going to rock out on stage, you’re not going to bring your sheets with you. Even if you play an intimate gathering or acoustic concert, you’re playing the music from memory. One way to master the modes is to memorize them.
We showed you an example of the seven modes based on the C scale earlier. Take that logic and apply it across the board. Then, memorize each mode for every scale. Memorize them in order until they become second nature. Once you become comfortable, you can mix and match.
As you memorize the modes, you can pick up tutorials or images that visually show them to you. This helps you see the fingering. You’re balancing the notes with the fingering. You may trip up in the beginning, but you’ll see that with time, you’ll pick it up.
When you play the guitar, a lot happens with your fingers. If your fingers touch a minor note instead of the major, your ear will pick up the difference. In the beginning, it’s perfectly acceptable to use visuals.
While you memorize the notes, you memorize the fingering, too. Go ahead and use all the learning tools at your disposal.
To master a new skill, you need to practice at least 10,000 hours. To master the seven modes, you need to practice. Practicing 10,000 hours might not sound like easily mastering, but it does provide mastering with consistency.
Playing through the major modes is one way to maximize your practice. Then, go into all the minor modes. For each, repeat the keys 12 times each. Start with the C scale. Next, move on to the D, and so on. Your goal is to get through all the scales in all the modes.
The repetition and hand-on practice should improve your memorization, too.
Practice with Music
Most guitar music stems from the same basic chords, modes, and scales. Once you have memorized the modes to a comfortable level, it’s time to practice with music.
Play music in the background and follow along. If you dive into music theory further, you’ll have the knowledge to depict scales used in songs for guitars. “Old Joe Clark” is a folk guitar song used in music examples. The melody is close to the Mixolydian mode in A.
Start playing along with the song in A. Then, see if you play the song in G.
As you gain confidence, you’ll realize that you can switch up the scales for other songs, too.
Practice with the Harmony
The melody leads a song. The harmony builds on the melody. A harmony cannot exist without the melody, but the harmony consists of at least two sounds that mesh well with each other. Harmony is a set of complementary sounds.
Since the harmony is more than one sound, it challenges you to improve your guitar mode skills. Every step builds on the last. Every new exercise builds on the last.
Your job is to identify the harmony’s scale. Then, emulate its mode. Now you are challenging your memorization and fingering skills. Plus, you’re training your ear. A well-tuned ear allows you to rock out and impress the audience from the stage.
Why Should You Master Guitar Modes?
Since the majority of the music comes from the same scales and chords, what is going to make your guitar playing skills unique? Artists like Jack White and Stevie Young shred with the best of them. Their skills demonstrate their range. They’re also well-regarded because their sound isn’t exactly like everyone else’s.
Mastering the guitar modes improves your improv skills. This gives your solo performances a boost. If you’re a hobby guitarist, that might be enough. Others seek to reach for the sky. So go forth.
To master all seven major guitar modes, read up on the music theory behind them. This makes it easier to understand and learn each variation. Pick a scale and mode, and play it on your guitar one by one. Start memorizing each mode and beef up your fingering visualization prowess. Move into identifying melody and harmony modes from songs. Dedicate time to practice the modes. This should improve your guitar skills and ear.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.