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Modes Part II – Derivative

Modes Part II – Derivative – Deriving Modes From the Parent Major Scale

Modes are derived from a parent scale. Any scale can function as this parent scale, but, for practical purposes, our discussion is limited to the modes of the major scale. This is the most common and useful modal structure in western musical theory.

Modes are a hold-over from Ancient Greek musical theory, and, although they are not used very often in classical music, their use in rock, jazz and blues music is indispensable.

The Ancient Greeks had the idea that you could take a parent scale and invert it so that each of the tones of the scale, in turn, would function as the root note. Thus, they could generate seven melodic structures, each having a completely different sound quality as compared to the others, from the same group of notes.

Each of these seven inversions of the scale were associated with the various tribes of Greece and given the name of that tribe.

The Ancients ordered the scales in descending fashion:

1. C – Ionian

2. B – Dorian

3. A – Phrygian

4. G – Lydian

5. F – Mixolydian

6. E – Aeolian

7. D – Locrian

Oddly, the churches of Western Europe reversed the order of designation:

1. C – Ionian

2. D – Dorian

3. E – Phrygian

4. F – Lydian

5. G – Mixolydian

6. A – Aeolian

7. B – Locrian

This is the order and naming that we use today. You must commit this order and naming to memory, as you will use this knowledge frequently.

Keep in mind that each of the seven modes listed above share the same key signature. That is to say, they are all composed of the exact same notes. The only thing that distinguishes one from the next is the fact that you are using a different note within the parent scale as the root.

Now, if we change the key of the parent major scale, we still get the same modes, in the same order, but the root notes will change. For example, let’s look at the key of G major:

1. G – Ionian

2. A – Dorian

3. B – Phrygian

4. C – Lydian

5. D – Mixolydian

6. E – Aeolian

7. F# – Locrian

The key of D major yields:

1. D – Ionian

2. E – Dorian

3. F# – Phrygian

4. G – Lydian

5. A – Mixolydian

6. B – Aeolian

7. C# – Locrian

Ionian will always be first, Dorian will be second, Phrygian is third, etc. The root notes of each mode will always follow the whole-step/half-step pattern of the parent major scale.

Take notice, if you haven’t already, that the Ionian mode and the parent scale are one and the same. It’s helpful if you think, “way of playing the scale” in place of the word, “mode.” So the “good ol’ major scale”, as you’ve always known it, is the first way or Ionian mode.

In order to see the relationship of the seven modes on the guitar, it’s helpful to divide the major scale into seven patterns along the length of the fingerboard:

If we change the root note in each successive pattern to match the modal structure it looks like this:

1. C Ionian

2. D Dorian

3. E Phrygian

4. F Lydian

5. G Mixolydian

6. A Aeolian

7. B Locrian

Notice that we are using the exact same patterns, in the exact same order, at the exact same positions on the fingerboard. The only thing that has changed is the note within each pattern that functions as the root. (the squares!!)

Here’s an exercise to help you understand derivative modal relationships:

Below are seven MIDI files labeled according to the modes. Click on each link in turn and practice the corresponding pattern ascending and descending, making sure to start and stop on the correct root.

It is usually easiest to hear the scale if you start and stop on the root that is also the lowest note of the pattern, but, eventually you will want to practice using the root on the D-string and the root on the high E-string.

Now, once you are comfortable with the pattern and the sound of the mode, start improvising short melodic phrases using the mode. You don’t have to get fancy. Just keep it simple and concentrate on using the correct notes. What you’re trying to do is become familiar with the sound of the mode and the idea of playing the notes of the C major scale with a note other than C functioning as the root.

Good luck!

1. C – Ionian

2. D – Dorian

3. E – Phrygian

4. F – Lydian

5. G – Mixolydian

6. A – Aeolian

7. B – Locrian

This lesson is divided into four parts:

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