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Modes Part III – Parallel

Modes Part III – Parallel – Viewing Modes As Parallel Scales

Once you completely understand how modes are derived and are becoming familiar with the distinct sound quality of each, it’s important to be able to see them as separate scales. In order to do this, you need to memorize the interval structure of each mode. There isn’t any easy way to go about this memorization. You just have to keep plugging away at it until you have it down.

Here are the modes, listed in order of appearance, with the interval structure of each:

1. Ionian – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

2. Dorian – 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7 8

3. Phrygian – 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8

4. Lydian – 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7 8

5. Mixolydian – 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7 8

6. Aeolian – 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8

7. Locrian – 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7 8

A useful tool for memorization, as well as, organizing the sound of each mode is to arrange them in order of “brightness”:

Lydian – 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7 8

Ionian – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Mixolydian – 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7 8

Dorian – 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7 8

Aeolian – 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8

Phrygian – 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8

Locrian – 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7 8

Arranged in this order, each successive mode has only one interval that is different than the mode before it.

Practice the intervals thusly:

Click on the MIDI file below.

Play one octave of the C Lydian mode, at the eighth fret, ascending and descending, until you are comfortable with the sound and fingering:

Then, change the appropriate interval to make the scale C Ionian (Lower the #4 one fret):

Once you’re comfortable with that, change the scale to C Mixolydian, then to C Dorian etc…

C pedal tone

With the derivative approach, our objective was to see the modes from different root notes within the parent major scale. The objective of the parallel approach, however, is to learn to see all of the modes from the same root.

This is where the unique sound quality of each mode begins to stand out. It is this unique sound quality that dictates the use of the individual modes. If you attach a description of this sound quality to each of the modes, it will help you to better organize your playing.

Here is how I hear the modes, but don’t be afraid to come up with your own description. (Click on each for a short mp3 example over a pedal tone.):

1. Ionian – Very clean sounding, almost to the point of sounding sterile. Your Grandma would love this one.

2. Dorian – Can sound smooth and soulful or hip and bluesy, depending on how you use it.

3. Phrygian – Has a very Middle-Eastern or Spanish sound.

4. Lydian – Very clean, like Ionian, but the #4 gives it a more spacey, unresolved quality.

5. Mixolydian – “Funky” or “folky”, depending on how it’s used. This mode has been used for everything from old sea chanteys, to a lot of ’70s rock tunes.

6. Aeolian – Dark and sad like those old cowboy songs, or tough and mean as used in a lot of heavy-rock songs.

7. Locrian – The real ear-twister of the bunch. Can sound Spanish like Phrygian, but much darker and more unresolved.

Now that we have liberated the modes from their parent scale, it’s much easier to transpose them into other keys. For example, if we transpose each of the modes to the key of G and play them at the third fret, it looks like this:

1. Ionian – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

2. Dorian – 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7 8

3. Phrygian – 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8

4. Lydian – 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7 8

5. Mixolydian – 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7 8

6. Aeolian – 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8

7. Locrian – 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7 8

Take a good look at each of the patterns in the example, and you will notice that they are the exact same patterns that we have already used in the derivative section of this lesson. They’re even in the same order. What has changed is that they are all being played from the same root (G at the third fret, low E string).

Patterns are a very useful tool on the guitar, so long as you don’t let the patterns do all the work for you.

Becoming a skilled player is much more than whipping out your favorite pattern every time you take a solo. You’ve got to step beyond the patterns and understand the intervals that you are playing, as well as, how those intervals function, both harmonically and melodically, within the context of the music you are playing.

Eventually, you will need to be able to see the interval structure of each mode covering the entire fretboard:

1. Ionian – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

2. Dorian – 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7 8

3. Phrygian – 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8

4. Lydian – 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7 8

5. Mixolydian – 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7 8

6. Aeolian – 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8

7. Locrian – 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7 8

Now, click on the MIDI file, pick a mode, and learn those intervals!

G pedal tone


This lesson is divided into four parts:



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