The Locrian mode | Guitar Lesson, Theory, Diagrams and Scale Charts

What's the Locrian mode

The Locrian mode is the seventh mode of the major scale. It has a particular sound because of the b2, b3, b5, b6 and b7. It is the least used, and probably the most misunderstood of all of the modes of the major scale. The Locrian mode is usually played over minor seventh flat ninth chords (m7b5), in a minor II-V-I sequence for example.

B locrian mode B C D E F G A
Formula 1 b2 (b9) b3 4 (11) b5 b6 (b13) b7
Intervals H W W H W W W

(W = whole step ; H = half step)

The locrian mode in twelve keys

How to play the Locrian scale in all 12 keys

Reflecting the sequence H-W-W-H-W-W-W we get the Locrian scale in all the 12 keys. Each scale consists of a root (1), minor second (b2) or flat ninth (b9), minor third (b3), fourth (4) / eleventh (11), diminished fifth (b5), minor sixth (b6) / flat thirteenth (b13) and minor seventh (b7).

A Locrian Mode A,Bb,C,D,Eb,F,G
Bb Locrian Mode Bb, Cb, Db, Eb, Fb, Gb, Ab
B Locrian Mode B,C,D,E,F,G,A
C Locrian Mode C,Db,Eb,F,Gb,Ab,Bb
Db Locrian Mode Db, Ebb, Fb, Gb, Abb, Bbb, Cb,
D Locrian Mode D,Eb,F,G,Ab,Bb,C
Eb Locrian Mode Eb, Fb, Gb, Abb Bbb, Cb, Db
E Locrian Mode E,F,G,A,Bb,C,D
F Locrian Mode E#,F#,G#,A#,B,C#,D#
F# Locrian Mode F#,G,A,B,C,D,E
G Locrian Mode G,Ab,Bb,C,Db,Eb,F
G# Locrian Mode G#,A,B,C#,D,E,F#

Locrian guitar patterns

How to play the Locrian mode on the guitar

Here are two recommended guitar diagrams to play the Locrian mode.

To understand and "hear" this mode, it is recommended to play these patterns starting with the root "R". The root is a very important note which gives its name to a scale. For example A is the root of A locrian scale. You must know the location of the root of any scale.

To play the B Locrian mode using the first pattern you have to put your first finger on the sixth string at the seventh fret.

To play the B Locrian mode using the second pattern you must put your first finger on the fifth string at the second fret.

To practice the Locrian mode in different keys, you just have to move the root (R) to the desired tonality  keeping the same intervals.

Guitar pattern 1

(roots "R" on the sixth, fourth and first string)

Locrian mode guitar diagram pattern

Guitar pattern 2

(roots "R" on the fifth and the third string)

Locrian mode guitar diagram pattern 2

Related arpeggio and chords

How to build chords and arpeggios from the Locrian mode

The Locrian mode produces a diminished triad and a half-diminished arpeggio. Diminished triads consists of root (1) and minor third (b3) and a diminished fifth (b5). Add the minor seventh (b7) and you have a half-diminished chord (tetrad). Half-diminished arpeggios are made up of a root, minor third, diminished fifth and minor seventh (b7). 

B Locrian mode B C D E F G A Chord
Formula 1 b2 (b9) b3 4 (11) b5 b6 (b13) b7  
B diminished triad 1 x b3 x b5 x x Bmb5
B half-diminished 7 tetrad 1 x b3 x b5 x b7 Bm7b5
B half-diminished arpeggio 1 x b3 x b5 x b7  

 

You have to know that a half-diminished arpeggios can be used to highlight the ninth (9) of a dominant 7th chord. For example, you can play a E half-diminished arpeggio (E-G-Bb-D) over a C dominant seventh chord (C7) starting from its third. 

E half diminished arpeggio E G Bb D
C dominant 7th chord  C E G Bb

 

  • E of E half diminished arpeggio is the third of C7
  • G is the fifth
  • Bb is the minor seventh
  • D is the ninth.

Another common jazz trick is to apply a half diminished arpeggio to a minor seventh chord starting on the third of this chord. This technique allows to highlight the thirteenth of a minor chord. For example, let's take a D minor seventh (Dm7) chord built with D, F, A and C respectively root (1), minor third (b3), perfect fifth (5) and minor seventh (b7). The sixth of D is B which can also be named thirteenth (13). So now you just have to play a B half diminished arpeggio, which is B, D, F and A.

B half diminished arpeggio B D F A
D minor seventh chord  D F A C

 

Matching notes

  • B is the thirteenth of Dm
  • D is the root 
  • F is the third
  • A is the fifth

II-V-I jazz guitar line | Half diminished arpeggio | Thirteenth highlighted

How to play a half-diminished arpeggio in a II-V-I progression

Here is a basic major II-V-I sequence in the key of C to understand the use of the half diminished arpeggio over a minor seventh chord. In this context, we will not play the whole B locrian scale over the Dm7 chord, but only a B half diminished arpeggio. As you can see the four notes in orange in bar 1 represent this arpeggio. In this example, it is inverted, it starts with the third (D) which is the root of D minor seventh.

II-V-I jazz guitar lick

D locrian mode | minor II-V-I progression

How to use the Locrian mode in a minor II-V-I sequence

We can see in this minor II-V-I chord progression the basic application of the Locrian mode over a Dm7b5 chord.

  • Bar one : D descending Locrian mode (D-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C) with a passing tone (A). 
  • Bar two : B diminished 7th arpeggio (B-D-F-Ab) and chromatic line (F-F#-G). In this line the B diminished arpeggio starts on the third of G7b9. 
  • Bar three : Fifth and b3 of Cm.

 

Dim7 arpeggio jazz guitar lick

 

 

 

Comparison with other Locrian modes

What are the other Locrian modes

It can be interesting to compare the Locrian scale with four others Locrian modes.

  • The first is the second mode of the harmonic minor scale, its name is Locrian natural 6 mode. It is built with a natural 6 in place of a minor 6. It is spelled 1 - b2 - b3 - 4 - b5 - 6 - b7
Formula 1 b2 (b9) b3 4 (11) b5 6 (13) b7
Intervals H W W H W+H H W

 

  • The second Locrian mode is called super Locrian bb7 aka Ultra Locrian mode. This is the seventh mode of the harmonic minor scale and it is spelled 1 - b2 - b3 - b4 - b5 - b6 - bb7. You can see that it is built the same as the Locrian mode but has a diminished seventh (bb7) instead a minor seventh (b7).
Formula 1 b2 b3 b4 b b6 bb7
Intervals H W H W W W+H W

 

  • The third is the Locrian #2 mode, it is the sixth mode of the melodic minor scale. As its name implies it has a major second (#2) instead of a minor second (b2). The formula is 1 - 2 - b3 - 4 - b5 - b6 - b7.
Formula 1 2 (#2 or #9) b3 4 (11) b5 b6 (b13) b7
Intervals W H W H W W W

 

  • The last one belongs to the Bebop scales family. The Locrian bebop scale is an octatonic scale (built with eight notes). It is spelled 1 - b2 - b3 - 4 - b5 - 5 - b6 - b7. The Locrian bebop scale has an extra note between the flat five (b5) and the minor sixth (b6). This is the Locrian mode with a supplementary note, the fifth (5).
Formula 1 b2 b3 4 b5 5 b6 b7
Intervals H W W H H H W W

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Last edited: 25/05/2018