Modes of the major scale

The Seven Modes of The Major Scale

Modes of the major scale guitar lessonWhat Are Ecclesiastical Modes?

Ecclesiastical modes, also named "Greek modes"or "church modes" or "Gregorian modes" formed in the Middle Ages a set of scales whose use has weakened because of the appearance of the major / minor tonal system. 

Several centuries later these modes have reappeared. They are very used in jazz improvisation as scale of chords and modal playing.

This lesson explains how are built modes and how to play them on guitar.

What Are The Seven Modes Of The Major Scale?

Modes are built by moving the root on each degree of a scale. Each mode as a specific succession of tones and half-tones corresponding to a chord.

The most important modes are built from the diatonic major scale, they are named :

  1. Ionian mode (major) : Also known as major scale. Here is the formula 1-2-3-4-5-6-7
  2. Dorian mode (minor) : 1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7
  3. Phrygian mode (minor) : 1-b2-b3-4-5-b6-b7
  4. Lydian mode (major) : 1-2-b3-#4-5-b6-7
  5. Mixolydian mode (dominant) :1-2-3-4-5-6-b7
  6. Aeolian mode (minor) : 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-7
  7. Locrian mode (half-diminished) : 1-b2-b3-4-b5-b6-b

The Ionian Mode

The Ionian mode is the first of the seven musical modes. The Ionian mode is built the same as the major scale and surely the first scale to learn for a beginner musician. It is made up of seven notes :

C Ionian mode C D E F G A B
Formula 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Intervals W W H W W W H


(W = whole step ; H = half step)

You can play the Ionian mode over major chord types as :

Major, major seventh (M7) , major sixth (M6 or 6) , major ninth (M9), major six/nine (M6/9), sus 2, sus 4.

The Dorian Mode

The Dorian mode is the second of the seven musical modes. It is a minor type scale because of the minor third (b3). The Dorian mode is generally the first choice for improvising over minor chords and one of the most important scale to know for a jazz guitar improviser.

It is made up of seven notes including a minor third (b3) and minor seventh (b7). 

D Dorian mode D E F G A B C
Formula 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7
Intervals W H W W W H W

The Phrygian Mode

The Phrygian mode is the third mode of the major scale. It is one of the three minor modes of the major scale. These minor modes are Dorian, Phrygian and Aeolian (natural minor scale). 

It can be played over minor chords, but it is rarely used because of the b2 scale tone. 

E Phrygian mode E F G A B C D
Formula 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
Intervals H W W W H W W

The Lydian Mode

The Lydian mode is the fourth mode of the major scale. It is very used to play over major chords, it is a major type scale (because of its major third).

The Lydian mode has a very interesting sound because of its #4 (or #11), it is similar to the Ionian mode but has a raised fourth (#4) instead of a perfect fourth. Playing the F Lydian mode over a C major chord is the same as playing the C Ionian mode starting by the fourth (F).

Lydian mode gets interesting when it is played over a major chord, for example playing a F Lydian scale over a CM7 brings tension because of the raised fourth / Raised eleventh (#4).

F Lydian mode F G A B C D E
Formula 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7
Intervals W W W H W W H

The Mixolydian Mode

The Mixolydian mode is the fifth mode of the major scale. This is a major type scale (also called dominant scale) because of the major third (3) and the minor seventh (b3).

It has the same notes as the Ionian mode except the minor seventh (b7). This is the mode to know when you want to play over dominant chords (not altered).

The Mixolydian mode is widely used in jazz and blues music it's one of the most important mode to master.

G Mixolydian mode G A B C D E F
Formula 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7
Intervals W W H W W H W

The Aeolian Mode

The Aeolian mode (also called "natural minor scale" or "relative minor scale) is the sixth mode of the major scale, it is known as a relative minor to the major scale (ionian mode). 

This is the third of the three minor modes (Aeolian, Dorian and Phrygian) of the major scale and a very important minor mode to master. It has a minor third (b3), a minor seventh (b7) and a minor sixth (b6).

A Aeolian mode A B C D E F G
Formula 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
Intervals W H W W H W W

The Locrian Mode

The Locrian mode is the seventh mode of the major scale. It has a particular sound because of its b2, its b3, b5, b6 and b7. It is the least used, and probably the most misunderstood out of all of the modes of the major scale. 

It 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 b3 4 b5 b6 b7
Intervals H W W H W W W
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dorian mode ionian mode phrygian mode lydian mode Locrian mode jazz guitar lesson gregorian modes church modes greek modes Ecclesiastical modes

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