The Major Scale aka Ionian Mode | Guitar Lesson With Diagrams, Theory & Lines

The Ionian mode, also known as the major scale, is the first of the seven musical modes. This is a foundational musical scale in Western music. It's characterized by a bright and uplifting sound.

Ionian Mode Formula

C Ionian mode C D E F G A B
Formula 1 2 (9) 3 4 (11) 5 6 (13) 7
Intervals W W H W W W H

(W = whole step ; H = half step)

As you can see in the chart above the major scale consists of a tonic (1), second (2), major third (3), fourth (4), fifth (5), sixth (6) and major seventh (7). Note that the ninth, eleventh and thirteenth correspond to the second, fourth and the sixth.

It is very important to know how is constructed the major scale in order to be able to build any other major scale. You have to memorize the order of whole steps and half-steps which is W-W-H-W-W-W-H.

How To Apply The Ionian Mode

You can apply the Ionian mode over any major chords as : Major (maj), major seventh (M7) , major sixth (M6 or 6) , major ninth (M9), six/nine (6/9). 

Degrees of The Major Scale

The eight degrees of the major scale have a specific name :

  • 1st - tonic
  • 2nd - supertonic
  • 3rd - mediant
  • 4th - subdominant
  • 5th - dominant
  • 6th - submediant
  • 7th - leading tone
  • 8th - tonic (octave)

How To Play The Major Scale On Guitar?

There are many ways to play the Ionian mode on the guitar. Here are four recommended one octave shapes.

  • This first pattern has roots (R) on the sixth and the fourth string.
  • The second shape has roots on the fifth and third string.
  • The third form has roots on the fourth and second string.
  • The fourth graphic has roots on the third and first string.

You need to know that each scale has a tonic note, this is the main note that a scale is build from, it gives its name to a scale.

To understand and hear correctly the sound of the major scale, it is better to play these patterns starting with the tonic (orange note in the diagram).

Ionian Mode and Major triad Chord - Audio file

For example, to play the C major scale starting with the lowest tonic (on the sixth string) you must put your second finger at the eighth fret on the sixth string.

Now you are ready to play each note of the scale from the lowest root to the highest. It's a basic approach indeed, there are many tips for practicing scales.

Ionian mode one octave guitar shapes 1

Ionian Guitar Diagrams | Two-octave Shapes

The two diagrams on the right show how to play the Ionian mode within two octaves

One important thing to do when you practice scales is to sing notes while playing them on guitar. Indeed, this is an effective way to reinforce the link between what you play and what you hear.

This technique will help you to develop your musical ear. You can apply the singing/playing technique to all your guitar solos and improvisations.

Major scale two octave shapes guitar

Ionian Mode Guitar Shapes | 3 Notes Per String (3NPS)

Here are seven diagrams related to the seven major scales positions starting on each degree of the scale. The examples are in G major, all the shapes are movable, so you have to play them in all keys.

Notice that each shape can be seen as a mode of the major scale Ionian (Shape 1), Dorian (shape 2), Phrygian (shape 3), Lydian (shape 4), Mixolydian (shape 5), Aeolian (shape 6) and Locrian (shape 7). In that case the orange note (1) represent the Parent Major Scale (PMS).

Major scale guitar shapes 1

Major Jazz Guitar Lick & Chords /// Short Lesson - Free PDF

Major Scale Harmonization

In music theory, harmonization is the process of building chords from a given scale using common formulas. Here are the seven chords built from each degree of the major scale: 

Triad chords : These chords are built with three notes stacked in thirds.

Seventh chords or tetrads : They are made of four notes stacked in thirds.

In the key of C, the C major 7 chord is built by stacking C, E, G and B respectively root (1), major third (3), perfect fifth (5) and major seventh (7). Go to see the blog post about the major scale harmonization.

C major scale C D E F G A B
Triad  C Dm Em F G Am Bdim
Tetrads  CMaj7 D-7 E-7 FMaj7 G7 A-7 B-7b5


Chords Formulas

Seventh chords built from the C major scale

Chords Notes Formula (arpeggios) Extensions Related Mode
CM7 C-E-G-B 1-3-5-7 9-11-13 Ionian
D-7 D-F-A-C 1-b3-5-b7 9-11-13 Dorian
E-7 E-G-B-D 1-b3-5-b7 b9-11-b13 Phrygian
FM7 F-A-C-D 1-3-5-7 9-#11-13 Lydian
G7 G-B-D-F 1-3-5-b7 9-11-13 Mixolydian
A-7 A-C-E-G 1-b3-5-b7 9-11-b13 Aeolian
B-7b5 B-D-F-A 1-b3-b5-b7 b9-11-b13 Locrian

Ionian Mode in Twelve Keys. 

  • C major scale : C-D-E-F-G-A-B 
  • Db major scale : Db-Eb-F-Gb-Eb-Bb-C
  • D major scale : D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#
  • Eb major scale : Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C-D
  • E major scale : E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#
  • F major scale : F-G-A-Bb-C-D-E
  • F# major scale : F#-G#-A#-B-C#-D#-E#
  • Gb major scale : Gb-Ab-Bb-Cb-Db-Eb-F
  • G major scale : G-A-B-C-D-E-F#
  • Ab major scale : Ab-Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-G
  • A major scale : A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G#
  • Bb major scale : Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-A
  • B major scale : B-C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A#
Ionian mode and chords cheat sheet

Chords And Arpeggios From The Major Scale

You must be able to write and play any major chord and arpeggio derived from the major scale. 

  • C major triad / chord : consists of a root (C) major third (E) and perfect fifth (G).
    • Notation : C, CM, C major.
C major triad / chord C E G
Formula 1 3 5


  • C major seventh arpeggio / chord : root (C) major third (E), perfect fifth (G) and major seventh (B).
    • Notation : CM7, Cma7, Cmaj7, C?.
C major seventh arpeggio / chord C E G B
Formula 1 3 5 7


  • C major sixth arpeggio / chord : root (C) major third (E), perfect fifth (G) and sixth (A).
    • Notation : CM6, Cma6, Cmaj6
C major sixth arpeggio / chord C E G A
Formula 1 3 5 6


  • C major ninth arpeggio / chord  : root (C) major third (E), perfect fifth (G), major seventh (B) and ninth (D)
    • Notation : CM9, Cma9, Cmaj9.
C major ninth arpeggio / chord C E G B D
Formula 1 3 5 7 9


  • C major eleventh arpeggio / chord : root (C) major third (E), perfect fifth (G), major seventh (B), ninth (D) and eleventh (11).
    • Notation : CM11, Cma11, Cmaj11.
C major eleventh arpeggio / chord C E G B D F
Formula 1 3 5 7 9 11


  • C major thirteenth arpeggio / chord : root (C) major third (E), perfect fifth (G), major seventh (B), ninth (D), eleventh (F) and thirteenth (A).
    • Notation : CM13, Cma13, Cmaj13.
C major thirteenth arpeggio / chord C E G B D F A
Formula 1 3 5 7 9 11 13

Ionian Mode Practice - 10 Exercises

The following provides a bunch of exercises that will help you practice the major scale on guitar. The first four exercises show how to play triads and tetrads built on each degree of the major scale.

The six other examples are built with 2-note intervals . They will help you learn your scales in diatonic intervals as  seconds, thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths and sevenths.

Exercise 1 - Ionian Mode in Triad Chords

In the following audio clip the C major scale in harmonized in triads giving seven chords (drop 2). Try to do this in all twelve keys.

Ionian mode in triad chords

Exercise 2 - Ionian Mode in Triad Arpeggios

In this example, each chord of the C major scale is arpeggiated.

Ionian mode in triad arpeggios

Exercise 3 - Ionian Mode in Seventh Arpeggios

The Ionian mode is harmonized in seventh chords, providing 4 chord types : Major7, min7, dom7 and m7b5.

Ionian mode in seventh chords

Exercise 4 - Ionian Mode in Seventh Arpeggios

In this one you can clearly hear each tone of each chord of the major scale.

The arpeggios are played in order (I-II-III-IV,etc), but you can try to mix them and create new changes as I-III-V-VII or I-VI-II-V etc.

Ionian mode seventh chord arpeggios

Exercise 5 - Major Scale in Seconds

The exercises below are based on the notes of the C major scale. It is essential to practice them in twelve keys, in ascending and descending movements.

In this first example the major scale is played in intervals of seconds.

Ionian mode soloing approach in 2nds

Exercise 6 - Major Scale in Thirds

Playing the major scale in thirds gives this interval pattern : 1-3-2-4-3-5-4-6-5-7-6-8  etc. The line given is ascending, why not try to play it descending ?

Ionian mode soloing approach in 3rds

Exercise 7 - Major Scale in Fourths

The fingering is a little bit more difficult when playing in intervals of fourths.

Ionian mode soloing approach in 4ths

Exercise 8 - Major Scale in Fifths

This exercise is played in position, within the span of 3 frets. You don't need to move you left hand.

Ionian mode soloing approach in 5ths

Exercise 9 - Major Scale in Sixths

Using large intervals as sixths and sevenths into your improvisations will make your lines more interesting and melodic.

Ionian mode soloing approach in 6ths

Exercise 10 - Major Scale in Sevenths

In terms of picking you can play these exercises in alternate picking (down/up) or with your pick by alternate your thumb and index finger.

Ionian mode soloing approach in 7ths

Major Jazz Guitar Lines

Ionian Line #1

This line is built with the C ionian mode (C major scale if you prefer). You can hear a Cmaj7 arpeggio in it (C-E-G-B).

You can try to play it on the I chord of a II V I sequence for example.

Major scale pattern

Major Line #2

This major line highlights two interesting tones which will give more interest to your playing. These two tones are the eleventh (F) and the thirteenth (A).

Major pattern 1

Major Line #3

This easy major lick starts with the ninth (G) of C major. Be sure to play these major lines in twelve keys.

Feel free to add notes, hand effect as slides, pull-off, etc... and above all, play what you hear.

Ionian guitar pattern

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Last edited: 2024-03-16


  • Shane E Keller
    • 1. Shane E Keller On 2021-11-02
    I've only watched the Ionian Mode so far, but it was one of the best tutorials on modes I've ever seen. The 7 Ionian chords, the stacked chords, and the study in intervals were all fantastic. Thank you so much for putting this together!
    • jazz-guitar-licks
      • jazz-guitar-licksOn 2021-11-02
      Thanks a lot ;)
  • Daniel Navarro
    • 2. Daniel Navarro On 2020-02-26
    • jazz-guitar-licks
      • jazz-guitar-licksOn 2020-02-26
      No puedes
  • Barelli Joël
    Very good

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