TrueFire's Guitar Blog

10 Modes That Matter for Guitar Players

Guitar players – here are scales and modes you MUST know for all styles. You’ll learn how and when to apply them. You’ll learn how to shape, color and texture your solos across a variety of styles with them. You’ll learn where to find, and how to finger, these 10 scales and modes all over the fretboard. Straight up, get a solid grip on these 10 and your soloing prowess will grow quicker and further than you would have ever imagined.

Of course, we can’t cover them all here, but this series will get you started! Chris’ format is straightforward and interactive so grab your guitar and dial in.

Aeolian: Metal

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As we now know every mode has a defining tritone. Aeolian of course is no different with its tritone residing between 2 and b6. In this case that tritone is more of a bridge to another defining aspect of all scales and modes–half step instances. All the major modes have two half steps contained within them and where they are in the formula is equally important to the sound. A great way to get an Aeolian-based minor sound across is to play off the tritone between 2 and b6, but also the half step from 5-b6. This really takes off when you play that half step instance within a minor arpeggio lick–total Aeolian.

Dorian: Funk

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Perusing the Dorian formula–1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7–you can see with its flatted 3rd degree itís of the minor ilk. Additionally there’s a b7 allowing Dorian to produce the ever-important min7 chord, which is featured in the upcoming Minor Blues segment (see the accompanying Power Tab chart). However, the color lies within the tritone interval (b5) between the b3rd and the 6th degree. This can be heard big time in the m6 and m6/9 chords that are played in this segmentís jam track. As you watch and listen not just to Dorian, but all the scales and modes throughout this course, be sure to key in on where the tritone is located. More often than not it is that interval that defines a scale or modeís overall sound.

In addition to playing Dorian over various minor chord forms that are diatonic to its formula, this scale is often superimposed over other chords to emphasize that chord’s color tones and tensions.

Harmonic Minor: Surf

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When you think surf music and what scale sounds to use you’re first instinct may be something of a major type: Ionian and Mixolydian. I mean, c’mon, it’s surf music–good times! On the contrary, upon examining choice melodies of surf standards you’ll find minor is actually often the raison d’etre. Once again it’s all about the phrasing, but part of that too is all about the fingering. What one player sees as the best fingering for getting the right feel to play the right melody may not work for you. Feel free to make use of whatever fingering works for you from the course PDF chart of fingerings and beyond. That said, when it comes to a fingering choice that is sure to work for playing harmonic minor over a surf vibe, be sure to give ample time to attacking a single string approach with a focus on the lower string set.

Ionian: Rock

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As you check out the various segments pertaining to each scale or mode take notice of how the phrasing changes from style to style. Just think back to how the Ionian mode was approached in the previous segment where a straight-ahead jazz vibe was employed while you view the very different approach to this more modern rock feel. Be it bending compared to no bending, the manner in which you apply legato techniques or even how you use the tone you’re playing with to your advantage; the style you’re playing in will absolutely affect how you play. That said you might find yourself using a certain set of fingerings from the PDF charts for one particular style while going for another set that’s completely different when playing another style. Conversely, you might grab onto a certain fingering scheme but rely more on phrasing variations to match the style you’re playing in. There’s no rules!

Lydian: Fusion

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11 as is the case in the Bbmaj7#11 chord heard in this segment that is set to a Jazz-Fusion vibe. What’s more, you may see the #4 show up in other chords in the progression, but as a different chord tone against the respective root. Such is the case in the second chord, Gm13add4, where the 13th is an E. That E against the overall Bb key signature is a #4. This gives the Gm13add4 a bite similar to the Bbmaj7#11 that is a perfect bed of positive tension to play Lydian over horizontally.

Melodic Minor: Fusion

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There’s been lots of attention to the location of the tritone in the major modes and that will continue here in melodic minor and its modes. In fact, you better turn up your intervale diablo meter a notch as there’s not one but two tritones in this scale and its modes. Within melodic minor the first tritone is between the b3 and 6 while the second is between the 4 and 7. That makes them a whole step apart, which states the case melodic minor is a very close cousin to a scale we’ll be checking out towards the end of the course–wholetone.

Mixolydian: Southern Rock

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Southern rock is gritty, guttural, raw and real. Those qualities owe a lot to Mixolydian and it’s b7. While you could see the D-C-G progression in the jam track as V-IV-I in G it really is a I-bVII-IV in D. Try playing both D Mixolydian and G Ionian modes over the changes and in the end you’ll hear the D Mixo approach delivers the right vibe. Now you might be thinking, “aren’t those the same notes?” Yes, but it’s up to you to phrase the notes so that D is the root. Try making sure you play 3, 5 and b7 of D ensuring a dom7 arpeggio is heard in your lines. Also, don’t be afraid to slur the 3rd (b3 to 3 instances) furthering the blues-based vibe southern rock is founded on.

As an added experiment try playing G Mixolydian over the changes and see what you come with. You’ll be both surprised and perplexed at the results!

Phrygian: Latin Rock

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The sound of Phrygian and it’s related modes such as Phrygian Major (coming up later in the course) are often associated with Spanish themes and rightfully so. Be it traditional sounding forays or more modern rock excursions, the component that really delivers that Latin flavor is the major chord that’s built on the b2 degree of Phrygian. The jam track here jumps all over the b2 but in a way that’s not as punishing and obvious as the previous metal track.

In bar two of the jam track an Fmaj7 takes over at the upbeat of beat 2. Check out how Phrygian can glide right over that change and sound great. The catch is the root, in this case E, is the major 7 of the Fmaj7 chord. This is a good thing as playing the root of a maj7 chord is a no-no because it clashes with the 7th of the chord. So, this means you can use Phrygian as a half step below superimposition over maj7 chords! As stated, always use your ear as the final judge because what looks good on paper doesn’t always translate to the real thing.

Phrygian Major: Klezmer

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In this lone example set to a modern Klezmer vibe the Phrygian Dominant mode sounds most at home. Of course, that is also due in part to the uniquely idiosyncratic phrasing this style possesses. Here you should make a conscious effort to exploit the two half steps–1-b2 and 5-b6–especially with trills. Once again the Phrygian Major mode can be played horizontally across the 8 bar loop that’s made up of four chords, all of which are diatonic to the mode. In doing so just stay weary of what change you’re playing over and use your ears to ensure you’re playing the right notes over each chord.

Throughout this style setting and the surf setting you may find it worthwhile to map out each string as a single string scale to play over the jam tracks. To do that you’ll need to know the notes of the scale, which in this case is: B C D# E F# G A. Next, on each string look for which one of those notes can be played at the lowest point of each string. It’s either going to an open string or on the 1st fret. From there you just continue on up the scale mapping out the note locations. You could identify the lowest notes by their scale degrees and then build the rest by degree. If you can pull that off it shows you’re really getting a handle on the degree approach, which is a very powerful tool that will allow you to transpose on the drop of a dime.

Symmetrical Diminished: Blues

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Here in a blues context symmetrical diminished can be played where ever a IV7 chord appears in the changes. It’s almost a guarantee this will inject a hefty dose of cool when you’ve mastered this approach especially when you come up to some cool sequences based off the cyclical fingerings displayed in the PDF chart. As stated in the previous segment though, just don’t forget to land. Meaning, don’t get lost in the idea and not nail the transition to the next chord. Coming out of a IV7 chord with a symmetrical diminished scale, no matter what change awaits you, will not work horizontally over the chord follows. And, nothing kills a bold move such as this quicker than dropping the ball like that. Don’t be that guy!

Once you see how it works, you’ll be ready to tackle the full selection in Modes that Matter where all of the scales and modes work in multiple styles such as blues, alt-country, rock, funk, jazz, fusion, bossa, metal, surf and even Klezmer. Buono will demonstrate each scale or mode across at least two different styles although endless style variations are virtually unlimited. Check it out!