Guitar Modes – For Adding Variation to Your Lead Playing

Despite the fact that many guitarists don’t learn about modal playing until they are at a certain level, modes are really easy to understand. They can be used to liven up your playing that might have previously been locked in natural major or natural minor positions, or even the predictable pentatonic.

In this article, we going to look at the seven modes and how to play them, we’ll also look at popular songs that include modes in them to familiarise yourself with these new scales. Here’s what we’ll cover:

The Seven Guitar Modes

The good news is, if you already know the major scale, you can already play all the mode scales because they’re simply variations of it. i.e. you derive the modes from different positions of the, based on starting and ending in different places.

There are seven modes to learn. To help you remember them, use one of these acronyms:  “I Don’t Phone Lydia Much After Lock-up” (which helps to differentiate between Lydian and Locrian modes).

We’re going to demonstrate how to find the patterns using the key of C.


Ionian Mode v7



To play the Dorian scale, you just play the one above (the Ionian), but start and finish on the D note.

D Dorian Mode


This time, start and end on the E. Now you’re playing an E Phrygian scale.

E Phrygian mode


Now start and end on the F to make the F Lydian.

F Lydian Mode


Now start and end on the G to make the G Mixolydian scale.

G Mixolydian Mode


Now start and end on the A, to get the A Aeolian scale.

A Aeolian Mode


Finally, start and end on the B to get the B Locrian scale.

B Locrian Mode


The Parallel Method of Understanding Modes

The method of understanding modes we have used involved starting the familiar scale on different notes, to create different sets of intervals. Another common way of learning modes is to look at each mode as a modification of the major scale, so you learn all the modes in C, first… this is useful for transpositional purposes, but takes a little longer to memorize. In this ‘parallel’ method, modes are understood like this:

  • Ionian: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
  • Dorian: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7 8
  • Phrygian: 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8
  • Lydian: 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7 8
  • Mixolydian: 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7 8
  • Aeolian: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8
  • Locrian: 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7 8

In brief, this is what each does:

Ionian – straight out
Lydian – sharpen the 4
Mixolydian – flatten the 7
Aeolian – flatten the 3, 6 and 7
Dorian – take the 6 back to natural
Phrygian – flatten the 2
Locrian – flatten the 2 and 5


So, we have found out that the modes are not that complicated, after all, and can really help you to create some interesting new melodies, and to find out some new chords. All you need to do is take the major scale, and start and finish in different places.

Good luck!

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