Can We Have a Discussion About Modes?


Rock Star
I don't really understand them.
I mean, I get that Aeolian is the minor equivalent of a major scale, but if they have the same notes, what is it about playing one vs. the other?

And I'm sure I can google it, but I'm more looking for how you guys understand them, and use them, in context. (Which I can probably google also, but would rather get a discussion here. Just sayin'.)
Lydian = Steve Vai
Dorian = Santana
Phrygian = Yngwie
Mixolydian = Satriani
Aeolian/Minor = Hammet
Ionian/Major Scale = Skynyrd


Not that they don't all use different modes and scales. They do. Just that they kind of default to specific
tonal centers, because of the type of music they write, and tend to play (probably because it sounds good to
them and fits the harmonic structure/chord progressions of their music).

I feel like it helps to associate artists (generally speaking) with modes in this way because you can literally
hear how they sound in a musical context.

There is the music theory aspect of modes that is derived from the C Majour scale where, but not sure that
is as helpful (unless you are going to study them in depth) as hearing HOW they sound:

C/1st = Ionian/Major
D/2nd = Dorian
E/3rd = Phrygian
F/4th = Lydian
G/5th = Mixolydian
A/6th = Aeolian
B/7th = Locrian

I don't know who the fuck uses Locrian. ;)
there are two ways to understand modes.

one is from a relative point of view which means that C ionian is the same thing, NOTEWISE, as D dorian, E phrygian, F lydian, G mixolydian, A aeolian and B locrian.

the more useful one is to understand them from a parallel point of view, which means holding the tonal center static and comparing, say, C ionian to C lydian.

and that means knowing things like lydian is just ionian with a #4 or that mixolydian is just ionian with a b7. and understanding which three triads are affected by this.

for example, C ionian has the notes C, D, E, F, G, A and B. whereas C lydian has C, D, E, F#, G, A and B.

that means that instead of having these three triads in C ionian, you get these three in C lydian:
F A C which is F major becomes F# A C which is F# diminished.
D F A which is D minor becomes D F# A which is D major
B D F which is B diminished becomes B D F# which is B minor

if you understand theory you can easily look at chords and know what mode is suggested.
It's the tonal center and the vibe they give being played in a certain order.

Your G major scale and your E minor scale are all the same notes, but the order those notes are played in has a pretty dramatic effect
You can take the subject of modes as deep and far as you want to go. Before you start, it's probably a good idea to remind yourself that, as with all music theory concepts, modes are tools to use in making music. How you decide to use the concepts is more important than just learning them in the abstract.

Modes are generally collections of seven tones based on a specific tonal center. You can identify the notes in the basic modes with nothing but the white keys on a keyboard. (Presumably you can find C). They are named in a post above. The intervals between consecutive notes will be either whole steps or half steps. There are only two half-step intervals among the white keys: B-C and E-F. All the other intervals are whole steps. There is an easy key-independent way to identify the modes: simply learn where the half steps occur. The remaining intervals will all be whole steps.

Ionian (major) 3-4 and 7-1
Dorian - 2-3 and 6-7
Phrygian - 1-2 and 5-6
Lydian - 4-5 and 7-1
Mixolydian - 3-4 and 6-7
Aeolian (natural minor) 2-3 and 5-6
Locrian - 1-2 and 4-5

If you know the chords in a harmonized major scale, then you already know the root chords of each basic mode.

This is only beginning to scratch the surface. If you want to dig really deep into modes, my friend Noel Johnston has created a wealth of educational material that will help. His material on modes is here: VOICING MODES.
They are all the same notes. Just start and stop on what sounds good. Bam = mode!
All of the modes except locrian are regular major or minor triads (1 3 5) Locrian has a flat 5.

Some of the modes have a major 3rd but a minor 7th. Or a minor 3rd with a major 6th. Etc. That's what gives the mode its flavor.

Sometimes a riff will not let you change a note to fit into a straight key. It will probably fit into one of the modes.