GUITAR HACK: Learning the Modes Through Intervals

Are you interested in learning how to use the seven major scale modes on the guitar? If so, this modes breakdown will help you better understand the differences between the modes and how they're used musically...

Most of us begin learning scales by studying the Ionian mode (basic major scale). Then we tend to move on to the Aeolian (Natural Minor). Dorian is generally the first mode we encounter and from there we might go on to progress randomly through the other modes until we’ve learned all seven modes of the major scale.

While this can be an effective way of learning modes, there is another method that will allow you to understand the intervals better.

Learning Modes Through Intervals
We will organize the modes from the tonic of "A." Each mode relates to sounds of major and minor differently by way of intervals. Once you can understand how the intervals alter from one mode to the next, you'll not only better comprehend modes, you'll be able to use them easier.


Major quality modes all contain a "Major 3rd." This sets the modes tonality to major. The foundational scale for the major quality of sound is the "Ionian Mode," (Basic Major Scale).

IONIAN MODE: (The basic major scale)

Key of "A" =  A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A

In the basic major scale shape above, the red dots are the tonic notes. Place them at the 5th fret to attain the note of "A." Take notice of the blue dots, these are the perfect 4th intervals of the scale. If you play the same shape from those blue dots, you attain the first major mode of the Basic Major Scale, it is called "Lydian Mode."

Notice the difference to the intervals from that 4th step. As we travel along through the tones from step 4, we have a different interval at the 4th degree. This is the "unique" note of Lydian.

LYDIAN MODE: (the 4th mode of the major scale)

Key of "A" =  A, B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A 

In the Lydian fingerboard diagram above, you can clearly notice this altered 4th degree. It is referred to as a "Raised 4th." It is the unique color tone of Lydian.

Lydian mode, contains one raised tone in its construction, the #4. When learning the modes in this way, (through intervals), take notice of how individual degrees are changing by 1/2 steps in-between each subsequent mode.

MIXOLYDIAN MODE: (the 5th mode of the major scale)

 Key of "A" =  A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G, A

Mixolydian mode lowers the 7th note of the Ionian Mode. This 7th tone is the color defining note of Mixolydian. You'll also notice that the 4th degree has returned to its original position as it was applied in the basic major scale. The interval system of learning focuses on the study of one note of the mode. By learning how the position of various degrees will shift mode to mode you will better comprehend the ways that modes can be utilized musically.


Minor quality modes all contain a "Minor 3rd." This sets the modes tonality to minor. The foundational scale for Minor Modes is the "Aeolian," (the Natural Minor Scale).

AEOLIAN MODE: (The Natural Minor scale)

Key of "A" =  A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A

The Aeolian mode contains lowered intervals of a 3rd, 6th and 7th compared to the basic major scale. This establishes the foundational sound of minor in Western music. The Aeolian mode's 6th degree is the unique coloring note of this scale.

DORIAN MODE: (the 2nd mode of the major scale)

Key of "A" =  A, B, C, D, E, F#, G, A

Dorian mode has a blended sound of both major and minor. This occurs due to its minor 3rd and its major 6th. These colors define the quality of this mode and need to be attended to when composing or improvising using this mode.

PHRYGIAN MODE: (the 3rd mode of the major scale)

Key of "A" =  A, Bb, C, D, E, F, G, A 

The Phrygian mode is a strong minor flavor that lays a heavy effect upon the scales lowered second degree. Essentially the scale itself  is simply an "Aeolian," mode scale. However, the 2nd degree has been lowered by way of a 1/2 step. This tone is so predominant that it cannot be overlooked. It must be attended to when using this mode in music.

LOCRIAN MODE: (the 7th mode of the major scale)

Key of "A" =  A, Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, A 

Locrian mode is the most individual mode of the major scale modes. It has a strong character that resembles a lot of the natural minor color, yet it contains a lowered 2nd step that sets it off to the direction of Phrygian. But, what really has this mode stand alone is its lowered 5th degree. The lowered 5th of Locrian is a distinct sound that is overwhelmingly the single most powerful effect available from all of the modes.


Start by learning the modes by way of their individual patterns, memorizing them in the order above so you can use the intervals method. Separate them by way of tonality, (Major and Minor). Study the modes together off of the same tonic note at first. This will make it easier to track the intervals movement. After that, you can go back and play them in any order.

Exercise #1).
Ionian Mode from Lydian:
Lower the 4th note of Lydian to produce the Ionian fingering.

Exercise #2).
Locrian Mode from Phrygian:
Lower the 5th note of Phrygian to produce the Locrian fingering.

Exercise #3).
Phrygian Mode from Aeolian:
The 2nd note of Aeolian is lowered to create the Phrygian fingering on the fretboard.

Exercise #4).
Aeolian Mode from Dorian:
Lower the 6th of Dorian to form the Aeolian fingering.

Exercise #5).
Dorian Mode from Mixolydian:
Lower the 3rd of Mixolydian to form the Dorian mode fingering.

Exercise #6).
Mixolydian Mode from Ionian:
Lower the 7th of Ionian to form the Mixolydian mode.


Here is the most popular order of the major modes for daily practice:
• Ionian
• Dorian
• Phrygian
• Lydian
• Mixolydian
• Aeolian
• Locrian

Here is an interval based daily practice order:

• Lydian (Basic Major with the 4th raised)

• Ionian (Basic Major Scale)

• Mixolydian (Basic Major with the 7th lowered)

• Dorian (Natural Minor with the 6th raised)

• Aeolian (Natural Minor /Lowered 3rd, 6th and 7th from major)

• Phrygian (Natural Minor with a lowered 2nd)

• Locrian (Natural Minor with a lowered 2nd and 5th)

Now that you understand the interval based method of viewing modes, you can practice them in different ways to further develop their sound. Most importantly, you can work the modes into your playing by way of tonality. This will help you apply modes in compositions easier and with greater success.



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