Lessons > Scale Theory > Modes - Part 3

Modes - Part 3

Below is a table showing the formula of each mode and their overall sound. For example, the Lydian mode is the same as the Ionian mode except the 4th note is raised a semitone. Because of that similarity the Lydian mode still sounds like a major scale overall.

The 3rd note of the major scale is what gives that 'major' sound. That's why you'll see that all of the modes with a b3 are minor sounding, with exception to the Locrian mode. The Locrian mode has a b5, which gives the scale a very unusual sound. Notice how the brightest sounding minor modes (Dorian, Aeolian) are the most similar to the major scale (Ionian).

Mode Formula Overall sound
Ionian 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Major
Lydian 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7 Major
Mixolydian 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7 Major
Dorian 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7 Minor
Aeolian 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 Minor
Phrygian 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 Minor
Locrian 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7 Diminished/Minor

Below is a more in-depth description of each of the seven modes of the major scale:

Ionian
Dorian
Phrygian
Lydian
Mixolydian
Aeolian
Locrian

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Ionian

The Ionian mode is identical to the major scale. Since nobody calls it Ionian anymore you may as well get used to calling it the major scale. The major scale is good for creating melodies and is soft and sweet sounding. The scale is great for pop and easy listening styles of music, but not suitable for hard rock or metal.

Order of chords:
Major, minor, minor, major, major, minor, half diminished.

Typical chord progressions:
I - IV - V
I - VI - IV - V

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Dorian

The Dorian mode is popular amongst blues-rock players and is one of the three minor modes (Aeolian, Dorian and Phrygian). A mode is considered minor if it has a b3 in the formula. This is the note that gives the scale a dark feel. The Dorian mode is identical to the Aeolian mode but with the sixth note being a semitone higher. This characteristic note makes the Dorian mode the brightest sounding of all the minor modes.

Below is a tab of 'A Dorian'. As you can see it consists of the A minor pentatonic scale with two notes (B & F#) added to it. As we are usually familiar with the minor pentatonic scale we can use it as a template to play minor modes.

E---------------------------------------------5
B------------------------------------5--7--8---
G---------------------------4--5--7------------
D---------------------5--7---------------------
A-----------5--7--9----------------------------
E--5--7--8-------------------------------------

Order of chords:
Minor, minor, major, major, minor, half diminished, major.

Typical chord progressions:
Im7 - IV7

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Phrygian

The Phrygian mode is most commonly associated with an exotic, Spanish sound. Many metal guitarists have adopted this scale as it can be used to create a heavy/dark sound. Below is a tab of the Phrygian mode with the notes of the minor pentatonic in black. This should enable you to spice up the minor pentatonic scale (which is hopefully already familiar to you).

E---------------------------------------------5
B------------------------------------5--6--8---
G------------------------------5--7------------
D---------------------5--7--8------------------
A-----------5--7--8----------------------------
E--5--6--8-------------------------------------

Order of chords:
Minor, major, major, minor, half diminished, major, minor.

Typical chord progressions:
Im - bII
Im - bII - bIII

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Lydian

You can create a Lydian scale by sharpening the fourth note of the major scale by a semitone (one fret). The #4 note gives the Lydian mode its character whilst retaining an overall major sound. This difference to the major scale makes it more popular amongst jazz and rock guitarists.

Order of chords:
Major, major, minor, half diminished, major, minor, minor.

Typical chord progressions:
I maj7#11 - V maj7
I maj7 - VII min7
I maj7 - II7

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Mixolydian

You can create a mixolydian scale by lowering the seventh note of the major scale (b7). The b7 gives the mixolydian mode its character whilst retaining an overall major sound. Rock guitarists favour the mixolydian mode to the major scale because it enables them to create melody without sounding too soft.

Order of chords:
Major, minor, half diminished, major, minor, minor, major.

Typical chord progressions:
I7 - bVII
I7 - bVII - IV

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Aeolian

The Aeolian mode (pronounced ee-olian) is identical to the natural minor scale. Aeolian is a popular scale amongst rock and metal guitarists because it can be seen as an extension of the minor pentatonic scale. Below is a tab showing that the Aeolian mode is the same as the minor pentatonic (in black) but with two extra notes (in red). These extra notes can be used to spice up an otherwise limited scale.

E---------------------------------------------5
B-------------------------------------5--6--8--
G----------------------------4--5--7-----------
D----------------------5--7--------------------
A------------5--7--8---------------------------
E--5--7--8-------------------------------------

Order of chords:
Minor, half diminished, major, minor, minor, major, major.

Typical chord progressions:
Im - bVII - bVI
Im - bIII - bVII

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Locrian

The Locrian mode is the most unconventional of all the modes and is used the least in music. It is not considered a minor sounding scale despite the b3 note. The b5 gives it a diminished sound that dominates the overall sound of the scale. Heavy metal guitarists have been known to make use of the scale but other than that it is rejected on the grounds that it is difficult to build a decent chord sequence from.

Order of chords:
Half diminished, major, minor, minor, major, major, minor.

Typical chord progressions:
Rarely used for creating chord sequences.