As you may have seen in last week’s blog – Approaching Scales – I mentioned playing through modes and promised to deal with that next week. Well last week’s next week is this week, so here we are.


Firstly, what are modes? A mode indicates what the “home” note is in any key. For example, the notes and chords you may be using may be from the C major scale, but the song or solo etc. may use D as “home”, rather than saying you’re in C major, you would call it D Dorian.

Quite simply, the modes built from the major scales are as follows:


1 – (root) Ionian
2 Dorian
6 Aeolian (natural minor)

Each of these modes have different characteristics, e.g. The mixolydian is exactly the same as a major scale but with a minor 7th instead of a major 7th.


Here is a breakdown of how the modes differ to the major scale:

Dorianminor 3rd, minor 7th
Phrygianminor 2nd, minor 3rd, minor 6th, minor 7th
Lydianaugmented 4th
Mixolydianminor 7th
Aeolianminor 3rd, minor 6th, minor 7th
Locrianminor 2nd, minor 3rd, diminished 5th, minor 6th, minor 7th

As I touched on last week, modes are something that leave many people feeling very intimidated, especially when they think they need to learn 8000 new scale patterns.


So my goal is to comfort you in that if you already know the set of scales, the root notes and how these modes work, you are already able to apply them.

There are 2 main approaches to applying modes; 1) through scales 2) through chords/knowing uniqueness of each mode.

With a scalic approach If I wanted to apply for example a G Phrygian scale, I would know that the G is the 3rd, meaning the root of the major scale (Ionian) is the Eb, so essentially I’m borrowing the Eb major scale, though I’m focusing on the G as the “home” note.

The chordal approach, however, I think is much better at creating interest. This is where you can really find those modal tones that don’t necessarily go with the other chords in that key. One simple example for this would be to use a Dorian scale over the 6th (minor) chord, which will put a minor 3rd/#9 in the regular major scale.


In order to do this, it is important to know what modes a chord will fit into, which is actually quite easy with the above chart.

E.g. Dominant 7 – Mixolydian mode
Major 7#11 – Lydian mode

This approach also allows you to apply more outside notes from the modes.

Altered Scale


The altered scale is worth mentioning by itself as it is one of the most used modes in jazz. It is built from the 7th degree or Locrian mode of the melodic minor scale. The reason it is so popular for jazz heads is that it provides a lot of outside notes that can be played over a very unstable dominant 7th chord. Those being the b9, #9, b5, #5. While still having the major 3rd and minor 7th guide tones.

For myself, in his case, whenever I have used this, I’ve approached it with the perspective of finding those outside notes in relation to the chord I’m playing, as opposed to thinking of the melodic minor scale and where that Locrian mode is within that.

So hopefully you can see two much more efficient ways to approach modes, through the original scales that you may already know, and through understanding the uniqueness of each mode (preferably both).


Thanks for reading and don’t forget to contact me for any enquiries or anything.