Magazine article Guitar Player

Demystifying the Modes

Magazine article Guitar Player

Demystifying the Modes

Article excerpt

You may recognize the notes G, A. B, C, D. E, and F# as the G major scale, but if you're new to the guitar, you may not be aware that this scale is also called the G Ionian mode--or that its pitches can also function as six other modes, each of which has a unique sound. For instance. start on the second note of the G major scale and you'll hear the rock-jam-friendly A Dorian mode (A, B. C, D. E. F#, G), which suits an Am vamp. Let's find out what Joe Satriani has to say about all this modal business.

What's the best way for beginning guitarists to learn modes and scales?

The gateway is always the major scale, in a simple two-octave form [Ex. 1]. Once they know the fingering and can play it ascending and descending, the next step is learning to hear the scale and recognize and name the intervals it contains. I teach this by having students sing the scale tones as they relate to the root, as in "One two, one three, one four," and so on [Ex. 2]. This way, they have a visceral experience both singing and saying the interval. If I can get them to memorize a minor scale too--such as A Dorian--then I have them sing that one as well. "One two, one flat-three, one four," etc. [Ex. 3].


How can students learn how modes are used in actual music?

Chords and scales are part of a family. They're not a set of rules, but simply a set of guidelines. In the '50s and a good part of the '60s, popular songs were primarily based on major and minor chords, with the occasional modulation, and there wasn't a whole lot of exposition in unusual keys or modes--even though modal exploration had already been raging for a hundred years in the jazz and classical worlds. …

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