Modes - what are they?

The modal system can seem confusing, complex, or just plain pointless!

I am therefore starting with a simple example, one bar of G, followed by a bar of F and C:

Referring to my tutorial 'Which chords to use?', it could be said that this progression is in the key of C major I.E. These chords can all be derived from the C major scale and ,when harmonising all major scales, it is only from the C major scale that all three of these chords are established.

Click here for all harmonised major scales, if you wish to check for yourself.

However, by improvising over the track (or even simply looking at it) we can establish that the 'tonal centre' is G - I.E. the progression 'rests' on the chord of G major and a G note 'sounds strongest' throughout the progression.

Many players may regard this piece as being in the key of G major for this reason.

However, this cannot be so - because if we play the notes of the G major scale over the progression, slowly and listening carefully, we can hear that it doesn't quite fit.

The notes of G major are G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G.

It is the seventh note of F# that doesn't fit over the F chord.

So it is the notes of the C major scale that fit - C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C - but we need to take into account that the tonal centre of the progression is G.

What we therefore end up with is G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G - the G mixolydian mode.

This demonstrates the practicality and simplicity of the modal system.

The above process involved deriving a G scale from the C major scale, and this is what the modal system does. It takes each note of a major scale and regards that note as the tonal centre. Here is what you get, using the C  major scale:


The following video explains what modes are, why you might need to use them, where they are, and how to identify and remember the box positions for each. I strongly recommend you watch it with your guitar in hand, so that you can relate the content to your understanding of your instrument in order to create lasting knowledge rather than a 'vague idea' of how this system works.


 
 

 

6 comments

  • Chuck

    Chuck Arizona

    You made this too easy to understand. Every other explanation I've come across seems to be attempting to complicate the definition. Thanks.

    You made this too easy to understand. Every other explanation I've come across seems to be attempting to complicate the definition. Thanks.

  • Robin May

    Robin May

    Thank you Chuck...I'm really pleased to read your comment and appreciate you taking the time to do so. I suspect that some folks find it in their interests to make things more complex...makes them seem cleverer! Please consider having a complimentary Skype session with me...obviously I hope that some folks who take up the offer will become students, but you'll find no hard sell from me :)

    Thank you Chuck...I'm really pleased to read your comment and appreciate you taking the time to do so. I suspect that some folks find it in their interests to make things more complex...makes them seem cleverer!
    Please consider having a complimentary Skype session with me...obviously I hope that some folks who take up the offer will become students, but you'll find no hard sell from me smile

  • Braulio Castellanos

    Braulio Castellanos Maryland, USA

    Robin, thank you for the lessons on the "Holy Modal Majesty" (sorry - pun on the Mike Bloomfield song). You brought everything to light for me. Your explanations were on point and understandable. Thanks a bunch!

    Robin, thank you for the lessons on the "Holy Modal Majesty" (sorry - pun on the Mike Bloomfield song). You brought everything to light for me. Your explanations were on point and understandable. Thanks a bunch!

  • Robin May

    Robin May

    You are most welcome Braulio! As with most aspects of the journey toward mastering music, it's all like an onion and you'll no-doubt find plenty of deeper layers of understanding as you develop further. I hope you'll keep me in mind should you decide to have lessons...I teach via Skype as well as face to face :)

    You are most welcome Braulio!
    As with most aspects of the journey toward mastering music, it's all like an onion and you'll no-doubt find plenty of deeper layers of understanding as you develop further.
    I hope you'll keep me in mind should you decide to have lessons...I teach via Skype as well as face to face smile

  • Vance Hamblett

    Vance Hamblett Magee, Ms

    Man let me just start with great job of explaining things. I have learned more in a day than in the past few months. Thank you. Please keep up the good work. Thanks again.

    Man let me just start with great job of explaining things. I have learned more in a day than in the past few months. Thank you. Please keep up the good work. Thanks again.

  • Robin May

    Robin May

    Thank You Vance! I hope you'll consider dropping me a line if you decide to have lessons :)

    Thank You Vance! I hope you'll consider dropping me a line if you decide to have lessons smile

Add comment