How To Practice Modes

Difficulty: Spectrum

Next up were going to look at each mode one at a time. Before we do I want to explain a good way to practice modes, so that you get the concept in your head and your hands.

By in your head, I really mean, in your ears. That is the key thing here... you must get the sounds in your ears.

Remember that modes are NOT a major scales starting and finishing on a note other than the major scale root note. I was told this a million times when I started learning modes, and it confused the life out of me. I still see it in books and on web sites and wish they were not spreading such fallacy even more.

Modes (as we have discussed in all the previous lessons) are about the effect that notes have over a particular chord, one that belongs to the key of the Parent Scale (for now we are just looking at modes of the Major Scale, but you can have modes of other scales too).

The way to learn a mode is to play it over a chord, you will not be able to do this on your own without some kind of backing. You can use a jam buddy (have your mate play a chord over and over again), record yourself playing some rhythm and then loop it (or use a looper pedal), or use a modal backing track (like I have on Really Useful Play Along Tracks).

In the following lessons I tell you the chords that come from a particular mode. Have your jam buddy play that (or use the backing track) and then play the Parent Major Scale over that chord. Listen to every note you play, and the effect that it is having on the chord. Just have fun though to start with, play around and experiment. This kind of play is important.

Then start to listen out for the chord tones (the notes found in the chord you are playing over), they will sound strong and 'perfect', they won't create any tension.

Listen also to the 'non chord tones' - the notes that create colour, or flavour (I think of these notes as spices). How do they effect the sound of the chord? Where do they resolve? (resolve meaning where the dissonant notes go to become consonant).

In each of the follow lessons I show you the Chord Tones in red over a Major Scale Position 1 - this is just to make sure you correctly hear where the chord tones are (sometimes called 'home notes' or 'consonant notes'). Notice how these red notes sound strong, 'perfect', and then listen to each of the other notes and see how they sound.

Now of course, this principle works in each and every position of the major scale and you should really take this idea through all five positions of the major scale, but not until you are confident at playing in Position 1. Explore one at a time, don't rush this or you won't get the full benefit. Just take it slow and let your ears guide you through each mode.

In my opinion you should not be looking at modal playing until you can play confidently through all five positions in one key, so this new exercise should really be only about listening to the effects of the notes, not practicing the scale positions.

So to summarise:

  • Learn to use modes by playing them over some kind of backing.
  • Work in one position until you are confident that you are hearing it correctly.
  • Experiment a bit, just play around and discover the notes that are cool, and those that are interesting!
  • Check on the following Modes pages and make sure you can identify the chord tones (red notes).
  • Listening is the key, listen to every note, carefully...
  • Once you are happy, take the process through all five positions of the Major Scale.


OK, time to get started and go through all the modes!

Major Scale Modes



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