Guitar Modes... the smart (easy) way!

Part 1 of 3: A brief introduction to modes

This section on guitar modes is divided into three lessons. This first is a brief introduction to modes. The second article lays the ground for a really cool way to learn modes on the fretboard. Finally, article three shows you how to simplify the way you think of modes on the fretboard. Using this technique, you can learn all 6 true diatonic modes in mere minutes.

This article is an excerpt from Fretboard Essentials.

Learning guitar modes is key to gaining full mastery of the guitar fretboard. Before finding out the best way to play diatonic modes on the guitar, you must have some basic understanding of modes in and of themselves.

First of all, you need a definition of the word "mode".

For that, though, you need to understand the word scale:

Scale: A cycle of notes that follow a specific interval pattern. The cycle repeats at each octave.

Example: C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C
and so on and so forth...

The definition of Mode is now pretty straight forward:

Mode: Take any (other) note of the scale -without changing anything else-
as the open-and-close note for your cycle, and presto!

Example: G A B C D E F G

Diatonic Modes: the 6 True Modes

Using this definition, our 7 note major diatonic scale has 7 diatonic modes:

church modes, diatonic modes

Given their greek names, many people call them "greek modes". However, they are about as greek as pizza!
These modes were developed in the middle ages by church musicians who strove to reconstruct greek music theory. Having said that, very little of greek theory has survived, other than names. This means that these are best called church modes.

The Locrian mode never even had a name up until the late 19th century; it was never really used as a mode. We will not focus on the details at the moment: suffice it to say that from now on we will focus on the 6 true church modes.

There are many more ways of looking at guitar modes... more interesting correlations.

fretboard essentials

Other articles on Guitar Modes you may find interesting:

  • Diatonic Modes and the Guitar Fretboard Diagram

  • Glossary entry on Modes

  • Guitar Scales: Section Overview

    1. Scales and Modes from A to Z: section index
    2 Guitar Pentatonic Scales, made easy! 1, 2, 3

    3. Guitar Modes... the smart (easy) way 1, 2, 3

    Extra article for the (extra) curious: Musical Scales, their origin and nature.

    Click here to go back from Guitar Modes to Guitar Theory in Depth
    Fretboard Essentials

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