Guitar modes directly on the fretboard

Guitar modes. Man, do people get confused over modes, on the fretboard.

And it's sad, because there's no need. On piano, nobody ever gets confused over modes. In fact, know C Major and you know all 7 diatonic modes. All white keys, starting on C, D, E, F, G, A, B:

piano modes

Same 7 keys, 7 different modes, depending on where you start and end your cycle. Done.

Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian. Easy.

But what happens when you bring the 7 modes of the diatonic scale to the guitar fretboard?

So confusing, right away:

guitar modes 3 notes per string

What takes 2 seconds to grasp on piano is a pain on the fretboard. Seen like that, in terms of fingering patterns, there's no fucking way you'll make real sense of modes, on the fretboard.

These "3 notes per string modes" is just what you find when you search for modes on guitar. Patterns. Nothing but patterns. "PUT YOUR FINGERS THERE AND DON'T ASK QUESTIONS."

Fingers ≠ music

THESE SHAPES ARE NOT MODES, people, merely fingerings for them. Confuse the two at your own risk. Again. Fingerings for modes ≠ guitar modes. In fact, if you and I were to think in those terms, we'd be guaranteed to get confused. Search again and you'll find even more variants:

guitar modes

Munch on that!

Now we're blinded to the underlying truth. Our focus is on the effect, not the cause. Now the only route is rote: we must rely on memory and repetition to *try* to retain the quagmire we've created.

But if you understand both the 7 tone diatonic system of modes and the fretboard itself, you can put two and two together. You'll come up with strategies to make real sense of modes, directly on the fretboard:

Guitar modes: starting from C major

If it works on piano, it should work on guitar, right? C Major?!

guitar scale c major

I mean, why not!

guitar mode ionian

Wait. Which one... where should I start?

guitar mode ionian

There are many more. Thing is, not one of these *patterns* makes instant sense on the fretboard the way C major does on piano. On piano C major is staring at you starting now. So *OF COURSE* you're confused.

piano keys

You already know that the many fingerings of modes on the fretboard look nothing like where we started. We need a different lens to make sense of it all:

Guitar Modes... the smart (easy) way

Part 1 of 3: A brief introduction to modes

This section has three parts. This is the first, an introduction. The second lays the ground for a really cool view of guitar modes. The third will simplify how you think of modes on the fretboard itself. Having laid the groundwork, you'll grasp all 6 true diatonic modes directly on the fretboard within minutes.

This article is an excerpt from Fretboard Essentials.

Grasping modes is key to full mastery of the guitar fretboard. But in order to get to the best way of applying diatonic modes to the fretboard, you need some basics on modes themselves.

First of all, what is a mode?

A mode is a kind of 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...

Scales have as many modes as they have notes:

Mode: take another note of the scale cycle to start/end -changing nothing- and you've got a mode.

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 modes:

church modes, diatonic modes

Starting from C major, the 7 modes are:

C: Ionian, D: Dorian, E: Phrygian, F: Lydian, G: Mixolydian, A: Aeolian, B: Locrian

Given their Greek names, many call them "Greek modes". They are about as Greek as pizza. These modes come from the middle ages, when church musicians desperately wanted to sound Greek. But other than names, no es Greek. Just call them church modes instead.

The Locrian mode never really had a name up until the late 19th century; it was never really used as a mode until Jazz. We won't focus on the details at the moment: we'll just focus on the remaining 6 diatonic modes for the rest of this series.

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


For a deeper look at modes and their correlations:

fretboard essentials


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