Modes of the Major Scale

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In this article I will take you through how modes are formed from the major scale and what these modes are. The various modes of the major scale are commonly used when improvising guitar solos in many contemporary styles such as jazz, fusion and a lot of rock music.

Lets use the C Major scale as our example and look at how to form the modes based on this scale.

The notes of the C Major Scale are as follows:


In this scale, the note C is our root note. That is it is the first note in the scale and it is also the note that will often sound most like it is at home when using the scale. For example, when forming phrases from the major scale, if a phrase ends on the root note it often sounds like the phrase has come to some sort of conclusion in its sound.

You can form seven modes from the major scale by using the same set of notes as the major scale, but starting each of the modes on a different note of the scale, and considering this different note to be the root of the scale.

The first mode is called the Ionian mode and is actually the same as the major scale itself as it is formed by starting the major scale from the existing root.

We can then form the Dorian mode by starting the notes of the major scale from the second degree of the scale.

In C major, we could form the Dorian mode by using the notes of C major, but starting the Scale on D and treating D as the root of the scale.

Dorian Mode

We can then form a separate mode from each degree of the scale.

You can see how each of the 7 modes that are related to the C Major scale are formed as follows:

Modes of the Major Scale

You can read more about some of these specific modes as well as see patterns to play them on the guitar at our articles that are devoted to specific scales.

Probably the most used of these modes are:

The Ionian Mode (also known simple as the Major Scale) – See our Major Scale article.

The Aeolian Mode (also known as the natural minor scale). – The chords formed from this scale are the basis of many rock chord progressions and the scale is often used to form rock guitar solos. You can read about this scale in our article on the Natural Minor Scale.

The Dorian mode is the most commonly used scale in jazz and fusion to play over a minor chord. The scale is also the blusiest sounding scale of the modes mentioned here. You can read more about this scale in our article on the Dorian Mode (Coming Soon).

The Mixolydian scale is the most commonly used scale to solo over a dominant chord in jazz based styles. Read more about this mode in our article on the Mixolydian Mode (Coming Soon).

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  9 Responses to “Modes of the Major Scale”

  1. I have been playing guitar for over 13 years but am completely self taught. I have tried to learn theory many times but just found it so overly complicated and it took away the fun of playing. Thank you for making it so clear and free. This is a great site. well done

  2. Thanx for making it that damn easy thanks….

  3. U r great. U teach very well. Thanks

  4. Been playing for 40 years and that is the simplest and most accurate description of the modes I have ever seen…..WELL DONE!!!

  5. Well im not sure I understand so if C major is like the real Major Scale then if i shift to D major it is the same as D Dorian? Or does not D major exist?

    • To Oskar: D-major and D-Dorian are 2 different scales…

      If you play a C-major scale (say using the 5th-string root chart for a C-major scale, which means it would start on the 3rd-fret) – the D-Dorian scale could be played exactly like the C-major scale (same hand position) but you’d just start on the 2nd note of the C-scale (D), and go from D to D, rather than C to C. You are fingering a C-major scale – just STARTING on the 2nd note D.

      So to play a D-major scale – you’d slide your hand up 2-frets (from where you were playing the C-major scale, 5-string position) so your first note is now D on the 5th fret/5th-string. If you were to then play a D-major scale in that position, but started on the 2nd note – E (7th fret) you’d be forming/playing a E-Dorian scale (using the exact same notes and finger-positions as the D-major scale.)

  6. Great explanations really get to the point quickly. Nice diagram of modes and starting points. Why not teach scales FIRST on ONE string only to bring emphasis to the whole-step or half-step relationships?

  7. In my humble opinion I think anyone employing modes needs to consider the context of the mode-chord relationship. If you are playing dorian there ought to be a corresponding minor chord over which the notes of dorian are played to give the dorian sound. Modes for me are all about what the underlying chords. D phrygian vs D dorian are two different flavors but i can employ either mode over a Dminor.

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