Modes: And why they are so damn confusing!


I am going to try and explain what initially was a big stumbling block in my understanding of both the theory and the application of modes. Hopefully it will shed some light on these often used and yet mysterious tools of the mighty woodland shred-ster.

Let us take the humble C major scale that we all know C-D-E-F-G-A-B and back to C. This is also our first mode and is called Ionian. A very greek sounding name for the major scale. Any time you find yourself playing a major scale, you could impress your friends by saying “I am jamming in the Ionian mode.” 

Tip: You can also try ordering Ionian GMO free yogurt at your local health food store for fun… if you enjoy confusing vegan hipsters like myself. 

I think most of us grasp the concept that to get our next mode we simply play the C major scale starting on the 2nd note D using all the same notes within the C major scale until we return to D…so D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D and as if magically created by the wand of Dumbledore himself we arrive at the Dorian mode…simple and easy.

BUT where I see a lot of people get confused is this is now Dorian of D or D Dorian NOT C Dorian. The note you start playing from is what you are going to be calling your ROOT. In this case if you were playing a nice Dm chord  or just drone on an open D note and played the notes D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D you would have the wonderful sonic colors of the Dorian mode at your service. 

This is the same for all the modes so let’s take a quick look at Phrygian E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E. Using the notes of our parent scale C major, we have now played from E to E using only the notes of C major and we have E Phrygian. Make a quick backing track of a low E ringing, and you will be amazed and what has happened.

I see a lot of people assume because the parent scale is C that the modes relate to that key or root of C, so they play them over C and don’t hear the color of the modes…or they see the modal construction formula and relate it to C and get uber confused and strike themselves repeatedly in the skull with an Xbox controller until rendered unconscious. 

Simply put the scale degree you start on becomes the root and then you can delve in deeper and discover that Ionian, Lydian and Mixolydian are major sounding modes, and Dorian, Phrygian and Aeolian are minor sounding modes and Locrian….much like a younger me… rarely gets invited to the party.

There are modal progressions and a whole world of cool things you can do, but this was just to help you grab the initial concept, hope in some small way it helps!

I think we should stay in touch!

When I started Owl Stretching a little over a year ago social media was a different animal but things have rapidly changed, as they always do. Now with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. it has become a vast ocean of promotional noise, cat/dog pictures and “look what I just ate” posts.

On average my Facebook posts reach less than 10% of you unless I pay more money to Mr. Zuckerberg to do so. So even those good souls amongst you who went ahead and “liked” pages in the hopes of being updated…rarely see the posts.

This means some fairly cool stuff gets missed, like Q&As, show info, new music and of course my all important hair updates! All sorts of fun stuff.

I personally find this massively frustrating…but I am a solution oriented person!

So in short I was hoping you would consider joining my email list. I would hate to think that if Facebook becomes the new “myspace” that our little tribe of musical whack-jobs would all slowly lose touch.


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