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The Modes, Part 2

Modal Progressions: F# Ionian, E Dorian, A Phrygian and C Lydian

Welcome back! If you studied part 1 of this lesson, you should have a good understanding of how the modes are built and how to play them. In this lesson, I will show you how to use the modes and really hear their unique flavor. A lot of people get really confused about how to use the modes. They think they’re just a bunch of patterns and miss the whole unique quality of each one. This lesson, I hope to clear up any confusion. I will give you a few example progressions, and the next time you are watching a movie or listening to the radio you can say, “Hey! That’s the Lydian mode!”

How could I use the modes?
If you look at the chart from the previous lesson, you will notice some modes are major and minor. Ionian, Lydian and Mixolydian are major modes. Dorian, Phrygian and Aeolian are minor modes. Locrian is the odd one with the diminished quality. It is easy to apply them knowing this. But you must memorize the chords in each key. For example, in C the chords are C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am and Bdim. In F, they are F, Gm, Am, Bb, C, Dm, E dim. In a major key, it is always Maj, min, min, Maj, Maj, min, dim. If you add the 7th, it becomes Maj7, min7, min7, Maj7, Dom7, min7, min7(b5).

When you first learn the modes, you should record yourself vamping on each chord for a while, then play back the recording so you can play each scale over each chord to hear the flavor of each mode. You can return to the root frequently to maintain the modes flavor, but just by playing the mode over the chord or drone note, you will begin to hear their unique flavor. So over a C major chord you will play C Ionian; over C minor you will play C Dorian, etc. If you have a song in a major tonality, you can use any of the three major modes. Or, if you are in a minor tonality, you can use any of the three minor modes. Certain modes will work better than others, depending on the progression and the chord extensions.

It sounds cool to mix the modes together, too, but you will have to really use your ear. If you are using power chords, it’s easier to mix them because the third of the chord is omitted. Sometimes, I like to keep a drone note ringing when I use power chords. I might let an E note ring and play a mode over it like E Lydian. This really brings the sound of the mode out. A cool rock approach is to play power chords off each note of the mode you are using. The goal is to get the sound of each mode in your ears.

Modal Progressions
Below are a few example progressions for you to practice over in different keys. Be sure to make up your own and record them, too.

Ex.1 This is an F# Ionian progression (F#, G#, A#, B, C#, D#, E#) and the chord pattern is 1-5-2-4 and the F# is in the bass of each chord to bring out the Ionian flavor. I added the 9th on the first chord and the GM/F# is a little bit of a stretch, but it sounds cool. Download audio example...

Ex.2 Here is an E Dorian (E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D) progression I put together. The chord pattern is basically 1, b7, 4 with E in the bass and some variations. Placing the E in the bass brings out the Dorian flavor and implies other harmonies (for example the A7/E is just an Em6 chord without the 5th). Download audio example...

Ex.3 Our next mode is A Phrygian (A, Bb, C, D, E, F, G) and the chord pattern is 1, b2, b3, b7 over A. Notice the Spanish flavor! You can use other chords from A Phrygian—I just chose these as an example. A Phrygian has the same chords as F Ionian, so if you play the chords of F Ionian over an A it will sound like Phrygian. Download example audio...

Ex.4 This one is C Lydian (C, D, E, F#, G, A, B) and the chord pattern is 1, 6, 2. Notice the 1 chord in the first bar with the extensions. When you add the b5 to a major chord, it automatically sounds like Lydian. The b5 is the important interval in the Lydian scale, and that’s why memorizing the interval structure of each mode is so important. Download example audio...

Work with these modes and you will begin to see how useful they are—and how different each one sounds. And to hear how I incorporate these ideas into actual music, visit