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This is quite an open question since I'm not really after an answer but rather people's opinion on this matter.

I have been playing guitar for a fair bit an I've spoken and played along with many other amateur guitarists during that time.

I personally think of modes as major scales with different roots. This is just the way I learnt. For example, if you asked me to play a D Dorian scale, rather than playing a Dorian shape with D as the root, I would think of a complete (12 fret) Major shape with root C but play starting from the 2nd degree rather than the 1st.

I am aware that others learn the shapes of the modes and others think very abstractly about it, as intervals and relations.

What does everyone think is the best method and what is each method good for. I would like to learn all ways of thinking but I really don't have the time so I'll have to just stick with mine.

Open for opinions...


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closed as primarily opinion-based by Alexander Troup, Shevliaskovic, American Luke, Dom, Jason W Dec 19 '13 at 14:04

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Consider re-wording to be less opinion based. From the intro guide at music.stackexchange.com/tour:"Not all questions work well in our format. Avoid questions that are primarily opinion-based, or that are likely to generate discussion rather than answers." Opinion based questions are not suited to the SE format, and likely to be closed. –  Alexander Troup Dec 18 '13 at 16:59

4 Answers 4

For me it depends whether I'm on guitar or piano.

On piano, I will base everything on the major scale of that key. So to play in C Aeolian, I would start with C major, then say "I'll need to flatten the third (E -> Eb), the 6th (A -> Ab) and the 7th (B -> Bb)"

On guitar, that method doesn't work for me. On a guitar, I use the shape corresponding to the major scale that contains the same notes as the mode I want. So to play in C Aeolian, I would say "C Aeolian has the same notes as Eb major, so I move my hand to the Eb major position, visualise that set of frettings as my playable notes, but think of the Cs as root notes."

The reason for this difference, I think, is that on a guitar, transposition can be a simple matter of moving your hand up or down the fretboard, keeping the same finger movements. Whereas because the major scale is baked into the layout of a piano keyboard, transposing involves actually changing the finger movements.

I would add that, more often than even thinking about modes, I hear what I intend to play in my head, and turn that into a fretting by having a feel for the interval relative to either the previous note, the root note, or some other significant note I've been playing.

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On pno, flattening BEA gives you Eb.Are you thinking "notes 3,6,7 or thinking BEA b". I think what you say is what I've been banging on for years : on pno, we think 'notes', on gtr we think positions. True ? –  Tim Dec 18 '13 at 16:38
@Tim for certain values of "we" –  slim Dec 18 '13 at 16:40
I don't understand your comment. –  Tim Dec 18 '13 at 16:42
@Tim I mean some people think like that. Other people think in different ways to me. Some people learn the note name of every fret on every string, and construct scales by knowing the note names in each scale. –  slim Dec 18 '13 at 16:44
agreed, although to me that approach is somewhat easier on pno, the pattern seems simpler. –  Tim Dec 18 '13 at 16:47

It's quite a big subject, but one where I believe musos are split into two camps. One, like you (and I), think in terms of a set of modes being from a 'mother key'. As in C maj.begets D dorian, E phrygian, F lydian, G mixolydian, A aeolian and B locrian. Thus, when playing in, say, G mixolydian, one uses the notes from C maj. but centres around G.

The other prefers to regard each mode as a separate 'key', each of which has its individual flavour, and uses say, the major scale with slight alterations. As in 'Now we're in G mixolydian, so it's going to sound a little bluesy 'cos it's got a flat 7'. Or 'Now we're in dorian, so it's minory'.

For me, the former idea seems to make more sense because at the end a resolution to the parent key sounds like a good end, but it just doesn't happen !

The chord accompanying , say, A aeolian , are the same as you would use for a piece in C maj.,so there's a similarity there, which is probably why endings often sound interrupted or imperfect in their cadences.

Someone once told me that Stars and Stripes is lydian, as (in C ), the note F# gets played. I tried to point out that it is a modulation into G for a moment, but he disagreed.Food for thought ?

There is no better method of the two, it's a mindset thing, but I teach that both, whilst different, are valid, so individuals can make up their own minds. Bit like plectrum or fingers ?

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A lot of people look at mode and think they need to learn every little thing they can about them for them to be useful. That will bog down most beginner guitarist who don't know their use in music. The basic ideas that everyone who learns modes should know about is why they exist and why they are useful.

Like you said above the basic idea for each is a major scale that starts on a different scale degree. Many people wonder why this is useful and the answer to this lies in any chord progression. If you play a C-F-G chord progression you can play a C major scale over this progression fine, but to get it to sound the best you would want to accent the chord used in each part of the progression. Because of this as the progression changed, you would change the focus of the scale from C to F to G. By doing this, you are playing modally without having to think too much about what mode you are playing.

If you just know the major scale and understand the information you should be able to take advantage of modes without knowing them inside and out. I do recommend learning the basics of the CAGED method so you can find a major scale anywhere on the guitar for any key.

Here is a link to the CAGED method: CAGED

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As I'm more coming from a rock / pop background, I always begin my thinking at the pentatonic. Whatever mode you're playing, the notes of the pentatonic will always be in there (except for locrian, but honestly, who plays that anyway? ;-)), so I just "fill in" the missing notes needed for each mode. Maybe this gets more clear With examples, so here you go:

I want to play A dorian, so I start at the A minor pentatonic, consisting of these notes:

A(1) C(b3) D(4) E(5) G(b7)

Then I know that dorian has a major Second aswell as a major sixth, so I just add them to my pentatonic, which gives me following:

A(1) B(j2) C(b3) D(4) E(5) F#(j6) G(b7)

I like looking at it that way, because you're still very focussed on the root note, and don't start your thinking at a key which just is not what you're intending to play. Also, almost every guitarist is quite keen on playing pentatonic, so it makes it easy to see the scale on your fretboard this way.

Of course if you want to play for example A lydian, you'd take the A major pentatonic and add the notes needed in there. If one knows the pentatonic by heart, all you need to know is the following:

    Ionian     - major pentatonic - 4 and j7
    Lydian     - major pentatonic - 4# and j7
    Mixolydian - major pentatonic - 4 and b7
    Aoelian    - minor pentatonic - j2 and b6
    Dorian     - minor pentatonic - j2 and j6
    Phrygian   - minor pentatonic - b2 and b6 
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@Any admin: the stuff I tried to format somehow always dissappears when I save my answer, even though I see it correctly in the preview. Any idea what the problem could be? –  Michael Kunst Dec 19 '13 at 12:09
Edited. This happened to me once with Jtab. You can add <pre>stuff<\pre> and it will show anything as typed. –  Dom Dec 19 '13 at 12:38
Ok, thank you very much :-) –  Michael Kunst Dec 19 '13 at 12:39
This is an interesting way of looking at it. Thanks. –  Tim Dec 19 '13 at 16:46

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