I'm a beginner guitar player and I just started learning music theory. I've been going back and forth into scales and modes but I have little to zero knowledge of how they work, mainly knowing about the "Whole Step/Half Step" diagram.

What are the differences between a dominant scale VS a mode? Ex: Aeolian Dominant Scale VS Aeolian Mode; Phrygian Dominant Scale VS Phrygian Mode

Side note: I've been playing around with Phrygian Dominant Scale on my guitar and it sounds more "middle east"'ish than the Phrygian Mode. Are there other Scales/Modes like this?

5 Answers 5


Basically, modes come from a major scale, also known as the Ionian mode. This is your TTSTTTS spacing, note by note, as in Cmaj: CDEFGABC.Starting on the 2nd note, and rising to an octave above it, you get the Dorian mode.The next starts on the 3rd note, E in this scenario.It's the Phrygian mode. The 4th degree start gives the Lydian, the 5th Mixolydian.Start from the 6th (A) and it's the Aeolian, leaving an odd sounding set of notes, not used too often, called the Locrian mode.

Each of these modes contain the same notes, as seen above, but they work because each 'centres' around its start note e.g. G mixolydian has G as its root.That's why it sounds dominant - it has a flattened 7th compared with the major scale, which is used as our datum point.

Going back to that major scale - if we flatten just the 3rd note, we get an ascending melodic minor.This can then be used to make a new set of modes, each one starting on a different scale note.

Start on the 5th degree of this melodic minor scale, and you've found your Aeolian Dominant.A.K.A. Mixolydian b6, Hindu and Aeolian #3, amongst others.

More importantly, and more advanced, are the chords that each degree of any scale will provide.As triads, the major scale will give, in turn, maj, min,min, maj, maj,min,dim.

Take this on to the Aeolian Dominant, and it gives: maj,dim,dim,min,min,aug,maj.Obviously these chords will give a very different flavour to a song containing them compared with the set used for major/Ionian.

The Phrygian Dominant you mention is similar in that it takes its notes from the Harmonic minor, starting at the 5th degree, but the mixes of notes to give the chords are different.

All this is really not starter theory, but I hope it answers your question.As to why it's called Aeolian, which is the 6th degree of the major, don't know yet.

  • So if I transpose the Ionian mode to the root of D I'll get DEF#GABC#D, am I right? If so, what would I be playing? Just "D Ionian mode"? Edit: All of this took loads of effort to understand. As I said, I'm just starting in music theory. Should I leave modes/dominants for later and keep focusing on the major + minor scales itself?
    – TonySniper
    Sep 20, 2013 at 19:20
  • 1
    You're spot on ! That's Dmaj./D Ionian, which is why it has 2#s. To understand this, you've done well!!Get to understand the major set up, as well as the 3 minors, and all this will be a breeze for you.Also have a look at the pentatonics, because on guitar they are pretty simple patterns to use, and will always sound great, as in playing them, you miss out the 'iffy' notes that don't always fit in an ad hoc solo.
    – Tim
    Sep 20, 2013 at 21:04
  • Historically, modes do not come from a major or minor scale, rather it's the other way around. Mar 20, 2014 at 11:56

I this picture you can see the Mixolyidan mode is the fifth mode of the major scale.

There are different dominant scales. To be considered dominant the scale must have a major third (3) and a minor seventh (b7).

I this picture you can see the Mixolyidan mode is the fifth mode of the major scale.

  • This is based on F maj/Ionian.Thus it will spawn G Dorian, A Phrygian, Bb Lydian, C mixolydian, D Aeolian, and E Locrian. Assuming the guitar is at concert pitch.
    – Tim
    Sep 29, 2013 at 16:03

The dominant scale is a mode. It is one of the seven modes that you can get from a major key. So, your question is not phrased correctly. The dominant scale = dominant mode. No difference.

  • 1
    The only mode that sounds dominant is the Mixolydian. OP is asking about Aeolian dom. Very different, and not got from a major key.
    – Tim
    Sep 21, 2013 at 12:21
  • @Tim. Since the OP is a beginner, it's doubtful he's asking about anything other than standard modes and chords taken from the major key. (Or if he is, he shouldn't be!) So let's get back to the basics first, and then later on someone can get into the non-standard stuff if they choose. Sep 23, 2013 at 16:15

I have been doing my own research around this. I don't think the information here is clear enough. If you play the Same notes of the Diatonic scale for C but start on D, you'll get D Dorian, not C Dorian. While the modes change with what note you choose you have to be careful to distinguish what is what. This wasn't made clear on the answer.

To make it clear, moving up the C diatonic scale you'll then have: C-Ionian D-Dorian E-Phrygian F-Lydian G-Mixolydian A-Aeolian (or RELATIVE Minor) B-Locrian.

All of this modes contain the SAME notes but are on different keys (tonal centers).

For determining the notes of C Lydian for example one must keep the same key and move the intervals around.

C-Ionian diatonic is: WWHWWWH. C-Lydian is the 4th degree of that so take that scale and start on the 4th interval. C-Lydian: WWWHWWH: C-D-E-F#-G-A-B-C

You can practice and verify this using this link: http://jguitar.com/scale?root=C&scale=Lydian&fret=0&labels=letter&notes=sharps


If you play the notes of C MAJOR over a G 7 chord you are playing what you could call a dominant scale , you do not have to begin with G it is of course silly but you have to emphasize the B and F of this scale and be careful with the use of the note C !

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