Just wanted some clarification and guidance in my attempt to understand the use of modes. I am a bass player involved in playing pop, rock, alt and indie genres; I am not a Jazz/Bebop bassist. My interest in modes stems from exploring bass soloing, of which I am not currently involved in but would like to be. While studying modes for soloing, I wanted to understand their uses without going too deep into the weeds with theory so to speak. So here is what my understanding of their uses for soloing and I guess for Jazz are. I am looking for some clarification/guidance if I am on the right path of understanding; I may be oversimplifying and I do have some confusion with some concepts:

Major Modes: Can begin a major sounding scale (Lydian, Maj, Mixo) from the root, 4th or 5th degree of any respective major chord you are soloing over. So for a C Maj chord I can start my solo from C, F or G

Minor Modes: Can begin a minor sounding scale (Minor,Locrian, Dorian, Phry)from the root, 2nd, 4th, 5th of any respective minor chord you are soloing over. So my solo can start from C,D, F, G for a C min chord

Melodic Minor and Jazz Melodic Minor Modes: Can begin a minor sound scale from the root, 2nd, 6th, and 7th of any respective minor chord you are soloing over. My solo can start from C, D, A,B for a C min chord

Harmonic Minor Modes:Can begin a minor sounding scale from the root,2nd, 4th, and 7th of any respective minor chord you are soloing over. My solo can start from a C, D, F, B for a C min chord

The above covers the Maj/Min scale modes of the Major and Minor mode systems and also only the minor modes of the Melodic/Jazz and Harmonic minor systems...but what about the major scales of the Melodic/Jazz and Harmonic Minor systems? I am only incorporating the Major,Lydian and Mixolydian Major scales for Major chord soloing....I am not incorporating the use of the other Major III,IV,V scales of the Melodic and Jazz Melodic Minor nor the Major III, V, VI scales of the Harmonic Minor. I am assuming I can incorporate these scales independently? For example.... instead of using a Lydian scale starting from the IV to solo over a I chord....I can choose to use a Lydian Dom borrowed from the Melodic and Jazz Mel Minor system (incorporate a b7 into my solo)?

I greatly appreciate your time reading through this and any clarification or corrections...

Thank you so much......

  • What is the actual problem here? What are you trying to do? Are you preparing for playing a solo, or for giving a series of lectures on modes? To me it looks like the usual Western over-emphasizing of cognitive skills and theoretical-logical thinking. I recommend ditching the understand-everything-first idea. Take something very small and practice it. Then take another step. Children learn to play by playing, they learn to speak by speaking, not by first attending a course where they are taught to "understand" everything. Adults learn the same way, they just don't want to admit it, IMO. Commented May 22, 2023 at 12:08

2 Answers 2


As a Jazz Pianist with an affinity for the experimental:

Modes range from darker sounding to brighter sounding. Each provides a unique "colour" palette.

What is important to understand when using modes as a means to improvise is that the "most" important notes are the chord tones. Really simple example:

A Cmaj chord could work with the Cmaj scale. makes sense right?

The chord tones of a cmaj are c, e, g, b, (and I consider the 9 a chord tone but that is a controversial opinion). these notes sound "congruent".

The mixolydian also has all of the chord tones, with the addition of a sharpened fourth. This kind of works, and it kind of sounds okay.

the dorian, however, does not have all of the chord tones and would therefore sound a bit "clashy". Conventionally unacceptable combination, although everything has potential to sound good.

This is where it gets a little bit more complicated.

Lets say that instead of playing a cmaj, you are playing a cmaj#11! Jazzy!

the #11 in a c#11 is actually the same note as a #4, so in the context of c, the #11/#4 is f#. a Cmaj scale with a #4 is, as we talked about above, a mixolydian scale!

If we were to now play that over a Cmaj#11, it would sound pretty fricking jazzy and cool.

the same goes for the other modes, but always remember music is entirely subjective and I love playing clashy, incorrect music (that's where the funky stuff lives).

there is no rule saying a chord can't go with a scale. Context is key and I rarely improv via "scales". scales might influence the direction of an improvisation, but shouldn't prescribe.

to recap, the mixolydian is a cmaj scale with a # 4, and a cmaj#11 is just a cmaj chord with a #4 in the actual chord. they therefore sound "good" together.

This applies to all of the other modes, giving you more options for improv.

But in all reality, you can hit random notes the whole way through, and as long as there is relationship, syncopation, and resolve, it will always sound pretty awesome.

  • 2
    The mixolydian scale is not a diatonic major scale with a sharpened 4th, that's the lydian scale. C Mixolydian is as the C major scale but with a b7th. You COULD say that the mixolydian scale is a C major scale starting from the G.
    – OwenM
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 23:29

The general principle behind chord—scale correspondence is that the scale should capture the chord tones in strong metrical positions (e.g., on the beats). So, taking the example of a C major chord, one would use a scale that begins on C, E, or G, but not F (F in particular, because the sound against the chord is usually considered harsh, unless the F is on an off-beat, say).

This also means that a variety of scales will "work" with a C major chord, depending on what else is happening in the music. C major, of course, but also C lydian, E natural or harmonic minor, C major b2, C harmonic major, the chromatic scale, and others.

  • Thank you Aaron for your help.....so it would be Ok to run a minor scale (in your example E natural or harmonic minor (or possibly E Phrygian?)) over a Major chord? I was thinking that the minor sound would clash with the C major sound. I guess that's why I thought to avoid running an A natural minor over a C major chord also. I do understand the concern over starting with an F (half step dissonance with the E).
    – user90561
    Commented May 21, 2023 at 17:35
  • 1
    @Robert Yes, E phrygian could also work, again depending on context. The "minor" sound won't conflict, because the C chord will still be present, anchoring the harmony. The E scale, then, just becomes a variation of the overall color or the music. Of more concern that the minor sound would the that, if just playing the E scale, a B will fall on the beat. That could conflict, because it would temporarily create a CM7 chord. In jazz that would be fine, but in rock it might be out of place.
    – Aaron
    Commented May 21, 2023 at 18:06
  • M Mancini would beg to differ - 3rd bar of 'Moon River' B note against an F chord!
    – Tim
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 7:41
  • @Tim B is fine. Bb less so.
    – Aaron
    Commented May 22, 2023 at 7:57
  • @Tim Without checking any references, I hear it in my head more like a G/F chord, followed by an F right before the melody hits the A note. Commented May 22, 2023 at 12:05

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