Position playing is pretty straight forward. There's not too much to it really, only a few rules. So here they are:
And without further ado, here are the 7 patterns for a C Major scale. You will notice that for one of the patterns (E Phrygian) I have drawn the pattern twice - once in 12th position and once in open position. I want you to be able to cover the entire neck of the guitar. That is, I want you to see how this pattern wraps on the guitar. Also, down below I'll explain what the Greek names mean. (Ionian, Dorian, etc.) Read on.
Ok, firsts things first. The subject of modes causes tremendous confusion for students and, honestly, I really don't know why. Perhaps, it's just in the presentation of the subject. For me, when I learned about modes, my playing just opened up. Things started to make sense. A lot of sense. Anyway, here goes my attempt at explaining this subject, but first, let me just say a few more things about the scale patterns above.
There are two ways to approach learning (and thinking about) modes - the derivative and the parallel approach. In this lesson, I am only going to explore the derivative approach and it basically means this: There are 6 other scales "hiding out" inside a major scale. A nice way to get at this concept of "derivative-ness" is to ask yourself the following question: "What other scales can be derived from a major scale without changing any notes in that major scale?" If you understand the answer to this question then you understand modes from the "derivative approach" perspective.
So here's my version of the answer. Now, my answer is a bit long winded, so bear with me. Try to be patient.
If we start a C major scale at the 2nd scale degree and play (only natural notes) up to the next D note one octave higher we get a minor sounding scale that is called D Dorian, which is not the same as a C major scale.
This minor sounding scale contains the following natural notes: D, E, F, G, A , B, C, D. This may seem a little odd to you. How can a scale that has all natural notes *NOT* be C major? Or, how can these 7 notes be more than one scale? Can it be both C major and D Dorian?
The answer is lies in how we hear those natural notes. That is, the natural notes will sound (or function) differently under different harmonic contexts in which they are played.
So, let's play.
Play the first 8 notes of the second pattern above, the one in 10th position labeled "D Dorian."
Listen to this scale.
Start at the lowest note and slowly proceed until you reach the highest note, but only play the first 8 notes. Now, slowly descend playing one note at a time and listen carefully.
Does this scale sound like a C major scale? No, and the reason why is because by starting and ending the scale on a D note, we establish that note as sounding like the root (or tonal center) for the scale. This means that the other notes are heard relative to this D root!
This is strange indeed. One minute I'm telling you that the pattern you just played is a C major scale and now I'm telling you that the pattern is also a D Dorian scale. And indeed, that is exactly what I mean to say. The important thing to understand is that the 7 natural notes will sound like a major scale if they are played in such a way as to make them sound like a major scale or they will sound like one of the modes if they are played in such a way as to make them sound like one of the modes. So it all boils down to how you go about establishing a tonal center for the notes you want to play.
Establishing a tonal center can be done in a few different ways.
Record yourself playing a C major chord for a few minutes. Then record yourself playing a Dm chord for a few minutes. Now, pick any one pattern above and solo over the C chord. Then using the same pattern, solo over the Dm chord.
In both cases, you are playing the same notes, but they sound like different scales because the context in which you played them changed. That is, the tonal center changed from C major when playing over the C chord to D dorian when playing over the D minor chord.
This is an important concept to understand and if this makes sense to you and if you can hear it, then I have succeeded in explaining to you the "relative-ness" that is found in music.
It all depends on where you stand or your frame of reference. And where you stand depends on how you hear the tonal center for a particular instance of time.
Getting this concept (derivative thinking) involves two levels of understanding:
If you can do these two things, then you "get it". This insight, combined with this ability of hearing, is vital. And really, it's the basis for understanding improvisation. That's why I highly recommend you do the playing exercises for this lesson (and all lessons in this series).
Turns out the best way to learn how to play the guitar is to play the guitar. You'd be surprised how this most basic and obvious idea is overlooked by people aspiring to learn how to play.
Let's spell it all out. Let's continue down our path of "derivative thinking" and make each note of a C major scale be the root and see what scales we come up with. We'll start with C just for good measure, and then go up each scale degree and see what we get until we hit the seventh.
As you can see from the image above, I've written out all of the derivative modes for C major. You can say that these modes are relative to the key of C major. That is, all of these modes have the same notes, natural notes, and are diatonic to each other.
I've also provided an intervallic analysis for each note in each mode, so you can see how each note functions (or sounds) in that mode.
For instance, F Lydian has a #4 in its scale formula, the B note, which means B functions as a raised 4th in a Lydian context (or over an F bass note or F major chord). But, we can also see that B functions as a major 7th in a C major context (or over a C bass note or C major chord) or as a major 6th in a D Dorian context, etc.
In each case, that same B note creates a different interval over each of the different bass notes (or chords).
What are the implications of this?
If a note gets a different numerical analysis it will have a different interval ascribed to it which means it will both function and sound differently as the context in which it is heard has changed.
In a later lesson, Modes - The Parallel Approach, I go into much further depth about each mode's intervallic structure or formula. We call that topic, the "parallel approach" where the word "parallel" means "same root". In that lesson we compare parallel scales, or scales with the same root, to each other to gain some insight. But, don't worry about that stuff for now. We'll get to it later.
Now, if you haven't put this together yet, the chords (or triads) associated with each mode are the same chords that are diatonic to the major key you're working in. In the case of the key of C major, the triad that corresponds to:
Now play each mode for 5 minutes or so by altering the tuning on your guitar. Use any of the patterns above or just play horizontally (up and down on one string at a time). Play only natural notes throughout this entire exercise. In each case, use the root note of the scale as a pedal tone. The nice thing about this exercise is that you don't have to record yourself to do this exercise. Just use the low strings on your guitar as pedal tones.
One More: Record yourself playing diatonic chords in the key of C major. That is, for 3 to 4 minutes, record yourself playing a C major chord. Then record yourself playing a Dm chord for 3 or 4 minutes. And then an Em chord and so on up to a B diminished chord. Now, solo over each chord using the scale fingerings illustrated above. This is perhaps the best and most direct way to hear the 7 different modes that can be derived from the C major scale.
Hopefully you aren't confused at this point. If you are, then I recommend that you reread the above sections and be sure to do the playing exercises. That's where your real learning will take place.
Now, let's try to gain some more understanding by looking at some examples outside the key of C. Remember, it's really important to be able to do this kind of calculus ==> using a major scale to think derivatively, that is, use a major scale to compute its relative modes. NOTE: One should also be able to go backwards, the other way ==> given a mode, be able to figure out its relative (or parent) major scale/key.
At this point, I hope things are starting to make sense, but if not, here is a chart that summarizes all the modes for all of the major scales. It's a variation of the chart that was presented at the end of Lesson 6.
|The Major Scale Modes|
|The Natural Key:||C||D||E||F||G||A||B||C|
Finally, here's an image of a drawing I made many years ago. It's what I used to base the charts on above in the beginning of this lesson. I think it's pretty cool, so I'm going to include it here for posterity's sake.
I encourage you to make your own drawings like this one. Create your own guitar journal, if you will. Go buy a nice hard-covered blank book without any lines in it and start drawing all the chord and scale diagrams you've learned. Drawing these things will help you learn them even better and it's a nice thing to have to refer to without having to look at a computer, etc.