What’s going on everyone?! Welcome to another edition of Axe of Creation. Today we will be begin our journey through Modes and how we can use them remove the cloud of confusion with a fresh perspective, making sense of what can be a very confusing topic. For those of you seeking visual stimulation, you can head over to my YouTube channel to watch this lesson in action.
Modes are just Chords!
The biggest thing I want all of you to take in is the fact that modes are just chords, as simple as that. Whenever you play a given mode it will sound like the chord it outlines. I don’t know about you but I love chords! We as guitar players are fortunate that we play a polyphonic instrument with an endless amount of voicings available to us. So ponder some of your favorite chords and if you know the notes or intervals held within that chord you can find the mode that fits best. We’ll get into this a little more when we discuss Lydian and/or Mixolydian.
The Boring Stuff
Before we jump into the deep end, we need to cover a some of the basic terminology and music theory jargon. There are a few concepts that would be beneficial to have an understanding of. If any or all of the concepts below are foreign to you, please leave your questions below and I’ll be sure to add them to my video series interAXEtion, a music theory FAQ or address them in the comments section below.
Having a solid understanding of the major scale is essential to our modal experience because it is the foundation of the changes we can build on top of it. Fear not, just because we are at step one doesn’t mean it has to be boring. There are beautiful tensions found within the major scale and it’s important we seek them out and exploit them when possible. There are two half steps found within the scale, the first being between the 3rd and 4th scale degrees (notes) and a half step behind the root, the 7th. Something that you’ll see throughout my playing is finding these half steps and playing them on adjacent strings. This allows for the dissonance (tension) to really sing and take effect.
One of the “secrets” of unlocking the fretboard is realizing that every scale or mode can only be played three different ways. (Two if we move to the Pentatonic scale.) Each one of these patterns just connects into another, which allows us to make larger two or three octave runs. Check out the full lesson tab for more examples. Being comfortable with these patterns, applying them at will, and being aware of the intervals will be imperative because as we move further along we will be making slight adjustments to these patterns.
I mentioned that this journey is all about chords. Here are some chords for you to explore, all based in the key of E and some using open strings. For extra practice, especially if you’re not comfortable with your arpeggios, I suggest running through triads, arpeggios, and adding extensions to your chords. Learning the sounds of the extensions found within the major scale. Again, they are all major intervals. You have the 9th (2), 11th (4), and 13th (6). Each having their own personality set against a major chord.
Take a deep breathe because you just took your first step towards modal freedom! Take your time internalizing the sound of this scale and unique personality of each interval. Put some time is a commit those scale patterns to memory because we will be revisiting them again and again. If possible, try to practice with some sort of harmonic backdrop (backing track or use a loop pedal).
Our next step is Lydian mode. We will look at the unique chord (my favorite fyi) that this mode outlines. As always, let me know what come up with and I’ll see you next time!