What are the modes?

  • Long story short, the modes are groupings of notes, much like scales, that can provide musicians with a palette of musical colors to play with.  Bright, happy, triumphant, sad, contemplative, dissonant, nasty–it’s all possible with this simple system.
  • In addition to that, they can also provide guitarists with a roadmap to the neck of the guitar, so that you can have any of these musical colors at your fingertips, in any key.

Who “Invented” the Modes?

  • The modes, or something like them, can be traced back to the earliest forms of western music. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle writes about them, and their potential to affect peoples’ moods.  Since we obviously don’t have recordings from that era, we don’t know for sure that the ancient Greeks’ idea of the modes was exactly the same as ours.
  • Early church music, such as Gregorian Chant, is based on modes, though they were not quite the same as the modes we use today.
  • Wikipedia has a very good page about the modes here, if you really want to geek out on it for a while.
  • Miles Davis is the first musician to be credited with the contemporary idea of using the modes as a basis for improvisation. His album Kind of Blue, with songs like “So What” and “Flamenco Sketches,” are considered groundbreaking in this area.
  • Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead were arguably the first musicians to bring modal improvisation into a rock and roll context.

Who uses the modes now?

  • All sorts of artists, from all genres, use the modes in their compositions and their improvisations (though it’s worth noting that not all musicians “think” in terms of the modes–yet their music can still be analyzed in terms of the modes).
  • The Allman Brothers, Phish, and many of today’s “jambands” still use the modes as the basis for much of their improvisation.
  • Jazz musicians continue to find new ways to use modes, and variations of them, in their composition and improvisation.

Here are the lessons in the HCG Modes Workshop.  Note that you may want to check out the lessons on music theory before diving into these lessons.

I recommend that you go through these lessons in order.  They are short, designed to take just a few minutes each.

The Basics of the Modes

Lesson 1: How the Modes are Created
Take a major scale, turn it on its ear, and get a wide variety of different sounds.

Lesson 2: Derivative Thinking
Creating the modes by deriving them from the major scale

Lesson 3: Parallel Thinking
Get more insight as to how the modes work and sound by comparing them to the major scale from the same root.

What You Can Do with the Modes

Lesson 4: The Unique Sound of Each Mode
A look at the sound of each mode with sample songs for you to hear.

Lesson 5: Map of the Fretboard
Use the modes to find your way around the neck  in any mode, any key…with only 5 fingerings.

Applying the Modes

Lesson 6: Choosing a Mode for a Given Chord

Lesson 7: Choosing a Mode for a Given Chord Progression

Additional Lessons

Re-imagining the Modes
An unconventional, yet simple, way to look at the modes.

Order of Brightness
Another way to look at the modes and compare them in order to understand them better.

Expanding on Pentatonics to Create Modes
If you know your pentatonics, you can just add a couple notes to them to create the modes.

Once you think you’re starting to get it, hop on over to the HCG Backing Tracks to put the modes into action.