The major scale has a distinctive sound, thanks to its sequence of intervals: tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone (TTSTTTS).
When the major scale starts from a different note, the order of these intervals changes and produces seven new scales, called 'modes'. Each mode has its own distinctive mood.
The best way to get a feel for each mode is to compare the different intervals that each starting point produces.
The Ionian mode is the same as the major scale and has the intervals: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7. All other modes and their intervals are compared to it.
Modes with a major 3rd (marked '3') are major and are generally happy-sounding.
Modes with a minor 3rd (with a 'b3') are minor and have a generally dark sound. The table above tells you all you need to know about the modes derived from the C major scale.
- Click here for a larger version of our mode chart (below).
Try the tabbed licks below to get a feel for modal lead. The licks are identical, except that each begins a step farther up the C major scale to ensure it is a mode.
Because the major scale is so common, it is rarely referred to as the Ionian mode. Its bright, happy sound is great for upbeat tracks and soaring melodies.
Dorian is a minor-sounding mode, but it has a brighter sound than other minor scales and modes (thanks to its major 6th) and is used a lot in blues and jazz.
Phrygian is a minor-sounding mode that has a distinctly exotic, some say Spanish, sound. Its dark sound means that it is used a lot in heavy metal.
Lydian is a major-sounding mode that has an exotic sound that is used a lot in jazz and instrumental rock as a substitute for the, often dull, major scale.
Mixolydian is a major-sounding mode that is used a lot in rock and country music. It is mixed frequently with major pentatonic licks.
Also known as the natural minor scale, the Aeolian is a minor-sounding mode with a dark, sad sound. Early hard rock and metal was based heavily on the Aeolian mode.