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Pro tip: Steve Vai's visual guide to musical modes

When it comes to guitar playing wisdom, the cup of Steve Vai overfloweth. He's great at fresh approaches to subjects that can traditionally seem complex. Take modes – want help identifying a mode in a way you can relate to? He can help, and he broke down seven different modes for Total Guitar and what they mean to him visually. We like it! So much so we've also linked to our free guitar lessons for each mode if you want to explore any further. 

1. Ionian 

The Sound Of Music

(Image credit: Getty / Bettmann )

“It reminds me of Julie Andrews in The Sound Of Music. Her wholesome, healthy image is very Ionian. She could be from the planet Ionia – or rather the island.”

How to master the musical modes for good


2. Dorian 

“I think of snow, I think of a dark night in the Arctic. I think of No Quarter by Led Zeppelin. The image that song creates is what this mode is all about.”

Easy guitar theory: dorian mode


3. Phrygian 

Pyramids

(Image credit: Nick Brundle Photography)

“I see the Egyptian pyramids, the Sphinx and the amber sun shining above the desert. Egypt is the wrong image technically, but it works for me.”

Easy guitar theory: Phrygian mode 


4. Lydian 

“Maria from West Side Story. It’s my favourite mode, although I also really like the Lydian #5 and Lydian b7 modes from the melodic minor scale.”

How to start playing in the Lydian mode


5. Mixolydian 

Saxophone

(Image credit: master1305 / Getty )

"I think of a smoky jazz club, with funk horns blasting out, that's a big mixolydian sound."

Easy guitar theory: Mixolydian mode


6. Aeolian 

Digital piano

(Image credit: Getty/simon2579)

“I remember the sound of the piano in my classroom at Berklee. My music teacher kept playing stuff in the Aeolian mode.”

Easy music theory: Aeolian mode 


7. Locrian 

Island

(Image credit: Archershoots / Getty)

“Like a diseased island. I think of Molokai in Hawaii, where there’s a leper colony. Scary and strange.”

Easy guitar theory: Locrian mode