Understanding Modes

OK, so I thought it was about time to start doing some lessons on modes.

This PDF tutorial is designed to help you grasp theoretically what is going with modes. We take a look at modes in 3 different ways in this tutorial.

First, we discuss a method to quickly be able to spell all of your modes by using your knowledge of the major scales. If you can't spell your major scales yet please check out the "Understanding Keys" lesson to get that out of the way.

The second method we will talk about is one to help you hear the modes in your head in order to improvise and compose with them more fluently.

And the third method we will study describes how to go about visualizing modes on the fretboard.

I finish up the tutorial with a brief explanation of modal harmony. Coming up will be video lessons to help you understand how to visualize any mode you want on the guitar quickly and easily!!

So go ahead and download the tutorial here.

Understanding Modes Tutorial PDF

In up coming video lessons I will show you not only how to use your 3-notes per string major scales as modes, but also how to use pentatonic scales as modes as well. WOOHOO!!

If these free lessons help you, please donate to keep new ones coming daily. Thanks!! 🙂

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  1. Matthew on January 26, 2011 at 6:56 am

    Hey Carl, I’m studying in a Music Bachelors HighSchool, and it’s my first year studying music. I just have to say that all your lessons are very helpful an that these Musical Theory lessons are helping me a lot to undestand better the music and my studies, Thank You Carl!
    Cheers from Spain ;D

  2. Brian on February 16, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    Thanks Carl, I have read through several of your lessons now and they have been very helpful in theory…All I need to do now is practice…See here at work I have a lot of time to read Ha…I just have one question about this lesson on Understanding Modes…You said on one paragraph that when you want to play the G Lydian mode you find out what your parent Key is in this case D…Ok so my question is when you are phrasing out a solo which Note would be best to end on?? The D since it is in relation to the D major scale or the G which is the 4th degree of the scale?? Thanks

    • Carl Brown on February 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm

      Hey Brian, I usually try not to look at a certain note as being the best to end on. You can kind of limit yourself that way. But if you are trying to find the note that most grounds the key your are in it would be G because you are playing in G Lydian. Thinking of it’s parent major key is just a visualization method so for whatever basic mode you want you can visualize it across the neck as a major scale. But the sound that you are actually playing in G Lydian not D Major. Hope that makes since. 🙂

      Cheers!! Carl..

  3. Rick Brown on September 27, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    good stuff

  4. rafa on June 14, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    carl brown i think ur the best teacher in the universe .period

  5. Richard on October 8, 2014 at 9:27 am

    Hi Carl, if you google “Ben Levin chord progressions for each mode.” There’s a video explaining what chords to use for each mode, and since I respect your knowledge I was curious what you thought of his method. Thanks for all you do. Cheers.

  6. chris martin on July 26, 2015 at 10:33 am

    Hi Carl.if i want to play f# Phrygian what should i do?also how can we apply any scales to any modes?and are the modes have difference with their major scale?i confused really.

    • Carl Brown on July 26, 2015 at 12:01 pm

      Well if you want to play in F# Phrygian you will first need to establish a F# min chord to solo over. Of you could simply just create a backing track with the F# note or power chord as the foundation.

      Then to figure out your F# Phrygian scale all over the fretboard to solo over the F# min chord you will simply figure out the parent major key of F# Phrygian. Phrygian is the 3rd mode of a major scale/key so that means the note F# is the 3rd note of the major key you are trying to locate. That will tell you that F# Phrygian’s parent major key is D Major. After that you can now just visualize your D major scales on the guitar and if you play those over that F# minor backing track it will sound like F# Phrygian even though you are visualizing it as a D Major scales.

      None of this is possible of course if you don’t have at least a basic knowledge of keys. You can learn that in the Understanding Keys lesson though. 🙂

  7. chris martin on July 26, 2015 at 4:35 pm

    thanks Carl very nice answer.I STUDIED the understanding key lesson very helpful but in the modes PDF tutorial why the shape of modes doesnt match in the 2nd and 3rd page?and when we use that shapes for example in the 2nd page the f lydian have no sharps or flats but the next page it has the 4th # sharp in it when we use them ?why we do not use that mode shapes to find our parent key but we use their major scales so then what are modes for with the existence of their major shape?

    • chris martin on July 26, 2015 at 5:15 pm

      hi carl you said before when i want to find parent key i should work on its major key for example f# phrygian parent key is d# when i want to finding it from its major shape but you said above f# phrygian parent key is D it confused me how its possible?

      • Carl Brown on July 26, 2015 at 10:04 pm

        Chris, if you thought that F# Phyrgian is in the key of D# major (which doesn’t even exist.), you simply don’t understand your basic keys well enough to try and understand how to use them to get your modes.

        I suggest you slow down a bit, re-read the Understanding Keys PDF and make sure you can spell EVERY major key in music before moving forward. The major keys are all listed in the PDF.

        If you can’t look at that list and spell out the major scale for every single one of those keys you have more studying to do before trying to understand modes. Sorry, but you are just going to keep confusing yourself more and more.


    • Carl Brown on July 26, 2015 at 9:58 pm

      Hey Chris, you are comparing two different modal methods. The first Lydian scale didn’t’ have an F# because it is in the key of C and there are no sharps or flats in the key of C major.

      When you see the modal formulas #4 of the Lydian mode is when you are comparing it to a major scale. That isn’t the best way to learn it on the fretboard. Simply knowing them as their parent major scales would be all you need to visualize it. The method that you are referring to is for ear training. That #4 is the difference between it and the major scale (ie.C major scale C D E F G A B C lydian mode C D E F# G A B), therefore, if you can hear a major scale in your head it is a lot easier to hear a Lydian mode by just altering that one scale degree.

      I think you are overthinking this stuff or perhaps English isn’t your first language? The understanding modes PDF is really the best way I can explain without personally working with you. Did you try this mode lesson?

  8. chris martin on August 19, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    hi carl thanks again very nice and complete lesson.how can i find my secondry triads for example F and G major?

    • Carl Brown on August 19, 2015 at 8:00 pm

      The easiest way is to go back two steps of the scale. So if F major is the IV chord in the key, D min is the ii chord and it’s secondary triad. Same goes for the G major V chord. iii (E min) would be it’s secondary triad and vii diminished triad is considered a secondary triad to the V chord as well. 🙂

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