Playing in Parallel: The ‘Major’ Modes

dog-guitarIf you had checked out any of my previous articles about the modes, you are starting to hear the unique sounds they have. In most of the other articles I went through the modes of the C Major scale. Here, I take a different approach. Keeping C as our ‘root’, I divide the seven modes into major modes and minor modes. In other words, we take each mode, and compare it to the C Major scale. Some modes will sound better over minor chords and some with major chords. Don’t worry though, it isn’t as complicated as it seems. This article will compare the C Major scale with the modes that have an inherently major, or bright & happy sound.

Before We Start

I used this guitar for the examples recorded here.
I used this guitar for the examples recorded here.

Each of the modes in this article are played with a similar backing track. The bass just goes along playing a C over and over. That is easy, right? Not so fast, though. The chords on top of that incessant C note and the consonance/dissonance of the solo played on top is what gives us the unique sounds of the mode. I picked three chords from each of the keys demonstrated here to use in the backing track. I used the vi, IV & V chords over that C bass. I could have picked any of the chords in the parent key, but those three were as good as any. I would also recommend you look over the Chords In Every Key article, as it explains how we derive the notes in the major scales talked about here.
By the way, I define ‘major’ modes by those having a major 3rd. That is, the 3rd note of the scale is two whole steps from the root. These modes have that happy, bright sound. The three major modes are presented here with a small explanation about the theory, and then a solo over a backing track. The backing drums and bass are the same for each example, but the chords and mode (and key) are different for each one.

C Ionian

This is a fancy Greek way of saying the C major scale. So, in a sense, this is the easiest one.
C Ionian: C D E F G A B C or 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
The vi, IV & V chords in the key of C are Am, F & G. For each example, I used very basic triads on the recording.

C Lydian

The next mode with a major 3rd degree is the Lydian, or 4th mode. C is the 4th note of what major scale? The answer is G. Looksee:
G A B C D E F#
C Major:   C D E F G A B  or 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
C Lydian: C D E F# G A B or 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7
Wow, these two are really similar! Only the 4th note (F/F#) is different between them. This does give this mode an instantly recognizable sound, though. The vi, IV & V chords in the key of G are Em, C and D. Here I play them over the same C bass note, which helps ‘anchor’ our ear to hearing C as our tonic.

 C Mixolydian

The next (and last mode) of the major scale with a major 3rd degree is the Mixolydian mode, made famous by many players like Dickie Betts and Jerry Garcia. If C Mixolydian is the fifth mode, what is it the fifth mode of? Or, C is the 5th note of what major scale? The answer is F:
F G A Bb C D E
Compared to C major:
C Major:   C D E F G A B  or 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
C Mixolydian: C D E F G A Bb or 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7
This mode is also very similar to the major scale as well. Since this mode contains the 1 3 5 b7, it is well-suited for use over dominant 7th chords in blues and jazz. I used them over the vi, IV, and V chords of F major: Dm, Bb, and C.

But wait, there’s more!

The Alnico II Pro provides a great, warm rhythm sound.
The Alnico II Pro provides a great, warm rhythm sound.

As you can hear, each of these major modes sound different. It isn’t just the notes, although they do sound different than one another. It is how the notes interact with the chords and bassline below them that give each mode their unique sound. Don’t forget, if you are soloing over a single bass note with no other harmony- say something like the verse and solo pattern in this Black Sabbath song- you can move freely between keys and modes as you are not boxed in by a prevailing harmony. Once chords are added though, you have to make some decisions. I would like those decisions to be made because you know what you are doing, and not because you didn’t know any better, but hey, great music can be made both ways. By the way, here is the backing track if you’d like to make your own solo:

A word about the recordings: These tracks were made with my Brian Moore Custom C-55. The rhythms were done with the neck position APH-1, and the solos were done with the bridge Custom Custom. The solos used the Vapor Trail Analog Delay, with a volume pedal as an insert effect, so I could vary the amount of delay in real time as I played. 

The Custom Custom was used for the solos here.
The Custom Custom was used for the solos here.

Do you choose different modes depending on how they sound? What guitarist has your favorite solo sound?

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