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Memorizing Musical Modes - Part 2

John Chamley (252) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Beginner · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1

I wanted to make this series in easily digestible bites that can be eaten with your lunch while sitting at a desk. Lunch is optional, but for todays meal let's look at the two most easily recognizable modes, Ionian (major scale) and Aeolian (natural minor scale).

Ionian Mode

Be it enough said that the Ionian mode is what we know as the major scale. I assume that we have enough social conditioning to know "do re mi ..." and what it sounds like. Think of Ionian as the "do re mi" scale. This is the root scale from which the other scales are derived. To play in ionian mode we start to play on the root note of the scale. If you start on a different note you are playing in a different mode!

To visualize the intervals of ionian mode using a guitar, choose a guitar string. For this example, I will use 2nd string B. Play notes on the string while freting each of the following frets: 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, then 13 for the octave. This is the C ionian scale played on a single string. Notice that the intervals are not equal. In terms of whole-note intervals (2 fret jump) and half-note intervals (1 fret jump), notice on the guitar string that they are:

Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Whole, Half

Aeolian Mode

Playing notes of the major scale starting on the 6th note of the major scale and ending on the octave, gives us the Aeolian mode. This scale is also known as the Natural minor scale. It is relative to the Ionian scale that it is derived from. If this scale is written on a clef in standard music notation, the key signature has the same number of sharps or flats as its "relative" major key.

To visualize the intervals of aeolian mode, let's use the 2nd string B again and play frets 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11, then 13 for the octave. This time the intervals are:

Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole.

I like to remember these intervals by the rhythm sound that they make when saying them out loud.

Ionian and Aeolian Mode Compared

Check the example below of the C-major (ionian) and it's relative A-natural-minor (aeolian):

C-major (ionian) scale
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

A-natural-minor (aeolian) scale*
- - - - - A B C D E F G
- - - - - 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

* There are two other common minor scales, harmonic and melodic minor that we will look at later when visiting modes of the harmonic minor scales.

In lesson 3 we look at Mixolydian and Dorian. When I get around to it, I'll be posting a convenient pdf file of the lessons on my website http://www.guitar-lessons.us