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Guitar Lesson: Modes Lesson #1 – Ionian

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Guitar Jar’s very own Lewis Turner takes us through the concepts of soloing in the Ionian mode.

…Many famous tunes come from the Ionian mode, including the Star Wars theme, Happy birthday, and even Eastenders!…

Lewis Turner

Lewis Turner

There often seems to be much mystery and confusion around the subject of modes, this often puts people of from understanding and using them, which is a real shame. A little time spent on learning mode shapes and understanding them will open up a whole new vocabulary to you and take your playing to the next level.

This is the first in a series of lessons where I will be taking you through each mode from the major scale, with an explanation and example solo. So let’s get stuck in!

What are modes?

A Major scale contains seven different notes or intervals. Each of these intervals can be given a mode name. If you play any major scale starting from each of the different steps you are essentially playing a mode.

To understand their uses one must also be familiar with the Harmonised Major scale. This is simply the chords that are constructed from each step of a Major scale and they are as follows.

All of the examples/scale shapes/explanations for this series of lessons will be in the key of A Major.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Root Tone Tone Semi-tone Tone Tone Tone
A B C# D E F# G#
Major Minor Minor Major Major Minor Diminished
Major 7 Minor7 minor7 Major 7 Dominant 7 Minor7 Minor7b5
Ionian Dorian Phrygian Lydian Mixolydian Aeolian Locrian

Above we have the intervals (1,2,3,etc), Step pattern (tone – 2 frets, semi tone- 1 fret), the notes in A Major.

The harmonised major scale using triads (3 note chords). The harmonised major scale using Extended chords (Major 7 etc), and the order of the modes. This is something you just need to commit to memory and know, as it applies to any Major scale. We can now see that each interval has a mode name and thus could be considered as a separate scale.

For example if you played this A major scale but starting from the C# note, one could say they are now playing C# Phrygian. It contains exactly the same notes as A Major but you have started from a different degree of the scale.

Try playing the scale from each of the different intervals, and you should find that each has a slightly different sound to it. This is where modes get interesting; it’s all to do with what mode you use and what harmony you use it over. Each mode also has its own intervallic structure;

  • Ionian 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (this is just another name for your standard Major scale)
  • Dorian 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7 (b = flat)
  • Phrygian 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
  • Lydian 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7
  • Mixolydian 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7
  • Aeolian 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 (this is just another name for your standard Natural minor scale)
  • Locrian 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7

Again the above order and intervals are something you should try to commit to memory.

Mode shapes

You will also find with this lesson 7 shapes of A Major using 3 notes per string, these are also your 7 different mode shapes. You need to know them inside out and upside down to make full use of them.

Mode #1 Ionian

Ionian is just another name for the good old Major scale. It is the most commonly used scale in western music and the one most people’s ears are used to.

Many famous tunes come from the Ionian mode, including the Star Wars theme, Happy birthday, and even Eastenders! It is a very “safe” sounding scale and this also makes it highly melodic. Ionian gives an inherently happy sound, and pretty much any player you can think of has used it or uses it a great deal.

The solo

I have written this 16 bar solo over a 1,6,4,5, progression from A Major. This gives us the chords A Major 7, F# minor 7, D Major 7 and E7 (I have used E9 but this is still a dominant chord). This is a classic pop/soul progression, the famous song “Stand by me” uses this progression and there are many more. I have tried to make this solo as melodic as possible, lets look at some of the parts.

Bars 1,6,14 and 15 make use of half step bends. These sound great when pitched correctly. This may take some practice if you are coming from a pentatonic background, where whole step bends are common place, these require a much more subtle approach, or they end up sounding awful!

Bars 2 and 3, use octave shapes which are a very nice trick to throw into your playing every now and then.

Bar 7, uses sting skipping on a pedal note idea.

Bar 9, uses the intervals of 6ths which sound very modern and cool, also using slides to make it all sound nice and smooth.

Bar 11, you should reconise this shape its good old shape one of minor pentatonic played at the second fret. This is F# minor pentatonic, and its works because F# is the relative (contains the same notes) minor of A Major.

Bar 13, here I make liberal use of 5ths which I think sound great! There is also a string skipped B minor arpeggio in there. This is quite a tricky section so take your time and watch your fingering.

The idea of the solo is to give you some ideas on how to approach the use of this mode. Learn it and try it to the extended backing track, but more importantly learn the scale shapes attached and try your own ideas. Next time it’s the Dorian mode, good luck!


Resources:

Resources for Modes Lesson #1 – Ionian – © Lewis Turner
Download PDF Guitar Jar Lesson – Ionian Guitar Lesson Tab (28KB pdf)
Download PDF Guitar Jar Lesson – Major Scale – 3 note per string diagram (192KB pdf)
Music Download Guitar Jar Lesson – Ionian Mode – Complete Track (1.8MB MP3)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Music Download Guitar Jar Lesson – Ionian Mode – Backing Track (3.3MB MP3)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

All content © Lewis Turner – For more information about Lewis Turner, please visit:

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About the author:

Lewis Turner is a highly accomplished guitarist, with years of performing, recording, session and teaching experience. Lewis performs all over the UK and abroad with various bands as well as Theatre, TV and Radio work

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