Play It Loud

How many articles about modes have you read before you got to this one? 

I’d say at least a few…..and I know why….

Lots of guitar players seem to think that modes hold some magical secret to making great solos and riffs….

And that once you find the perfect article (like this one), or the perfect theory course, or perfect teacher….

Sorry. Lots of ellipsis’s so far. 

That…..all of a sudden you’ll be teaching Frank Gambale or John Petrucci what they’re doing wrong (those are two great guitarists who love modes). 

It just couldn’t be further from the truth. 

And the truth is that great guitar players have:

1) great technique or at least good enough to express themselves

2) superior knowledge of the fretboard and

3) have navigated their way through lots of songs, solos, riffs, etc. 

Modes are a tiny fraction of all of that. 

I’ll show you why that is, and why you’ve looking at the fretboard the long way for all this time. 

(and no, I won’t show you the old “here’s the modes of the major scale and how they’re all the same” trick)  


You Don’t See Fretboard As Bundles Of Chord Shapes 

Let me explain that theory trick I referred to earlier, even though it won’t help you much……

You can play any mode by knowing the major scale, like C major: 

C major = C – D – E – F – G – A – B 


D dorian = D – E – F – G – A – B – C 


E phrygian = E – F – G – A – B – C – D 


F lydian = F – G – A – B – C – D – E 

G mixolydian = G – A – B – C – D – E 


A aeolian = A – B – C – D – E – F – G 


B locrian = B – C – D – E – F – G – A 


All I did was rearrange the notes of the scale and start on a new one. 

That’s the so called “trick” but has it revealed anything at all about using the modes? 

My guess is that it’s a big fat no. 

And that’s because you’ve been trained to think in scales and to see the fretboard in terms of scales. 

How many chords can you make from these notes? 

Do you know all 7 chords of C major? 

If so, can you make a progression right now that sounds distinctly phrygian? Or mixolydian? 

It’s okay if you can’t. It took me a long to realize that certain songs or genres are using the chord changes available from this set of notes. 


You Only Know CAGED And A Few Scale Patterns

If you made it through the last section, you may be thinking “Well I know CAGED and I can change the major 7th to a minor 7th to make something mixolydian, so I’m good,” but buddy you’re not good. 

CAGED and scale patterns still doesn’t help you see: 

1) how dorian creates lots of classic rock riffs and funk chord progressions

2) how locrian is the basis to lots of jazz sounds like altered, half diminished, and the locrian b2 scale

3) how mixolydian forms the sound of two very famous guns n roses songs….

4) why the sound of lots of pop songs and pink floyd music comes from the lydian mode


CAGED and a few scale patterns just won’t reveal that when you look at any of the music I just mentioned. 

And again, it’s because you’re looking for a scale pattern instead of musical relationships formed by these CHORDS. 


You Don’t Have Enough Musical Examples That Use These Concepts

So far I’ve knocked down CAGED, the mode trick, and over-reliance on scales in guitar playing. 

And the reason for this is because: 

1) Hardly anyone ever shows you a chord progression that uses these modal sounds

2) No one tells you that you need to be studying actual music 


I get it. It’s not sexy to study tab books and Charlie Parker solos. 

We all want to be acknowledged and loved for doing this effortlessly. 

That’s just not the way learning anything works. The truth is that EVERYONE has to work hard to become a good musician, and that includes studying music. 

Take the Beatles. Why did they make it when lots of other bands didn’t? 

They learned a lot of music, they played a lot of gigs, and they were always seeking out new music. Having George Martin helped a lot too and he doesn’t get nearly enough cred! 

You want to do the same right? 

If not, then don’t worry about learning modes or studying music. 

And if you want some examples, then keep on reading this article until the very end……(we’re almost done) 



You Don’t Have A Great Foundation Of Fretboard/Theory Knowledge

In order to see all of this stuff about modes I keep teasing about, you need to learn how keys are made, you need to learn how scales are made, and you need to learn how chords come from scales. 

When I listed all the modes above in a previous section, I could see all sorts of interval relationships that maybe you haven’t seen yet. 

Let’s do a simple test…..


Can you tell me a few chords that you’ll get from C lydian and NOT from C major?

Here’s the notes: 

C – D – E – F# – G – A – B = Lydian 

C – D – E – F – G – A – B = Major (ionian) 


If you can’t do this, then you need to learn a few of the things I just mentioned. 

And lucky for you, I have a short course all about modes that’s either free or $1 dollar, depending on the time you sign up for my email newsletter……

Click the image below to get it now: 


You’ll get tons of musical examples that break down the modes, show you why the chords come from the mode and not the major scale, and give you tons of ways to start composing and improvising with modes. 

Because look, the only reason to learn modes is to learn how to use them to make music. 

Modes are not just variations of major or minor scales. Phrygian is not just phrygian because you play an E5-F5 powerchord. 

There’s more to it, and I can teach you all about it in less than 30 minutes. 

Thanks for reading!