The concept of modes simply boils down to the step pattern intervals between notes. Whether notes are black or whit is irrelevant, it’s the interval between them that matters. When a musician improvises in a solo, he will usually play notes within a musical scale. Most of these scales have special names. Being familiar with common scales is useful as you extend your knowledge of piano chords and scales.

Some of the names of modes include:

  1. Aeolian
  2. Locrian
  3. Lydian
  4. Ionian
  5. Dorian
  6. Mixolydian
  7. Phrygian
  8. Pentatonic

Each will provide their own unique color to a piece of music. The most natural mode to most players, due to the fact that it’s notes are those of any standard major scale is the Ionian Mode. (C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C – in the key of C).

Dorian mode is easy to memories as it simply starts on the second note of a major scale and goes up in sequence. (D,E,F,G,A,B,C,D – in the key of D).

The Dorian mode step pattern is thus W-H-W-W-W-H-W.

When playing in the C-scale, by starting on D and playing up the C scale to the next D note an octave higher you’ve just played the D minor Dorian scale. This is quite useful, given that by knowing a C-major scale, you also know everything you need to know about playing Dorian scales, you just need to remember that the second note is the tonal center.The natural minor scale is the Aeolian scale and is different from the Dorian minor scale by one note, a flat sixth is played, but this subtle change can result in a different feel when played in music. In summary, the important notes of Dorian mode are the tonal center note which is the root and creates it’s minor characteristics and it’s major sixth which differentiates the Dorian scale from the natural minor or Aeolian mode of play.

If you were to make your way up to the third note of the C-Major scale to “E” and make this the new tonal center, you form another scale in which you can solo with. This is Phrygian mode, which is often used in Flamenco music. You simply play the C-Major notes (or whatever major key) starting from “E” instead of “C”, so you see by simply learning the notes of major scales you already have the knowledge you need to play in three modes for soloing.

While the scale has a “minor” sound to it, it sounds “weaker” against an Em chord, but much stronger against E-Major. Phrygian mode works well against an E-major and F-major sequence.

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