A few years ago I released 2 in-depth videos on the modes for bass guitar. They were both 45 minutes long (which is LONG for a Youtube bass lesson). So here we have a quick outline of what the modes are with a brief tip on how you can apply them.

Modes Explained In Record Time

Modes are scales created by playing the major scale starting from a different degree.

There are seven different modes in a major key:


If we take the C major scale as an example and start from the root, we get the C Ionian mode:


If we start this scale from the second degree we get the Dorian mode.


Start from the third and you get the Phrygian mode and so on…

E F G A B C D 

Here are the seven modes of C major:

Mode 1 – C D E F G A B
Mode 2 – D E F G A B C
Mode 3 – E F G A B C D
Mode 4 – F G A B C D E
Mode 5 – G A B C D E F
Mode 6 – A B C D E F G
Mode 7 – B C D E F G A

In reality, we refer to these modes by their Greek name rather than a number. Here are the names again:

Mode 1 – Ionian
Mode 2 – Dorian
Mode 3 – Phrygian
Mode 4 – Lydian
Mode 5 – Mixolydian
Mode 6 – Aeolian
Mode 7 – Locrian

Practising Modes

As an exercise, we can play the C major scale starting from the 3rd fret of the A string, and then work up through each mode.

Try this exercise in other keys so you can apply the modes to any song you come across. A good order to practice this in is the cycle of fourths.

Applying Modes

The most important thing to learn when it comes to modes is the chord associated with each scale. An arpeggio can be created from any scale by taking every other note. If we do this to every note in the C major scale then we get all the chords in the key of C major:

I – C Major
ii – D Minor
iii – E Minor
IV – F Major
V – G Major
vi – A Minor
vii – B Diminished

We can also extend these triads to make them 7th chords:

I – C Major 7
ii – D Minor 7
iii – E Minor 7
IV – F Major 7
V – G7
vi – A Minor 7
vii – B Minor 7b5

Using this set of chords, we can label chord progressions by number:

C | Am | Dm | G
 I |    vi  |    ii  |

Note: When we write about chords, we use Roman numerals to represent the numbers. We use uppercase numerals for major chords and lowercase numerals for minor chords.

Now we have numbered the chords, we can match each one to a mode:

I – C Major 7 – C Ionian
ii – D Minor 7 – D Dorian
iii – E Minor 7 – E Phrygian
IV – F Major 7 – F Lydian
V – G7 – G Mixolydian
vi – A Minor 7 – A Aeolian
vii – B Minor 7b5 – B Locrian

The modes can be applied over the relevant chord to give you a pallet of notes within the key that you can use to create melodies and basslines.

If we take the chord sequence from earlier, we can now see what modes we can apply over each chord:

I – C Major – C Ionian
vi – Am – A Aeolian
ii – Dm – D Dorian
V – G – G Mixolydian

As another exercise, try improvising around this chord sequence using the relevant modes. Notice how each mode has a unique sound and gives a slightly different flavour to the song.

Also, check out these other videos:

Modes Of The Major Scale Part 1

Modes Of The Major Scale Part 2 – Deeper Into The Modes

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