Understanding Modes

There have been countless books, articles, videos, and lessons produced around the subject of modes. Understanding them. Categorizing them. Systems of memorizing them based on their relative Ionian major scale. Systems based on dividing them according to how "major" they sound and how "minor" they sound and the alterations of those scales to generate the modes. And yet for many, they remain shrouded in mystery. But I'd like to give you the biggest key to understanding modes, right here, right now.


What they sound like.

Simple, right?? Only not so much. The guitar is a very graphic instrument. And what I mean by that is that you learn a scale shape and change the keys simply by moving it. Most other instruments require and entirely different fingering for a different key. But the guitar is shapes. And tablature. And videos that show you how to play the thing you want to play without having to know a lot of music theory. You reach a point, however, where your hands outrun your knowledge. And when you desire to move into mastery, this is key. The sound.

Simply enough, the modes each represent a mood. What mood? That's up to you. The real key to moving from being a competent guitarist to being an inspiring guitarist is being able to not just execute musically, but being able to communicate effectively the soul and spirit THRU music. Just as the great writers of the day use eloquent speech to convey their stories in ways that move and inspire, so great musicians do the same. As a writer uses the tools of words, grammar, and sentence structure; and expands his vocabulary to become even more eloquent and clearly and succinctly state his thoughts in a way that connects with the reader, so we use notes, timing, and meter to do the same.

The writer can use simile and metaphor and to paint a picture and set a mood, so we can use modes to do the same. As the writer must know the meaning of the words he wants to use, so the musician must know the sounds the modes will produce to effectively use them. To command them.

Which is more interesting? "The blackness of night descended upon me like the cruel wings of a raven, and as the last light faded away, my soul yearned for escape," or "damn dude it's dark out..."??

There are many methods and systems by which the information to derive the modes can be learned and retained. But the sound. The emotion. That is what you have to grasp first. If I handed you a pile of wood and nails and said "build," the likelihood of you creating what I wanted would be small. If I showed you a birdhouse, or a mailbox or some other project and said "build THAT," you are much farther ahead.

Seek out musical examples for each mode. Learn the mood. How it affects you. How it makes you feel. Then the concept is no longer abstract. You can then communicate that emotion to the listener.

Music theory is simply a systematic approach to understanding why things work like they do. Hearing them work FIRST makes the understanding of how they work so much more tangible.


Stevie Shred has played guitar for over 25 years, has performed all over the United States, Canada, and Europe, with musical projects ranging from solo acoustic to melodic death metal to shred instrumental guitar. His current project, Red Reign, recorded their debut self titled cd with Grammy Winning Producer David Ivory (Patti Labelle, The Roots, Halestorm) and is currently being shopped to labels. Stevie also currently performs with Sweet Justice, a classic rock cover band, playing throughout the Mid Atlantic region, in addition to session work for video and product demonstration. Stevie has also recently begun working with Phat Guitars in Glen Allen VA as a luthier, hand crafting guitars.

Stevie currently uses and endorses Phat Guitars, Sfarzo Strings, and 69Chosen Custom Stagewear.


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