Is it Really Necessary to Learn Guitar Modes?

Is it Really Necessary to Learn Guitar Modes?

Is it Really Necessary to Learn Guitar Modes?

Is it really necessary to learn modes? I’ve read
somewhere that Slash and Joe Pass don’t know anything
about modal theory.

In a Guitar World magazine lesson, Slash just used the
pentatonic rock lead pattern and added chromatic

It’s not necessary to learn about anything. In fact, you don’t even need to learn how to play guitar. But we study things because they are interesting, provide enjoyment, and help us develop. Guitar modes is a confusion topic, but once players figure out how they really work they are very glad they did.

Many guitarists have their own convoluted way of thinking about musical concepts. As a result their explanations about what they’re playing seem inconsistent with certain terminology. To say that Slash and Joe Pass don’t know anything about modal scales is inaccurate. Everything is in a mode. They couldn’t play music without them.

“Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns and Roses is a great example of Mixolydian mode. The two musical interludes that occur at 1:31 and 2:32 are based on the chords D, C and G which are V IV I (5 4 1) in the G major scale (guitars tuned down 1/2 step). Although the parent major scale is G, it’s really the D chord that is functioning as the root.

Many guitar players make the mistake of basing the scale off of the root chord. But the D major scale won’t work quite right in this example because the C# note clashes with the C natural in the C chord. The correct way to play over this progression is to recognize that it’s a mode of the G major scale based on the fifth degree, D. This is called “D Mixolydian mode” (a.k.a. the Dominant scale).

So the correct major scale to play is G. If you want to apply the pentatonic however, you should follow the root chord, D. What you end up with is a combination of the G major scale and D major pentatonic.

Most guitar players favor the pentatonic boxes. So you could orient yourself in D major pentatonic first (pattern 1 starts at the 7th fret) and then mix in G major scale notes (G major scale pattern 3 overlaps D major pentatonic pattern 1). And this is exactly what Slash plays!

Now, Slash may explain the guitar theory differently, but it’s still modes he’s playing nonetheless.

Guitar Theory

To learn more about music theory for guitar, including scales, chords, progressions, modes, and more, sign up for a free preview of my Fretboard Theory books and DVDs by using the form on this web page.

Play Until Yer Fingers Bleed!
Mr. Desi Serna (Google me!)

Comments ( 4 )

  • Anuj

    guitar modes are the most important things if you want to take guitar seriously and if you want to get and make your own compositions… perfect example of sweet child o mine is given by author

    Its a really nice lesson thanx a lot…

  • Joe

    People use modes no matter what, even if they dont know what a “mode” or “key” is. For example I will use chord progressions (modal progressions) on my friend who dosent know guitar theory, yet he can play in all the modes somehow because of the development of his ears. I know modes and love them so much, they drastically improved my playing and continue to do so even years later after learning them!
    I was self taught and always had to guess what to do, this went on for many years, but once I got those modes down my whole musical world changed, I get gigs now, I can now visualize the notes on the fretboard all over the neck, I can find all the cool arpeggios and triad options contained within the major scale positions, I have so many options now it’s just crazy!
    My lead playing and overall musicianship has taken me way beyond my expectations thanks to the help of learning the modes after years of always having to guess my way around the fretboard.
    Thank you modes!
    And thank you Desi, nice article, always solid lessons.

  • Gus

    I heard you say: “Everything is in a mode” in your podcast on the topic it knocked me a bit. As far as Google can tell, you’re the only one saying it.

    What about the Harmonic Minor? It doesn’t fall into one of the modes of the major scale. But I suppose it as valid of a scale as any of them.
    Would you just say: “It is the Aeolian#7 Mode!”, or a “Dorian b6 Mode”.

    What about the “Blues Scale”, with its addition of the b5/#4, to now have eight notes. Is there a modal naming convention for that?

    If “Everything is in a mode”, then don’t we start to lose focus of what a mode is?

  • Good question, Gus!

    Most music is drawn from a parent scale. The degree to which this happens varies song to song. I reference a lot of songs and their modes throughout my Fretboard Theory guitar theory instruction. Making connections to familiar songs helps you understand how the modal concept works.

    Regarding the harmonic minor scale, it’s drawn from the natural minor scale which is Aeolian mode.

    Regarding pentatonic and blues scale patterns, they are like simplified full scales. All the notes from the minor pentatonic are found within all the minor modes. The same is true for the major pentatonic and major modes. The b5th in the blues scale is just a chromatic passing tone.

    This is all discussed at length in Fretboard Theory and I reference songs to make it stick.