The notes and patterns of C major are also D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian, A Aeolian (natural minor) and B Locrian. Modes are determined by which note, or chord, is functioning as the root in a progression.
For example, the guitar solo to “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin (5:56 in the video) uses the notes of C major but the Am is functioning as the root. So you’d call it A Aeolian (or natural minor). Most players would play the scale around Am chord shapes.
The guitar solo to “Your Body is Wonderland” by John Mayer (2:51 in the video) uses the notes of C major but the Dm is functioning as the root. This would be called D Dorian. Most players would play the scale around Dm chord shapes.
Notice how the same C major scale notes sound different in each song example above. When you shift the tonal center of the major scale the sound takes on different characteristics. In the first example your ear is hearing everything revolve around the sixth major scale degree. In the second example your ear is hearing everything revolve around the second major scale degree. In each case the interval structure ends up being a little different, which effects the sound.
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