Going Modal!
An Alternative Approach to Modes for the Guitar

I see a lot of confusion on the subject of modes. It's constantly brought up in various guitar groups on the many social media platforms on which Master Guitar School has a presence. This lesson series is my attempt to address this issue and to give you my approach which I hardly ever see in the many answers and responses to the questions that people pose.

It appears that my methodology, though not exclusive to myself, is somewhat rare.

One of the most common questions I see is,

“What is the difference between scales and modes?”

If you google this question you will typically find,

  • A scale is an ordered sequence of notes with a start and end. A mode is a permutation upon a scale that is repeatable at the octave, such that the start and end points are shifted.

As far as I'm concerned, the distinction between scales and modes is a finely-split hair, if even that.

That's because I think of a mode as its own key, or its own tonality, regardless of the “parent” scale from which it's derived, or as put above, the scale from which it is a “permutation.” Therefore, “scale” and “mode” are functionally synonymous. For instance, if we're dealing with the Dorian Mode, you need to be able to "think" in Dorian, "hear" in Dorian and visualize your Dorian patterns on the fretboard, independently of the “scale” from which they're derived.

Having said all that, it is important to understand the scale/mode derivations, but I teach that last instead of first. But before we get to that, you will know various modes in-and-of themselves, as their own key or tonality. If you can do that, understanding those modes relative to a “parent” scale is a very easy concept.

Furthermore, the fingerings for various modes can be derived from only two archetypal patterns or templates.


The Going Modal lesson series is a PDF download that has:

  • 18 lessons

  • 47 pages

  • 71 Fretboard diagrams

  • 14 Notation examples

  • 18 video links

Table of Contents:

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Here's what the PDF looks like:

I said above that various modes can be derived from only two archetypal patterns or templates. I'm going to give you one of the archetypes and show how a mode can be derived from it. 


Scales and modes fall into 2 categories; major and minor. The two archetypal scales are the Major Scale (Ionian Mode) and the Natural Minor Scale (Aeolian Mode). All the other modes and scales fall into one of these two categories.

  • Note: The exception are what's known as, "symmetrical" scales. There are 3 lessons in this series on symmetrical scales; I won't go into them here.

So what I'm going to do here is give you the Natural Minor Scale. Then I'm going to show you how to get the Dorian Mode by altering a single note of the Natural Minor.

Natural Minor

To get the Dorian Mode, all you have to do is sharp the 6th of the Natural Minor Scale:

See the methodology? You learn the Major Scale and the Natural Minor Scale: to get any other scale or mode, you alter a single note of one of those scales, depending on whether the mode is major or minor.

This lesson series will give you 14 different scales/modes along with 2 positions (6th-string root and 5th-string root. With these two positions you can play any of the scales/modes in any and every key!

Also included in the PDF are links to songs that illustrate the mode in question so that you can hear real-world examples of the mode you're working on. For instance, in the lesson on the Dorian Mode you have:

  • Wicked Game – Chris Isaak

  • Oye Como Va – Santana

  • Evil Ways – Santana

  • So What – Miles Davis

  • Purple Haze – Jimi Hendrix

  • Eleanor Rigby – the Beatles

  • Scarborough Fair – Simon & Garfunkel

  • Impressions – John Coltrane


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