Modal Guitar Playing


At first Modal Guitar Playing might seem foreign. Step back from your Guitar Playing and see what you’re already doing. Look at this hint!

If you’ve been playing the guitar for some time now and feel you are stuck playing solos using just the minor and major scales from start to finish, maybe it’s time to explore a little further and call on a little something called the “modes”.

Well come on! I’ll walk you through it.

Tim Pierce – LA Master Session Guitarist

Improvisation Guitar Lesson

I was thinking when putting this post together, that if I needed a quick guitar lesson where would I go!  Well more than a few come to mind, but Tim Pierce was the first. Considered the industry’s best session player, I would highly recommend you subscribe to his YouTube Channel, Tim Pierce Guitar.

Also for some more free lessons, if your one that likes more of a school type lesson. Well then they don’t get any better than Berklee Online.

You might also keep in mind that when you get a guitar teacher, your going to be with them awhile so ask them what lessons they have for you free. Good Guitar Teachers Have Free Lessons.

Back To The Business of Modes

Basically scales derived from the major scale, so with a little knowledge about scales the modes then become simpler to learn.  Still in the beginning modes can be a little intimidating (not to mention befuddling) at first.

The truth, however, is that learning modes is really easy, since they are simply a combination of other basic concepts that you are probably already acquainted with.

In modern music today, modes generally refer to a type of scale coupled with a set of characteristic melodic behaviors.

Thus, learning the modes does not mean that you need to study new scale patterns or anything, as modes are already based on major scale patterns and chord progressions.

The only difference is that here one uses musical modes (rather than chord progressions) to create a harmonic framework.

Whats This Mean to a Player

And while it is true that the real objective and reason behind the modal concept baffles most people, the reality is that modes are more than a simple theoretical concept.

It is said that everything can be related to a mode, which means that most music is modally based and if one knows how to recognize the modes than one can easily understand how chord progressions, bass lines, harmonies and melodies work.

You Only Need Seven!


So what are these much talked about modes all about?

There are seven modes (moods and/or feelings) in all and if you’ve been taking guitar lessons for some time, you probably already know two of them.

The Major Scale: Which is the first mode above (aka The Ionian.)
The minor scale: Which is also the sixth mode below (aka The Aeolian.)

The other five are:modal-guitar-playing

  • Dorian
  • Phrygian
  • Lydian
  • Mixolydian
  • Locrian

Each comes with its own individual structure and sound. And you might say that Modes Are The Feelings of your song. So at first learning to play these seven major modes, most of us begin with the Ionian, then the Dorian, then the Phrygian and so on and so forth up the fretboard until we’ve learned all seven.

You Want Your Audience to Feel What?


While the Locrian evokes a strange sound and is seldom used, the Dorian and the Mixolydian modes evoke bluesy, jazzy sounds that were a huge hit during the 60s and 70s.

In contrast, the Phrygian appears melancholy, whereas the Lydian mode produces a happy tone mostly used in rock music.

Any of these can be used as the primary pitch for your next magnificent solo. Used to add a little “something extra” to a musical composition.

Final Thought


The knowledge of modes and(modal guitar playing) is a must if you want to grow into a proficient, versatile and skilled guitar player.

There you have it!  I do hope you got something out of this post. And as always I recommend if your a beginner or an intermediate player that just don’t get this, Get a Good Guitar Teacher to Help You.

Did you find this information helpful?

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12 thoughts on “Modal Guitar Playing

  1. David Snodgrass

    this site has a lot of info on how to learn to play guitar the visuals the videos and the step by step instructions attribute to a well done site

    1. Markus Post author

      Hey David good to see you back as its been awhile.
      Thanks for your complements as we are always growing around here.
      Got to keep those new guitar players well informed and pointed in the right direction.
      Come and see us again some time.

      Thanks 🙂

  2. Brandon

    Man I had no idea that guitar modes were so necessary and maybe is why I sound so bad haha, And to think I got all those self taught lessons lol… Good info, I guess you learn something new everyday.

    1. Markus Post author

      Hey Brandon, I’m sure you sound great, its the humble guitarist you got to watch out for lol.
      What I got out of learning modes was a different way of looking at phrasing.
      Most of us learn how to play the Maj. and minor pentatonic scales and get most of our licks from these.
      But no matter how you spin it, they are both scales and not music.
      Modes tend to open them up an let you be more musical, just my spin on modes anyway.

      However that being said years ago I took lessons from one of the industries top jazz guitarist.(Robert Conti)
      He never did teach modal guitar playing nor did he believe anyone needed to learn them.
      His philosophy was to learn and play the whole neck of the guitar and to utilize that neck in any style of music.
      It was really interesting and I got so much out of his teachings.

      I said all that to really say that he was self taught as well as many great guitarist are.
      So keep on practicing and try to incorporate modes into your playing. Let me know how it comes out. See you back soon Brandon.

      Thanks 🙂

  3. Jeffrey Spencer

    Awesome website. I been wanting to learn to play guitar for awhile. I will definitely bookmark your site and follow your posts. Thanks a lot for sharing your passion. Jeffrey Spencer

    1. Markus Post author

      Jeffrey thanks for stopping by, its always good to see a new face. I’ll take that as an honor by you bookmarking my site.
      When your ready to start learning how to play the guitar, come back and see me. I will help you in anyway I can.
      I can point you in the right direction for your guitar and hook you up for your lessons and more. Look forward to your return.

      Thanks 🙂

  4. Debra

    I wish I could find a person to give lessons to my son. We live in a small little town and only one store even carry’s guitar strings. Believe it or not it’s not Wally world either. I am no music person at all. My youngest plays drums and my middle boy loves playing 8o’s rock guitar. He doesn’t seem to have the patience for lessons it seems and so I bought him a program that assesses his ability and teaches him new things. I really hope he is able to benefit from it. I will show him this website, since it poped up when I was researching basic guitar information.

    1. Markus Post author

      Good to see you Debra. I do lots of lesson reviews of these online teachers. At present there are only two teachers on my site that I feel are quality teachers.
      Did I just say teacher that many times lol? I have a few others at best, and I will be getting them up soon.
      I do have a whole lot of others I know, that I could lead you to. (that I’m not associated with financially.) If you need just ask.

      Its been a long time since I heard “Wally world” thats funny lol.I do hope the program helps him.
      I do look forward to you and him showing up here from time to time. Just think Debra this is how the Van Halen brothers started a band!

      Thanks 🙂

  5. nnamdi

    Hello Markus,

    I have bookmarked your website in the past, and coming across this again made me to realize how procrastinating I am because tight schedule. I have always had it at the back of my mind that I needed to get down with these guitar lessons here. I will surely sit up, because obviously I am missing so much already. Thanks for all of these helpful tips on how to play guitar.

    1. Markus Post author

      Nnamdi how the heck are you? Its good to see you back and thanks so much for bookmarking my site.
      I know you sound like your a busy man, but it just takes 5 to 10 minutes a day lol.
      By doing that your going to do two things:

      Your going to feed your soul the gift of music
      After a short while your going to know how to play the guitar.

      Of coarse the down side to this , is that now your going to have to entertain the family at holidays, birthdays, weddings etc.
      Well it sounds like fun to me lol.

      Above all Nnamdi get you a teacher, they will save you headaches down the road. I have a few on this site that I’ve reviewed their lessons and recommend them.
      But if these don’t suit you just email me through the contact form or back here and I will help you find the right teacher for you.

      I look forward to talking with you again. Don’t forget 5 minutes a day and you could be the rock star of the family 🙂

      Thanks 🙂

  6. Forrest

    Markus, I have been playing guitar on and off for several years. I have never taken formal lessons and am mostly self taught.
    I can play chords just fine and have even practiced a bit with the major and minor scales, just playing them over and over while trying to memorize.
    I always wanted to learn how to do lead solo’s and this tutorial on modes seems to open up new possibilities with your easy to understand description.
    My question though is, what is the best way to get started playing lead solo’s

    1. Markus Post author

      Hello Forrest glad to see you here. Sounds like you got it going on, and if you are like me even though I also knew the Maj. and Minor scales I just couldn’t wrap my head around modes.
      Personally I went back to my teacher and after awhile I caught on to the idea of playing modal. If you don’t have a teacher then what I would suggest is:

      1. Get someone to help you learn these modes.- And stay with that same teacher
      2. Get a book called – The Guitar Grimoire / Scales and Modes. This is very extensive ref. book. Get it at Guitar Center.
      3. Get a some backing tracks to practice with.- These will help tremendously.

      I have a fellow musician thats done some work for me in the past who is a very good teacher on Youtube and he also has backing tracks avail.
      No I don’t make a cent off referring him. I just think he’s very good at what he does. I can’t think of his Youtube channel right now.
      But if you go there and type in Playing Modal the Easy Way – David Wallimann, and it should come up. And he’s got a link in there of where to find backing tracks.
      He does have a lot there free.

      Forrest I do hope this helps you out and do come back let me know how it’s going. I’ll talk to you then.

      Thanks 🙂


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