Transform Your Guitar Sound: Explore The Modes of the Major Scale | Wes Singerman | Skillshare

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Transform Your Guitar Sound: Explore The Modes of the Major Scale

teacher avatar Wes Singerman, Music Producer, Guitarist

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Getting Started


    • 3.

      Understanding Intervals


    • 4.

      Mode: Ionian & Dorian


    • 5.

      Mode: Phrygian


    • 6.

      Mode: Lydian


    • 7.

      Mode: Mixolydian


    • 8.

      Mode: Aeolian


    • 9.

      Mode: Locrian


    • 10.

      Practicing the Modes


    • 11.

      Using the Modes in Modern Music


    • 12.

      Final Thoughts


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About This Class

See the guitar through a new lens as you transform your sound through Major scale modes.

Guitarist and music producer, Wesley Singerman, has made a name for himself in the music industry with his versatile and creative beats. As an expert at transforming simple melodies and chords into rich, reimagined sounds, Wesley’s talent has brought him the opportunity to work with musical superstars like Travis Barker, Kehlani, Kendrick Lamar, and many others. After years of fine tuning his own sound, Wesley is ready to reveal how you can take your guitar skills to the next level by mastering musical modes. 

Modes aren’t just a distinct musical scale; they’re also one of the easiest ways to break out of a creative rut, experiment with new sounds, and add emotion and color to melodies and music you’re ready to take to the next level. From learning each mode of the major scale to discovering how to use them to come up with new chords or solos, you’ll leave this class with a better understanding of the differences between each mode and how to use them in modern day music. 

With Wesley by your side, you’ll:

  • Discover how changing up the root note of the major scale can transform your music
  • Learn each of the modes and how to practice them to take your guitar skills to the next level
  • Familiarize yourself with intervals and how they modify the sounds of the major scale
  • Experiment with bright and funky versus dark and moody sounds through the different modes

Plus, Wesley shares a PDF version of a variety of mode positions so you can easily refer back to them whenever you need. 

Whether you’re looking to unlock new sounds within your guitar practice or build a strong foundation for future songwriting sessions, learning the modes and how to practice them is a key skill for any modern musician. 

You don’t need to be an expert guitarist to take this class, but previous guitar playing experience and knowledge such as how to hold a guitar and basic strumming will be helpful. In this class, the only thing you’re going to need is a guitar and a pick, but if you want to use an amp or any effects such as reverb or delay that’s great too. To continue your journey learning the guitar, explore Wesley’s full Guitar Learning Path.

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Wes Singerman

Music Producer, Guitarist


Get ready to rock and roll with Wes Singerman. With a passion for music, Wesley has produced and written hits for some of the biggest names in the game, from Joji, Kehlani, Anderson .Paak, Kendrick Lamar to Ty Dolla $ign and more!! And that's not all – as a guitar player extraordinaire, Wesley can shred with the best of them!

But that's not all Wesley is famous for – he's also a seasoned voice actor, having lent his talents to iconic characters like Wilbur Robinson in Meet the Robinsons and Charlie Brown in several beloved specials. With his boundless energy and endless creativity, Wesley is a true force to be reckoned with. 


See full profile

Level: Intermediate

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1. Introduction: We learned the major scale, but how can we take it even deeper? Time to learn the modes? [MUSIC] I'm Wesley Singerman, I'm a music producer and guitarist and my career has led me to work and play alongside artists such as Khelani, Travis Barker, Party Favor, Kendrick Lamar, Carly Rae Jepsen, and many others. In this class, we'll be learning about the modes of the major scale, the differences between them, and how we can use them to come up with chords or solo over certain progressions. The only thing you're going to need for this class is your guitar. But if you want to use an app or any effects like reverb or delay, that's fine by me. By the end of this class, you should have a much better understanding of what the modes are and how they're used in modern day music. Let's check it out. [MUSIC] 2. Getting Started: [MUSIC] Just like we can find chords within the major scale, there are actually many different scales that we call modes that are found within the scale as well. This class is focused on just that. Modes of the major scale. Grab your guitar, a pick, your Amp, and a quarter-inch cable, and let's get into it. 3. Understanding Intervals: The major scale has seven modes. Just like the chords we found, each mode starts and ends on one of the notes of the scale, and also represents the sound of that particular chord, like major or minor, et cetera. We have our normal major scale here. [MUSIC] Again, I'm playing in the key of C. If I take these exact same notes and start on the second note instead of the first. I'm starting on D and ending on D. The same order of notes [MUSIC] all of a sudden sounds completely different. This is actually a minor scale. [MUSIC] It's the exact same notes that we played, but just because we're thinking of the new root note instead, this note order actually changes and becomes a minor scale. Now it's crazy how we can take the same seven notes but when we think about that second scale degree as our new root note, it becomes a completely different sound. But to really dig into the modes, it's important to understand intervals. I mentioned in one of the previous classes, an interval is the distance between two notes. Starting on C, if I play from C, just a half-step up, this interval is known as a flat two, spooky. A natural two is when I just go up a whole step here [MUSIC]. We're just moving one note up in the scale. If I continue this next interval from here, three frets up is a minor third, it has this sad minor feel to it. We find minor thirds a lot and minor chords and also in minor scales. If we move that up one half-step, this C going to here, this E is a major third. We find these intervals a lot in major scales and also in major chords. When I start from this note C, and go straight up to the next string, this is what's known as a fourth or a perfect fourth [MUSIC]. This next interval, when we move up by another half step from C up to this F sharp, this interval here is known as a flat fifth. Now historically back in medieval times, this was known as The Devil's Interval, and if you were to put this interval into your compositions, you would actually be executed, kind of crazy. It is a pretty dark sounding interval and we move here from C to this G, We have a perfect fifth. Now this is a really nice stable interval. This is what a lot of times as guitarists call power cords, when we have these [MUSIC]. From C up another half step to this interval. This is what's known as a flat 6. This is another spooky interval, we find this a lot in minor scales and if we keep going again, we're going to have from here to this. Now A, this is known as a major six or a natural six sometimes. This is also found in major scales and some major courts. If we keep going, we're going to have from C, going up two strings to this B flat that's on the G string. This is known as a flat seven, or sometimes a minor seven. This again is found in a lot of minor scales and a lot of minor chords such as a minor seventh chord. If we move it up one more half-step, this spooky sounding interval is actually a major seven, which we can find in major seven chords such as [MUSIC]. Even though on its own it sounds a little haunting and spooky, it's actually used mainly for major sounding chords and we find the major seven in our major scale leading us back to our octave. This interval here is the octave. When I go from C to C, or from any note to the same note, an octave up, that is our octave. These are very important to know. Just as we go into the modes, we're going to be talking about intervals and how they affect the sound of the scales. Continue to familiarize yourself with intervals before we dive further into the different modes in the next lessons. 4. Mode: Ionian & Dorian: The first mode of the major scale is called Ionian. It's actually just the same thing that we've been practicing. Essentially, Ionian is just another name for our major scale. It has a very happy, uplifting sound as we've seen. Now I'll play it again real quick for you. The key of C. Here's starting and ending on C we have. [MUSIC] We've already known that as the major scale, but actually another name for this is Ionian. I still call it major scale most of the time. [MUSIC] The first chord in our major scale is a C major. Ionian refers [MUSIC] to that C major with the scale. Moving on to the next mode. If we start and end from the second scale degree instead, in this case, it's going to be a D. We're going to get a totally different sound. I'm going to use the same scale positions, and instead, I'm going to start and end on D. [MUSIC] Now this mode is actually called Dorian, and it's a minor scale. Dorian is unique, and that's a minor scale, but it still has this natural six here. From the D, we were talking about intervals here's our natural six or a major six. [MUSIC] Leading up to here, and if I continue [MUSIC]. Since this is the second mode of the major scale, it's associated with the second cord of the major scales. We have a D minor or a D minor seven. [MUSIC] With that natural six, we get this brighter, funkier sound that you hear a lot in actual funk music. We have this D minor, [MUSIC] you get this kind of [MUSIC] it's pretty cool. Next, we'll look at our third mode. 5. Mode: Phrygian: The third mode of the major scale is called Phrygian. We're going to start and end on the third degree of the major scale. In this case, since we're in the key of C, we're going to be starting on E. Now you can either play it up here on the seventh fret of the fifth string or you could even just start on the low E string down here, but either way we're still sticking to the same shapes and we're going to go up starting and ending on E. [MUSIC] Phrygian is also a minor scale with a pretty dark tonality. What makes the skill unique is that it has the flat two in it. We're talking about intervals. The flat two is just a half step away from the root. When I'm on E, we're just going right up to this F. It has that flat two which gives it this mysterious dark tone. It's used a lot for metal music, rock and some Latin styles of music. Being a third mode of the major scale, it's also associated with the third chord of the major scale which is a minor chord or a minor seven. Over this minor sound, we have a Phrygian. [MUSIC] Nice. Now, let's check out Lydian. 6. Mode: Lydian: Lydian is the fourth mode of the major scale. Meaning, we're starting and ending on the fourth degree of the major scale, in this case F. [MUSIC] Now, it's almost like our normal major scale in terms of the positions that we see. [MUSIC] It is a major scale, but it has a very unique note, this sharp 4 right here. When I'm going from F, I know I explain this to you guys earlier as a flat 5, but the reason we're going to call this note a sharp 4 instead of a flat 5 is because we actually have the perfect fifth in here as well. When we go, we have one, two, here's our major third. Instead of a four, we're moving that note up to a sharp 4, and then fifth, sixth, seventh back to our octave. Normally in the major scale, we get this fourth degree, so I'll play it still from this F. We have one, two, major third, and then the fourth. [MUSIC] But if I'm playing over a chord or trying to solo over a major chord like this F, if I'm hanging onto that note, it doesn't really sound that great, it sounds a little crunchy. Really sounds like it wants to resolve down to this note, the major third. But with Lydian, we have this beautiful sharp 4 instead, which when I'm playing over that same chord, [MUSIC] has this new mystery to it. It sounds really pleasant to your ears. [MUSIC] Pretty awesome. Let's check out the next mode. 7. Mode: Mixolydian: [MUSIC] Mixolydian is the fifth mode of the major scale. This scale works best with dominant chords as it contains both the major third. I'm going to start with this G down here. This is where we're at, the fifth mode. It contains both the major third and also the flat seven, which is both notes that are found in these dominant chords. The scale works perfectly over any dominant chord, including the ones that we were playing in the blues from the earlier classes. Because we're in the key of C, our Mixolydian scale is going to be starting on a G. I'm going to just play this G9 chord and get a nice little chord loop happening. Our same major scale positions, our caged system, our single-note string scales, everything like that still applies. [MUSIC] It's amazing that we've been using the exact same scale positions that we learned in our previous class for C major, but as we think about our new root notes instead of C, the same notes will transform into these new sounds that also have direct cord counterparts to associate them with. With each chord in the major scale like C major, D minor, E minor, F major, and so on, there is a scale or a mode that corresponds and defines that chord. Let's take a moment to apply the Mixolydian scale to the blues that we learned earlier. I was playing this blues in the key of A, which started on an A dominant chord, then eventually it went to a D dominant chord, and then even an E dominant chord. Now I know we learned the pentatonic scale, and that works over pretty much this entire blues. But if we want to start getting a little more colorful and a little more specific, we can actually play the Mixolydian scale from the root of each one of these dominant chords. With A, we play A Mixolydian. The equivalent of A Mixolydian would essentially be a D major scale, so starting the same positions that you knew on C, but a whole step up on D. When we're thinking about this, A dominant we have A, and when we move to that D dominant chord because D is the fifth degree of this G major scale, we're essentially going to be playing a G major scale over this D, so we have D Mixolydian scale. The same thing happens when we go to the E. We can play an E Mixolydian scale, which is the same as playing an A major scale, [MUSIC] then back to our A. Now, I know I just played one position here, but all of the same cage positions that we went over earlier and all of the single-string scale stuff that we did, all applies here. 8. Mode: Aeolian : Aeolian is the six mode of the major scale. And it's also known as the natural minor scale. Because simply put, this is our standard minor scale. Now in the key of C, the six mode is going to be starting on an A and our six chord in the major scale is in A minor. So again this A minor, we are associating with. [MUSIC] Now the natural minor scale has a flat third in it, it has the flat six in it, and flat seven. So these are all things that are normal to our minor scale. [MUSIC] In terms of visualizing the scales, all of the original major scale positions that we learned are starting from three frets below our original notes. So instead of C, we have moving down to A. It's all the same positions. [MUSIC] The chord that we're playing this over is it an A minor. This is also known as the relative minor because when we're in the key of C major, it's also the exact same thing as A minor. 9. Mode: Locrian: Locrian is the last mode of the major scale, starting and ending from the seventh degree. It's a very dark minor scale, and it has a lot of unique notes, so I'm going to start with here on the B, right below our original scene note here, and it's going to start with the B, going all the way up to [inaudible]. Not only do we have the flat 3, and flat 7, and minor 6 like we find in the natural minor scale eolian, but we also have this flat 2 that we found in Phrygian, and this time a flat 5, which gives us the darkest tonality of all the modes. This can be used over diminished chords or the minor 7 flat 5 chords that we were going over when we talked about the major scale in the last class. I'm going to play a little bit of this. [MUSIC] This is a minor 7 flat 5, starting from B. [MUSIC] It's pretty spooky and dark, but essentially it's still coming from our core major scale, which is crazy to think about. The drastic differences in sounds. We have this really happy major sound and then this really dark sound coming from Locrian, all in the same group of notes. Now that we've learned all of our modes, join me in the next lesson as we look at a few ways to practice the modes. 10. Practicing the Modes: In one of the earlier classes, we discussed organizing the fretboard using the caged system and learning the scales on one string. These same shapes apply to all of the modes. No need for re-learning any new shapes, only re-imagining the same shapes but with a different starting and ending point. Our new root note. One way of practicing that can be really helpful for learning modes, especially is playing scales with three notes per string. I'm going to start down on the lowest part of the neck, which is going to be my open E. [MUSIC] Essentially we can consider this as E Phrygian, [MUSIC] but I'm going to start here and play three notes per string, [MUSIC] so I have 1, 2, 3 and I'm going to do the same thing going all the way up the neck, three notes per string. [MUSIC] Right here we're going to switch to this position here [MUSIC] and come back down. [MUSIC] Now as always, with our scale playing, we want to make sure that our right hand is constantly alternate picking. I'm just going to move up to the next note in the scale, which is going to be F and we're going to continue this three notes per string. We can essentially consider this as F Lydian. [MUSIC] Back down, now I'm going to move to the next note in the scale and continue doing the exact same thing. Here we're going to start on G. [MUSIC] We consider this a nice position for G Mixolydian. [MUSIC] Now we get these nice repeating patterns that allow us to shred a little bit faster up and down the neck with this particular pattern here, I had three strings in a row that had the exact same spacing. [MUSIC] When I start to play, [MUSIC] you can get a lot of speed out of these three notes per string. I'm going to continue on. We're going to move to A. We're going to still do this three notes per string and it's going to be A only in this time. [MUSIC] Now again, we have these little repeating patterns, these first two strings, the exact same finger pattern for both. Then the next two strings repeat the exact same finger pattern and then these last ones change just a little bit. [MUSIC] Continuing once again, I'm going to be starting on B and we're going to basically consider this as B Locrian. [MUSIC] Now, moving on to C, we're going to start on C. This is essentially our Ionian or our C major scale. [MUSIC] Now this one has three different patterns that repeat. We have the first two strings are the same. [MUSIC] These next two strings are the same and then these next two strings are the same, in terms of the pattern this makes it really easy for us to get some speed out of our scale playing and we can come up with some new ways to [MUSIC] play this. Moving on once again, starting on the denote this time our second scale degree. We're going to be playing three notes per string. [MUSIC] Again, we have a lot of nice repeating shapes here and then we're back to our E, which I'll play it again for you here because we have the 12th frets instead of the open strings, but it's still the same position. Same way of thinking. [MUSIC] Again, even though I'm playing these cores and I'm saying, this is Phrygian and this is Lydian and this is Locrian. All of these scale shapes can apply to all of the modes they all connect between each other. Every single one of these is going to work over the chord that you're playing over. Another thing that we can do is play three notes and then four notes per string, alternating from each string. I'm going to start again down here from the low E and at first I'm going to play three notes and then I'll play four notes then I'm going to play three notes, then four notes. [MUSIC] Then three notes. Then four notes. Now look at all the distance that we covered. We went all the way from the low open E string all the way up here to the 10th fret, where it's ending and then we can come back down. We still go four then three then four and three. Doing this allows us to really cover a lot more ground and it starts to expand the neck and we really start connecting the dots going this direction rather than just the cage system, which is primarily these boxy shapes. If I continue doing this up the neck, we're going to start on the F, [MUSIC] I'm going to play three notes per string and then four notes. Two, three, and then here is four, three, four. Again, look at all the distance we covered. We went from the first fret. Now we're all the way at the 12th fret here on the high string. This is extremely useful in terms of breaking out of those box positions and just allowing yourself to do what's called linear playing. Where you go all the way up and down the neck and you're thinking this direction rather than just up and down the same scale positions. Record yourself playing the scale alternating three notes and then four notes per string, starting from each degree of the major scale and upload it into the project gallery. Use a metronome to stay consistent and then up the BPM to challenge yourself at a faster pace. 11. Using the Modes in Modern Music: [MUSIC] So now we've learned the modes and we also learned some ways of practicing the modes. But how do we use the modes in modern-day music? Well, there's a few things that we can do. If we have a certain chord progression, such as E minor to F major [MUSIC] something like this. Well, it doesn't really have any other chords, it's just switching between those two chords. We can use deduction, knowing what we've learned in the major scale and the modes, to figure out what key we're in. With E going to F, there's only one place in the scale that this happens. It's the three-chord moving to the four-chord where it's a half step up and a major sound. So using deduction, we can figure out, okay, if this is three, then that's two, and that's one, so we're in the key of C. As we're playing, those modes are going to apply. [MUSIC] So let's take another example. Let's say we have a C major seven chord going to an F major seven chord, well, the only two places that we have major chords in the major scale is the first-degree and the fourth degree, which is F. We can deduce that this is the root and this is the fourth degree, which means that we're going to be playing Ionian and then Lydian. So I have a little loop and we have [MUSIC]. So that's one way of doing things. Where it starts to get really cool and really interesting is when we start thinking about chords that are just out of context. When we have just a C major chord that we're jamming on, [MUSIC]. I'm going to keep that looping. Now we have a choice here; we can actually play the major scale, [MUSIC] or we can take another mode of the major scale such as Lydian that works over a major seven chord like this and we can actually just apply it without having any context at all, just because we liked the sound of Lydian. When I play that C Major again, I have the choice to switch. I could play regular C major scale, or Ionian, [MUSIC] or I could play Lydian. [MUSIC] Right there, I just switched a little bit from using the regular Ionian mode to now switching into Lydian. We can also do the same thing with minor chords. If we have something like a static, just D minor chord, [MUSIC] there are four modes in the major scale that are all minor scales. We have Dorian that has that brighter funkier sound to it with the natural six in there, we had Phrygian that had a little bit of that darker sound with the flat two, we have Aeolian, which is our natural minor scale, just straight down the middle minor. Then we had Locrian, which was the darkest tonality out of all of them with the flat five and the flat two. I'm going to play this D minor chord and we can figure out which color we want to add to it by playing the different modes starting from the D. So I'm going to start off with this chord vamp, [MUSIC] and I'm going to try playing Dorian over this. [MUSIC] Now what if I tried playing Phrygian over the same chord progression? [MUSIC] Now, you notice that gave it a completely different tone. Now I'm going to do the same thing, but I'm going to play Aeolian and then Locrian. Here's a Aeolian. [MUSIC] Now let's try Locrian, which is definitely the darkest sound [MUSIC] so we can take a single chord like that and apply different modes that cord to basically color that sound the way that we like and the way that we want it to sound, whether it'd be brighter, funky, or dark and spooky and we don't even need the major scale to do this. All we need to do is just think about the chord that we're playing and what we want to play over it. [MUSIC] 12. Final Thoughts: I know modes can be very complex, but you made it. Just like any other skill, it's super important to practice. Without that, none of this is going to work. Remember to re-imagine your shapes with a different starting and ending point, or try playing three notes and then four notes per string. Practice up and join me in the next class where we look at guitar as it relates to music production.