How to Use Modes and Pentatonic Scales on Guitar


In a recent post, we looked at the importance of learning scales, how to build the major and natural minor varieties, and how to begin soloing with them. This time we will build on all of that, exploring the modes of the major scale, as well as minor and major pentatonic scales.

Check out more articles on scales and modes here.

Modes Demystified

Within the major scale you can find seven different modes, each with its own distinctive sonic identity. For example, the C major scale includes C Ionian, D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian, A Aeolian, and B Locrian. Guitarist Tim Bertsch takes the confusion out of learning these reorderings of the major scale, with their Greek names, in this Weekly Workout.

Get Into Pentatonics

As the name suggests, a pentatonic scale contains five notes. Those most commonly used in popular music are the minor pentatonic and its major counterpart. An A minor pentatonic scale is spelled A C D E G, and a C major pentatonic scale is C D E G A—the same exact notes, just in a different order. To dive more deeply into pentatonic scales, check out this video lesson by Gretchen Menn. Though the minor pentatonic scale is most often used in bluesy contexts, it does have plenty of other applications, as Fred Sokolow demonstrates in this lesson.

To learn more about scales and other music fundamentals, see Gretchen Menn’s The Way Music Works, available at store.acousticguitar.com.

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