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Basics of Ionian, Aeolian, and Locrian Modes on the Guitar

Three of the basic modes of the major scale on the guitar are Ionian, Aeolian, and Locrian. In fact, any degree in the major scale can function as the tonic (or key) and serve as the starting place in the scale. Here are some of their basic properties.

Basics of Ionian (I) mode for guitar

Ionian is the first mode of the major scale on the guitar — when the 1st scale degree functions as the tonic. Because it centers on a major chord (I), it’s considered a major key. It’s better known as the plain or relative major scale, and it’s one of the most commonly used modes. Just think major scale.

Any type of chord progression that’s based in a major scale and centers on chord I is Ionian mode. Some chord progression and song examples include

“Twist and Shout” by The Beatles
D-G-A
I-IV-V in the D major scale.
D Ionian (better known as simply D major)
“Stir It Up” by Bob Marley
A-D-E
I-IV-V in the A major scale
A Ionian (better known as simply A major)
“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by The Tokens
F-Bf-F-C
I-IV-I-V in the F major scale
F Ionian (better known as simply F major)
“Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton
G-D-C-D
I-V-IV-V in the G major scale
G Ionian (better known as simply G major)
“I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz
B-Fs-Gsm-E
I-V-vi-IV in the B major scale
B Ionian (better known as simply B major)
“What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes
A-Bm-D-A
I-ii-IV-I in the A major scale
A Ionian (better known as simply A major)

Basics of Aeolian (vi) mode for the guitar

Aeolian is the sixth mode of the major scale — when the 6th scale degree functions as the tonic. Because it centers on a minor chord, it’s considered a minor key. In fact, it’s better known as the natural or relative minor scale.

Basics of Locrian (viif5) mode for the guitar

Locrian is the seventh mode of the major scale — when the 7th scale degree functions as the tonic. The 7th chord in the major scale has a minor-flat-five quality (diminished triad), which produces a dissonant and unresolved sound. It’s still considered a type of minor key.

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