Major Scale Modes & Chords

To get the most out of the diagrams in The Tao of Tunings, it helps to have a basic understanding of how the seven modes of the major scale work and which chords they go with.

Key of C

  1. The C major (Ionian) scale (C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C)
    goes with the I: major 7 chord (Cmaj7).
  2. The D Dorian mode (D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D)
    goes with the ii: minor 7 chord (Dm7).
  3. The E Phrygian mode (E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E)
    goes with the iii: minor 7 chord (Em7).
  4. The F Lydian mode (F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F)
    goes with the IV: major 7 chord (Fmaj7).
  5. The G Mixolydian mode (G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G)
    goes with the V: dominant 7 chord (G7).
  6. The A Aeolian mode (A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A)
    goes with the vi: minor 7 chord (Am7).
  7. The B Locrian mode (B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B)
    goes with the vii: minor 7 flat 5 chord (Bm7b5).

Key of G

  1. G major (Ionian) scale (G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G): Gmaj7
  2. A Dorian (A-B-C-D-E-F#-G-A): Am7
  3. B Phrygian (B-C-D-E-F#-G-A-B): Bm7
  4. C Lydian (C-D-E-F#-G-A-B-C): Cmaj7
  5. D Mixolydian (D-E-F#-G-A-B-C-D): D7
  6. E Aeolian (E-F#-G-A-B-C-D-E): Em7
  7. F# Locrian (F#-G-A-B-C-D-E-F#): F#m7b5

Key of E

  1. E major (Ionian) scale (E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#-E): Emaj7
  2. F# Dorian (F#-G#-A-B-d-D#-E-F#): F#m7
  3. G# Phrygian (G#-A-B-d-D#-E-F#-G#): G#m7
  4. A Lydian (A-B-C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A): Amaj7
  5. B Mixolydian (B-C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A-B): b7
  6. C# Aeolian (C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A-B-C#): C#m7
  7. D# Locrian (D#-E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#): D#m7b5

It is the chord progression and key that determines the proper use of a particular mode. For example:

  • Cmaj7 in C is the I chord, therefore you would use a C major scale to play over it.
  • Cmaj7 in G is the IV chord, therefore you would use a C Lydian scale to play over it.

Also bear in mind the subtle differences in scales.

The difference between the Dorian and Aeolian modes, for instance, is the sixth tone.

C Dorian

C – D – Eb – F – G – A – Bb – C

1 – 2 – b3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – b7 – 1

C Aeolian

C – D – Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C

1 – 2 – b3 – 4 – 5 – b6 – b7 – 1

C Dorian is useful when playing over Cm7-F7, a chord progression that has an A note.

C Aeolian would be useful in playing over Cm7-Ab, a chord progression that has an Ab note.

C Dorian is derived from the Bb major scale:

Bb Major Scale:
Bb – C – D – Eb – F – G – A – Bb

1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 1

It is the second mode: C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb-C.

C Aeolian is derived from the Eb major scale:

Eb Major Scale:
Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C – D – Eb

1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 1

It is the sixth mode: C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C.

A working knowledge of keys and modes is helpful in using the information in the fretboard maps in the book.

However, even if you approach the diagrams from a totally fresh and uninformed point of view, there’s plenty of information here to inspire every player.

Each diagram represents a tonality to improvise in.

The more you know about how music fits together, the easier it will be to switch quickly from one color to another while playing. I often sit in front of a tuning map and find new possibilities of fingering combinations, and I am very familiar with these tunings, having used them for many years.

The thrill of discovery is constant and never ending when putting tones together-the variations are inspirational. Each tuning presents musical and mathematically unique formations.

Exploration of new tonalities remains the goal.