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Tom Quayle - Playing Over Modal Changes Using Formulas

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 6 **

One of the problems that many guitarists face when trying to guitar solos through chord changes is the sheer number of guitar scales and patterns that must be learnt. If you take the major scale for example, it has seven different modes built from each of its notes. If you then imagine that those scales must be learnt in all 12 keys that’s 84 different scales to learn! That’s before we’ve even started with melodic minor and harmonic minor and their modes let alone the diminished scale and other synthetic scales. This is daunting to say the least – yet it needn’t be if approached correctly.

Every scale that we play has what’s called a formula and it describes how the notes in that scale differ intervallically from the major scale. The major scale has a seven-note formula because it contains seven unique notes. We simply number the notes from 1 to 7 giving us the formula: -

Major Scale – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Play through the major scale and number the notes for yourself through each octave getting used to where each interval within the scale is. Every other mode of the major scale has a formula that differs in some way from the major scale itself. If the interval is flattened we simply lower it by one fret, if the interval is sharpened we raise it by one fret. Here are all the formulas for the major scale modes. Once you’ve learned these we’ll figure out a way to make learning these much easier.

Dorian Scale – 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7

Phrygian Scale – 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

Lydian Scale – 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7

Mixolydian Scale – 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7

Aeolian Scale – 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

Locrian Scale – 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7

Try to figure out each scale through one octave using the major scale as your base.

This formula idea makes learning these scales much easier than looking at patterns and trying to learn them in all 12 keys all over the neck. First of all, start with the root note for each scale and learn what the first interval of the major scale looks like on the fret board. This would be 1 moving to 2 or C to D in C major. Try to find every combination of these two notes that is within a reasonable stretch of your root note in each octave. Now move to another root note and repeat the process mapping out what all the 1 to 2 combinations look like all over the neck.

Now, look back at our modes and you’ll see that you’ve learnt the first two notes of Major, Dorian, Lydian, Mixolydian and Aeolian. Because you were doing this from the root note if you change the root note the physical relationship between the root note and the 2nd degree is still the same. In other words it looks the same anywhere on the neck. Now repeat the process for the 3rd degree, then 4th, 5th etc trying to visualise all of those intervals from the root note of the scale making a reference in your mind as to how they look in relation to one another.

Over a period of time you’ll build up a catalogue of interval relationships and be able to find any interval from any root note on the fret board. You have twelve intervals in music so once you’ve learned all twelve you will be able to play any scale from any root note provided you know the formula for that scale. On the video I demonstrate this principle for each of the major scale modes and then improvise over a chord progression that outlines each mode in turn.

In order for you to practice playing over each mode in turn and learn the intervals within the scales I have also provided you with a chord shape that outlines the sound of each mode. You can play these chords and create a backing track over which you can improvise using the relevant modes using your new-found intervallic knowledge to help you.

Good luck with this method and I’ll see you next month!


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