There is an awful lot of fuss made about modes in the world of guitar.  They are actually really simple.  They are also seldom actually used – even when people think they are using them, they’re often just not understanding how music really works.

What is a mode?

A mode can be any arrangement of any number of notes with any variety of tones and semitones between them.  But what is meant in the world of guitar is that we’re playing the major scale but starting from a different note within the major scale.

So for example:

C major has the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C.

I could play the same notes but start in a different place. e.g. E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E.  This would be playing a mode of C major.  This would be called the third mode of C major.

These modes equate to the six note shapes we use to play all over the neck.  So when we say mode 2 starting from D, we can think about using shape 2 starting from that note.

As the system we use at Express Guitar is not the traditional approach (where you have to know the name of the scale before you can start playing music) you’ll see that this traditional approach is confusing and will become kind of irrelevant to our students.


Each mode or shape has a different character or feel to it.  So, for example, I play a drone note A and then listen to the major scale over that – it’ll tend to sound ‘happy’.  If I change to playing mode 3 /shape 3 starting from the same note (phrygian, to those stuck in that thinking) I’ll hear a more sombre kind of sound, often associated with flamenco music.

As soon as we’ve got all the gear up and working at the studio there will be videos of this phenomenon.  For now, here’s Joe Satriani and Guthrie Govan showing this idea.

Our approach is different

The problem with this approach of knowing loads of scales is that they take a lot of time and effort to learn.

Our system is designed to get you to musical results quicker by limiting the amount of material you think about while playing so that it works better with our human brains.

So while these videos are good info, don’t go down that path too far – it’s much simpler than they make it seem!