Applying Modes to Your Playing
Learning this stuff is all well and good for your brain, but if you can't apply it to real situations, it will never mean much to you. So, let's talk about the useful modes. You already know the Ionian and Aeolian modes (the basic major and minor scales). Of the remaining five, only Dorian, Lydian, and Mixolydian are really vital to learn. Not that Phrygian and Locrian aren't great modes; it's just that they lack the everyday uses the others have.
Uses of Dorian
Back in Chapter 5, you stumbled upon this mode by accident. You added tones to the pentatonic and all of a sudden Dorian just emerged.
Dorian works really well in place of the minor pentatonic. It will give you more spice than a normal minor scale will, and that raised sixth is a beautiful note that stands out. FIGURE 10-11 is a nice lick using A Dorian that you can throw into any A blues with confidence, because A Dorian can substitute for A-minor pentatonic.
In addition to being a great replacement for the blues scale, Dorian must be used in some situations. Two well-known Dorian tunes are “Oye Como Va” by Carlos Santana and “Breathe” by Pink Floyd. Those are situations where other scales, such as minor or pentatonic, won't sound right. Another way to look at modes is to realize that there is only one note different about them compared to normal scales. A Dorian is the same as A minor, except it has an F instead of an F. So with that in mind, you're really playing A Dorian when you play F over an A-minor chord. Any other note could be A minor—F is the only distinguishing feature.
Uses of Lydian
The Lydian mode can be used as a direct replacement for the major scale. If major sounds too tame for you, then Lydian is a good choice. FIGURE 10-12 shows a nice C-Lydian example that repeats in a few spots on the neck.
Again, this mode is different from the C-Major scale only if you play the raised fourth. All the other notes could be C Major; only the raised fourth tells you for sure that you are in C-Lydian. A great Lydian song is Joe Satriani's “Flying in a Blue Dream.”
Uses for Mixolydian
Mixolydian is a very useful mode for rock and blues players. Countless songs have been written using this mode, so out of all the new modes, this is the one to spend the most time with. Mixolydian can be a great major scale replacement, but it really shines when it comes to the blues. The blues typically uses either major chords or dominant seventh chords, and the Mixolydian mode is the only scale (besides the blues scale and the pentatonic) that hits all the notes of a dominant seventh chord. Some players have even called Mixolydian the dominant mode. FIGURE 10-13 is a nice example of a C-Mixolydian mode, perfect for C blues.
Because of its uses in the blues, you'll come back to this scale again and again. As with every mode you've learned, the lowered seventh note is the only distinguishing factor. Otherwise, it's just a plain major scale. So if you're trying to play Mixolydian you need to hit the lowered seventh a lot. A great Mixolydian song is “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
General Modal Uses
Modes really work well over one chord vamps. A vamp is played by repeating one chord for a long time. When there's only one chord, you can have fun and experiment with different sounds and colors. For example if you're playing over just a C-Major chord, you could play any of the major modes: C Ionian, C Lydian, or C Mixolydian. The same holds true for minor. Try Dorian, Phrygian, Aeolian, or Locrian. “Jam bands,” like the Grateful Dead, Phish, and Aquarium Rescue Unit often jam on long, one- or two-chord vamps. It's no surprise that their guitar players frequently use modes in these contexts.
Playing modes will really start to separate you from the average pentatonic-box player. As you get familiar with them, try to utilize them in your soloing and writing. Modes can be great tools for improvising, so have fun and explore the new sounds you can now create.