Major and Minor Keys
Every piece of music has a tonal center called a tonic. The tonic is the primary pitch or chord that everything else revolves around. It’s where a piece of music sounds resolved or complete and usually where the music begins and ends. Generally speaking, the tonic also determines a song’s key. When music centers on a major chord, it’s said to be in a major key. When music centers on a minor chord, it’s said to be in a minor key.
Traditionally, music has been taught as being in either the major or minor scale. The major scale is based on the first degree, and the minor scale, the 6th. But in fact, any degree (or any chord) in the major scale can function as the starting point and serve as the tonic. Because the major scale has seven degrees and chords, it also has seven possible starting points, or modes. Each mode has a unique sound and special Greek name. You may have heard of Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian modes.
Free Guitar Lesson
Listen to this podcast episode to hear examples of modal scales. Click on the link below to start the audio or go to the Guitar Theory podcast at iTunes.
In a previous podcast episode I explained how you may narrow your focus down from pentatonic scales that cover the complete neck to smaller sections like the lead patterns and riff boxes that many players commonly use. In this, the 18th episode of my guitar theory podcast, I demonstrate how to use these same lead patterns for major scales and modes. I also explain how the pentatonic scale relates to major and minor scales. Continue Reading
In episode 13 of Desi Serna’s guitar theory podcast you take a listen to the interval structure of the different modes of the major scale and hear how musicians would number chord progressions that are modal. This involves naming the tonic pitch in a mode “1” and then numbering its other degrees and chords from there with consideration given to any change in interval structure. This information is needed in order to study advanced concepts like modal interchange and borrowed chords because you must identify chords that are out of key by how they relate to the tonic chord on hand and not by their position in their own parent keys. Continue Reading
This free audio lesson taught by Desi Serna answers the question “What is the key of a song?” You learn about tonic pitches, relative major and minor, modes and key signatures. You see that the key of a song doesn’t always reflect the true parent major scale and it’s up to you to go beyond the basic details and sort out the other components at play. Popular songs are used as examples. Listen directly using the embedded mp3 below or visit one of the websites that hosts the whole podcast. Continue Reading
A podcast listener sent me a question about the song “Alive” by Pearl Jam. It was in regard to how four major chords fit together to form the chorus and guitar solo progression E-G-D-A and why the E minor pentatonic scale works over the whole thing. Continue Reading
“Riders on the Storm” by The Doors is a good example of Dorian mode and modal interchange. The song begins in the key of E minor, but with notes and chords relative to D major, which produces E Dorian mode. In the PDF guitar tab below, which is a guitar arrangement based on my own interpretation, you can see E-Gt 1 playing a bass line that outlines Em and A chords. Continue Reading
“Two Tickets to Paradise” by Eddie Money is a great example of using guitar modes. The song uses notes and chords from the D major scale, but with the fifth, A, functioning as the tonic. When the fifth degree of a major scale is the tonal center of a piece of music, it produces Mixolydian mode. Continue Reading
“Within You Without You” is a modal song written by George Harrison, released on The Beatles’ 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The song is mostly in Mixolydian mode. It centers around a C# major chord, but the notes used are from the F# major scale. This produces the C# Mixolydian modal scale. Continue Reading