14 Jazz Modes For Playing Great Jazz
Want to get started learning the jazz modes? You’re in the right spot. There are lots of different scales you’ll want to learn someday.
But, today lets just focus on the most important ones you need for quick jazz success. Most great solos will feature bits and pieces of these scales and jazz modes.
The Major Scale And All 7 Of It’s Jazz Modes
1. The Major Scale
The major scale is super powerful. Now, the major scale by itself isn’t that flashy. But, when you start it on different notes it opens up all kinds of beautiful possibilities in terms of musical flavors.
2. The Dorian Mode
Dorian is the most commonly used of the jazz modes over minor chords. So, it’s highly recommended that you get great at playing it.
You can use dorian to build solos, create chords, and even chord progressions. Here’s a video of how to use dorian to create killer jazz chord voicings.
3. The Phrygian Mode
If you start on the 3rd degree of the major scale you create a scale called the phrygian mode. Phrygian is one of the coolest sounding jazz modes there is.
In fact, many great jazz standards have been written using the phrygian mode as a starting point. Tunes like Nardis by Bill Evans and Speak No Evil by Wayner Shorter.
This is another one of those minor sounding scales. Phrygian’s unique claim to fame is that it has a half step between the first 2 scale degrees.
For example in the key of E, phrygian is spelled like this:
E – F – G – A – B – C – D – E.
Notice the cool sounding half step.
Here’s an example of a tune featuring phrygian. Can you get the sound of this jazz mode in your ear?
Listen to Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil” to see what I mean:
4. The Lydian Mode
The lydian mode is a variation on the major scale. To quickly figure out the lydian mode simply play a major scale but sharp the 4th scale degree.
For example, in the key of C the notes would be:
C – D – E – F# – G – A – B – C
5. The Mixolydian Mode
I love the sound of this jazzy scale. So many killer melodies, jazz riffs, and chord progressions have been written featuring this iconic sounding scale.
Mixolydian is a jazz mode that can be used over dominant 7th chord qualities.
To figure out the mixolydian scale simply play a major scale but flat the 7th scale degree.
So, in the key of C the notes would be:
C – D – E – F – G – A – Bb – C
Here’s a video showing you how to create some killer sounding jazz licks from mixolydian.
6. The Aeolian Mode
The aeolian mode is what most people think of as the traditional minor scale. It’s almost exactly the same as dorian. But, aeolian has a b6 scale degree.
Here’s an example of the aeolian mode written in the key of A:
A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A
If we wrote dorian in the key of A it would be like this
A – B – C – D – E – F# – G – A.
Subtle differences in terms of jazz theory but a very different sound.
The famous Bob Dylan “All Along The Watchtower” uses the aeolian mode as it’s chord progression.
7. The Locrian Mode
This scale is super dark sounding. Technically this is one of those jazz modes that can be consider a variation on minor.
But, since there are so many alterations (flatted notes) in the locrian mode it’s almost it’s own category.
Here’s an example of the locrian mode written in the key of B:
B – C – D – E – F – G – A – B
If you use this scale to improvise over a minor 7th flat 5 chord it will sound fantastic.
Here’s a video that breaks down the locrian mode:
Melodic Minor & All 7 Of It’s Jazz Modes
The melodic minor scale is another one of those scales that sounds fantastic if you start on different notes.
- Start on the 1st note & it’s the melodic minor scale. (Some people call this the jazz minor scale.)
Here’s a video that shows you killer melodic minor tricks:
- When you start on the 2nd note of the melodic minor scale it’s the phrygian #6 scale.
- If you start on the 3rd note it’s the lydian augmented scale.
- When you start on the 4th note of the melodic minor scale it’s the lydian dominant scale.
- If you start on the 5th note it’s the mixolydian b6 scale.
The mixolydian b6 scale is a great scale to build licks from if you’re soloing over a dominant 7th b13 natural 9 chord. This is a great chord that Ray Charles loved to use in his playing. By the way, if you want to learn thousands of Ray’s piano secrets check out this powerful course where you can learn how to play like Ray Charles.
- Start on the 6th note it’s the locrian #2 scale.
- Start on the 7th note it’s the altered scale.
This is probably the most popular of the melodic minor modes. Sometimes people call it the altered dominant scale.
How To Make Great Music With The Jazz Modes
Now, that you know some of the scales and jazz modes, the real question is how do you make great music with them?
If you aren’t able to create great solos using these scales you’re missing 99% of the fun.
So, how do you fix this? Well, that’s exactly why we created The Jazz Improvisation Super System.
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So, even if you’re brand new to improvising or a seasoned pro you’ll find secrets to get you past the current limitations you have in your playing.You can check out the whole program plus 5 super sweet bonuses here
Sincerely, Steve “Thinking Smart With Jazz Modes” Nixon
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