One of the topics that are brought up very often when discussing music theory is the modes, also called “Greek modes”. They are a group of 7 unique scales, each with a characteristic sound and different applications.
They are amazing tools for songwriting and improvisation, and you should learn them to be a more complete musician.
This KillerGuitarRigs guide will teach you all about the first of the 7 modes – the Ionian mode.
Incidentally, this also corresponds to the Major scale that you probably are familiar with already.
It is naturally a major mode, due to its major third interval. It sounds happy, uplifting and cheerful, and you can hear many examples of this mode in songs such as “Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Guns n’ Roses, “I Wanna Be Sedated” by The Ramones, and “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty.
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- Ionian Mode – Overview and Scale Formula
- Ionian Mode – Scale Notes in C Ionian, When to Play
- The Main Scale Patterns for the Ionian Mode – Fretboard Diagrams, Tabs and Notation
- 3 Notes per String Method Applied to C Ionian
- Final Thoughts about the Ionian Mode
Ionian Mode – Overview and Scale Formula
Ionian is the 1st mode of the Major scale, which means it is the Major scale itself.
With the modes of the Major scale, you’re supposed to start reading it from a scale degree other than the root in order to obtain different modes, but in this case, you will be reading it from the root, as always.
It is important to understand this concept, since it is the foundation of the modes themselves.
Here is the C Major scale when written on a staff:
In modes, there is also the concept of “parent scales” which are the scales that you can obtain other modes from.
For example, Dorian is the second mode of the Major scale, meaning that you should read a Major scale starting on its second degree instead of the first. Once again, since we’re analyzing the first mode, it isn’t necessary to start reading from a note other than the root.
Being able to quickly identify the parent scale of a mode is crucial to understanding how they work and apply that knowledge in a real life situation.
The Ionian mode/Major scale can also be represented by its numerical formula: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7”.
You can also represent it with “W – W – H – W – W – W – H”, where “W” means “whole tone” and “H” means “semitone”. This describes the intervals that you must respect in order to play a major scale in any key.
During this guide, the C Major scale will be used as an example, since it is the scale that most people start with when they get into the modes.
In any case, every scale pattern that you can learn here can be used to play in any other key – you simply have to shift the whole shape up or down so that the root matches the one of the scale you wish to play.
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Ionian Mode – Scale Notes in C Ionian, When to Play
The notes in the C Ionian scale are:
- C (Root)
- D (Major Second)
- E (Major Third)
- F (Perfect Fourth)
- G (Perfect Fifth)
- A (Major Sixth)
- B (Major Seventh)
The major third interval in this scale is what makes it a “major mode”, just like the Lydian and Mixolydian modes.
The table below is meant to help you visualize this mode a little better, as it compiles the most important information that we have seen up until this point.
|1Root||2Major Second||3Major Third||4Perfect Fourth||5Perfect Fifth||6Major Sixth||7Major Seventh|
Naturally, this mode sounds great over major chords in general, although you might also want to consider using the Lydian mode over some, especially if they have a #11 in them.
It mainly depends on the context, so you should always follow your ear!
For instance, you could play A Ionian over an A6(9) chord, or G Ionian over a G Major chord.
The Main Scale Patterns for the Ionian Mode – Fretboard Diagrams, Tabs and Notation
This section features some of the most used patterns and shapes that you can use to play an Ionian/Major scale. Each fretboard diagram comes with its corresponding tab, so that you can sit down and practice every one of them, both ascending and descending.
You can rely on these shapes to compose and improvise music, knowing that you will only play notes that are part of the scale you wish to use.
As always, when learning scales, it is best to focus on memorizing the pattern first, not on speed and dexterity. Keep an eye on the root note in every pattern, as this will be your main point of reference when playing.
The diagram you’ll find below represents the location of every note that exists in C Ionian. The root note is displayed in red, and the rest of them are in black.
Even if you lay out every note like this, it is still quite challenging to memorize the location of every note. A common approach is to divide the whole diagram into smaller sections that you can then study individually.
Each of these sections has its unique shape/pattern that you can memorize isolated from the remaining notes, and move up and down the neck to play the same major scale in different keys.
The diagrams found below will show you some of the most important and useful Ionian scale shapes. Practice them with the help of their corresponding tabs!
Root on 6th String (8th Fret) and 4th String (10th Fret)
Root on 5th String (3rd Fret) and 3rd String (5th Fret)
Root on 4th String (10 Fret) and 2nd String (13th Fret)
Root on 3rd String (5th Fret) and 1st String (8th Fret)
Apart from these single octave patterns, you can also combine shapes so that you’re able to cover 2 octaves of the scale without moving from the same fretboard region. Check out a couple of these patterns below, as well as their corresponding tabs.
C Ionian 2 Octave Pattern #1
C Ionian 2 Octave Pattern #2
3 Notes per String Method Applied to C Ionian
The 3 Notes per String method allows you to memorize any scale by identifying patterns that always have 3 notes on each string, just as the name implies. This doesn’t happen in the CAGED System for example, since some shapes have 2 notes on a string.
In this method, there are 7 unique patterns, each of them starting on a different scale degree (root, second, third, etc.).
Memorizing all of these shapes will ensure that you can quickly locate yourself on the neck, since your hand will always be in the vicinity of 2 or more patterns.
As always, every pattern shown below can be moved around the neck in order to play Ionian scales in different keys – this is also why it is important to know where the root note is at all times.
Final Thoughts about the Ionian Mode
Since the Ionian mode is the same as the regular Major scale that you have probably studied before, you don’t need to think about it as a “mode” as much as you will with other examples such as Dorian or Phrygian.
However, it is important to understand why it is a mode and how to extract the remaining 6 modes from this scale, as that will make your job much easier when you wish to use any of them to compose or improvise.
Memorize its most important scale shapes and patterns, and try to apply them as frequently as possible in real life scenarios until it is something you barely need to think about while playing.