The “Greek modes” or simply “the modes” are a very popular topic when discussing music theory. They are an amazing tool for musicians coming from any background, regardless of the genre they play.
There are 7 different modes, which are scales we can extract from a “parent scale”. Each mode has its unique sound and color, and they can be particularly useful when improvising over intricate changes, or composing new melodies.
This KillerGuitarRigs guide will teach you the most important aspects of the Locrian mode.
Locrian is the last of the 7 modes, and it’s the darkest sounding of them all. Its flattened intervals (especially the 5th) make it sound haunting, unresolved and sinister.
It is less frequently used than other modes such as Dorian and Mixolydian, but you can still hear examples of this scale in songs such as “Sad but True” by Metallica, “Dig Me Out” by Sleater Kinney and “Dust to Dust” by John Kirkpatrick.
Want to learn more about music theory?
Check out our ultimate guide to music theory to find more jumping off points.
- Locrian Mode – Overview and Scale Formula
- Locrian Mode – Scale Notes in B Locrian, When to Play
- The Main Scale Patterns for the Locrian Mode – Fretboard Diagrams, Tabs and Notation
- Root on 6th String (7th Fret) and 4th String (9th Fret)
- Root on 5th String (2nd Fret) and 3rd String (4th Fret)
- Root on 4th String (9th Fret) and 2nd String (12th Fret)
- Root on 3rd String (4th Fret) and 1st String (7th Fret)
- B Locrian 2 Octave Pattern #1 (Root 6th String)
- B Locrian 2 Octave Pattern #2 (Root 5th String)
- 3 Notes per String Method Applied to B Locrian
- Final Thoughts about the Locrian Mode
Locrian Mode – Overview and Scale Formula
Locrian is the 7th mode of the Major scale.
This means that if you take any Major scale and start reading it from its 7th degree (last note before you reach the octave of the root), you obtain the Locrian scale of that note. This will be seen more clearly throughout the guide.
By changing the note we perceive as the root, we shift every interval in the scale, which is the key to getting unique modes out of the Major scale.
Let’s use the C Major scale as an example, which is usually the one that people use to get into the modes. We’ll take a regular C Major scale, and then see what scale we obtain by reading it from its seventh degree (B).
The scale below is the B Locrian scale – obtained by reading the C Major scale starting on its seventh degree instead of C.
Since we obtain B Locrian from the C Major scale, we say that C Major is B Locrian’s “parent scale”. This simply means that they have the same set of notes, but the scale is centered on a different root note/tonic.
You can easily figure out the parent scale of any Locrian scale if you don’t forget that it is the 7th mode of the Major scale.
Take any Locrian scale, and just move up one semitone (a minor second) to find its parent scale.
For instance, if you have a G# Locrian scale, you can easily tell that A Major is its parent scale, since it is only one minor second away from it.
Check the table below, which tells you the parent scale of every Locrian scale you might encounter in the future.
|Parent Scale (Major)||Locrian (VII Degree)|
The Locrian mode can also be represented by its numerical formula, which makes it easy to see the quality of each interval: “1, b2, b3, 4, b5, b6, b7”. As you can see, every degree is flat, except for the 4th.
However, the note that defines this mode the most is the b5, since it is the only one out of the 7 modes that feature this interval.
In this guide, the B Locrian scale will be used as an example, since most people tend to learn about the modes using the ones that can be obtained from the C Major scale.
Want to learn more about scales?
Check out our complete guide to scales to find more jumping off points.
Locrian Mode – Scale Notes in B Locrian, When to Play
The notes in the B Locrian scale are:
- B (Root)
- C (Minor Second)
- D (Minor Third)
- E (Perfect Fourth)
- F (Diminished Fifth)
- G (Minor Sixth)
- A (Minor Seventh)
Locrian is a minor mode, due to its minor third interval. The other minor modes are Dorian, Phrygian and Aeolian.
The table displayed below represents the Locrian scale more clearly. You can see its notes, the corresponding interval, and whether the next scale degree is a semitone or a whole tone away.
|1Root||b2Minor Second||b3Minor Third||4Perfect Fourth||b5Diminished Fifth||b6Minor Sixth||b7Minor Seventh|
The Locrian mode sounds best when you play it over half diminished chords, also called “minor 7 flat five” chords. For example, you could play D Locrian over a D half diminished chord.
Due to its diminished fifth interval, Locrian doesn’t sound as good on minor chords such as Dorian or Aeolian, so you must use it with a bit more caution when improvising or composing.
The Main Scale Patterns for the Locrian Mode – Fretboard Diagrams, Tabs and Notation
This section contains some of the most frequently used scale shapes and patterns that you can use to play any Locrian scale, but the examples shown here will be in the key of B.
Every diagram has its corresponding tab, so that you can practice these shapes ascending and descending.
The main point of practicing these shapes is to memorize them, and become quicker at identifying the root note of your scale on any string. In addition to this, if you can relate a Locrian scale with its parent scale fast, you’ll also locate yourself more efficiently on the guitar.
Since B Locrian has the same notes as C Major (a scale you’re probably more familiar with on the guitar’s neck), you can use that knowledge to visualize the scale more easily than you would if you thought exclusively about B Locrian.
Check the diagram below for a representation of the B Locrian scale. The root note is displayed in red and the other notes are in black.
In order to learn how to play a scale fluently on any region of the neck, you should divide it into smaller chunks that are much easier to memorize and practice.
Each of these regions has its own unique pattern that you can move up and down to play different scales.
The following diagrams and tabs illustrate some of the most important Locrian scale shapes you can look into.
Root on 6th String (7th Fret) and 4th String (9th Fret)
Root on 5th String (2nd Fret) and 3rd String (4th Fret)
Root on 4th String (9th Fret) and 2nd String (12th Fret)
Root on 3rd String (4th Fret) and 1st String (7th Fret)
B Locrian 2 Octave Pattern #1 (Root 6th String)
B Locrian 2 Octave Pattern #2 (Root 5th String)
This pattern in particular requires you to stretch your fingers a little if you want to hit that last B on the 7th string.
3 Notes per String Method Applied to B Locrian
3 Notes per String is the name of a method that many guitarists have studied and rely on to play comfortably on any section of the neck, and to travel effortlessly through the strings vertically and horizontally.
This method consists of 7 unique patterns, one starting on each scale degree (root, second, third, etc.), while playing exactly 3 notes on every string (contrary to other methods such as the CAGED System).
Memorizing these patterns will allow you to play much more fluently, and the best part is that they work for any Locrian scale – you just need to move them in order to match the desired root note.
Final Thoughts about the Locrian Mode
While Locrian might not be the most popular mode in comparison to others such as Dorian or Lydian, it is still worth learning and knowing where to apply it tastefully.
The most efficient way to learn how to play a new scale and use it in a real life scenario is to memorize its main patterns throughout the guitar’s neck. Then, you should use what you’ve learned when writing a melody or improvising over chord changes in which Locrian works well.
Keep in mind that Locrian is the 7th mode of the Major scale. Knowing how to quickly find the parent scale of any mode will also help you use them easily.