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Any Easy Way to Play Modes

If you are overwhelmed by all the scale patters that can be played on the guitar, this will interest you.

There is a single fingering pattern for the major scale that you can use all over the fretboard. I call it the stretch pattern, other call it the spread pattern. No matter what you call it, it is the best pattern I know of for navigating and understanding the fretboard. It has many advantages over other patterns, for now I want to discuss how great it is for playing modes.

Modes are an important part of music, especially if you want to improvise or play lead. Often in playing lead or improvising you will play a mode over a chord. That’s because the mode and the chord share the same harmonies. In fact, the chord is actually derived from the mode itself.

The difficulty in playing modes over chords is that many books and teachers treat them like they are separate scales that require separate fingering patterns. This usually means learning about eight different patterns that are only slightly different from each other. Yes, you can do it, but I want to show you a fingering pattern that makes playing modes much easier.

The stretch pattern playing a major scale over two octaves beginning on the 6th string looks like this:

Stretch Modes Showing Finger Position

1=index, 2=middle, 3=ring, 4=pinky

The numbers indicate the finger used to play the note. The gray circles show the first octave. The black circles show the second octave.  Each note of the major scale is the first note of a mode that ends on the same note and octave higher. The advantage this pattern has over others is that the same finger that began the mode ends it and your finger is in the same position relative to the other notes in the pattern.

The mode that begins on the fifth note of the major scale is called the mixolydian mode. When playing the C Major scale from the sixth string, the stretch fingering pattern looks like this:

Stretch Modes showing MixolydianThe diagram above shows how the mode begins on G in the first octave and ends on G in the second octave of the pattern. The resulting mode would begin and end with the middle finger.

Using the stretch pattern allows you to use the same fingering pattern for any of the modes (of the Diatonic scale). The consistent relative location of the notes in the pattern makes it easy to identify what note of the scale you are playing. The fact that the finger that begins and ends the mode are the same is icing on the cake. It is important to note however, that the notes on the second string shift to accommodate this string’s different tuning relative to the others on the guitar. Still, this is only a slight variation to what is a very consistent pattern.

The stretch pattern does require your fingers to span more frets than other patterns and that could slow you down at first. However, when melodic expression is more important than speed, this is the pattern to use.


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