C Major Scale Part 2: The Modes

sam hands small.jpg

(Needs proof reading…)

In Part 1 we used the C major scale to learn about degrees, intervals, tones and semitones and how the major scale was constructed. In Part 2 we’re going to create seven modes based on the C major scale. I’m going to show you how to form modes in other keys. If you haven’t heard of the modes, don’t worry. For many years I was merrily going along in my little box thinking all music was either major or minor. I had more than enough trouble remembering the difference between harmonic minor and melodic minor! Then along came the modes and completely blew my mind. For one thing, the modes have really cool but difficult to remember names. And, as if that isn’t enough, each mode has a different structure.

After the initial OMG this is way too confusing I started to see the modes like those curious, distant members of the family who turn up uninvited for Christmas. You think they are going to be really tedious but then Great Aunt Edwina starts telling you about the time she rode a camel across the Nullabor… Ok, you get the picture. Modes are exotic, quirky, a bit out there. They are interesting, harmless and fun – once you get your head around them!

Let’s get started. First of all, here’s a tip. If you are new to the modes then explore them one at a time. You don’t have to learn everything in one afternoon.

In the pervious blog, The C Major Scale Part 1, we started by looking at the notes of the C major scale.

C         D         E         F         G         A         B         C

C is the 1st degree, D is the 2nd, E is the 3rd and so on. We were looking at the scale from a horizontal perspective. What about if we look at the scale from a vertical perspective…









…and each note becomes the starting note, for a new scale. Each new scale is going to use the key signature of C major – so there are no sharps or flats. These new scales are called modes.  The table below shows the notes of each of the 7 modes beginning with C major. Read the table from left to right. 

mode notes C major.png

The table below shows the names of the modes as related to the C major scale. The major scale, which is the first mode, is also known as the Ionian mode. 

mode names table.png

The defining characteristic of each mode is the placement of the semitones. In Part 1 we looked at the construction of the C major scale and then used this format to create other major scales. Just to recap, here’s the format of the major scale, or Ionian mode:

Tone     Tone     Semitone     Tone     Tone     Tone     Semitone

Each mode has its own unique format and once you understand the format you can create modes based on any of the major scales. For the purposes of this blog I’m mostly focusing on C major.

Note how, in the table below, the semitones are moving one place to the left. T = tone. S = semitone.

modes tones and semitones.png

If you want to play through the C major modes I suggest using the notation or tab below. I’ve marked the semitones with left right arrows. Notice how the semitones of the C major modes always fall between E & F and B & C.

C Major Modes - Full Score.jpg

If you want to be really nerdy you can try the same modes in campanela style. Some work better than others… If you’re feeling super nerdy there are a few variables which you could play around with. If you want to keep it simple then skip this section.

C Major Mode in Campanela Style:

1C Major Modes - Full Score.jpg

Remembering all of the tone/semitone formats is quite a challenge. If, for example, you want to play the dorian mode starting on C, or the mixolydian mode starting on E, there is an alternative, dare I say simplified, way of working out the modes.

  1. First of all let’s look at the tone/semitone table again:

modes tones and semitones

2. Using the tone/semitone format above I’ve created a table showing the notes, and their corresponding fret numbers & intervals, of all the modes starting on C. The table is for a standard tuned ukulele gCEA and also works for low G tuning.

C Mode Table of notes, intervals and frets.jpeg

3. The table below shows how the notes have been altered as related to the C major scale. Please note: b3rd means flattened 3rd; b2nd means flattened 2nd; #4th means sharpened 4th etc. There is further explanation on how to read the table below.

modes flats etc.jpeg

Some Practical Examples of How the table works:

Example 1: to play the dorian mode starting on C first of all think of the key signature for C major – no sharps or flats. Then flatten the 3rd note from E to Eb and the 7th note from B to Bb.

C            D            Eb             F           G            A            Bb            C

Example 2: To play the dorian mode starting on G start by thinking of the key signature for G major – F#. Then flatten the 3rd note so that B becomes Bb, and flatten the 7th note so that F# becomes F♮.

G            A            Bb            C            D            E            F            G


Linear Modes on Ukulele

The following maps represent the fingerboard of the ukulele up to the 12th fret. The dots show the left hand (or fretting hand) finger placements. The fingerboard maps can be applied to each of the 4 open strings – G C E and A. The open string is always the starting note. While this system is limited to just playing the modes starting on G C E & A it’s a good way to get the feel and the sound of each mode. You can also test yourself on how well you know the fingerboard by saying the notes out loud as you play through each mode.

If you want to get a deeper understanding of the modes don’t just learn the patterns, learn the notes. This will take time and practise but the longest journeys begin with the first step.

Ionian or Major

Major map.png



Dorian map.jpeg



Phrygian map.jpeg



Lydian map.jpeg



Mixolydian map.jpeg


Aeolian or natural minor

A Aeolian map.jpeg



Locrian map.jpeg



The first two pieces in my book 12 Progressive Studies are in the C mixolydian mode. This is why there is a Bb in the key signature but the piece ends on C.


The aim of this blog is to give ukulele players a practical introduction to playing the modes. If you would like to read more about the modes and how composers have used them I recommend this page on the Classics FM site. Read more…

Please note: if you notice any mistakes, or anything needs clarifying please let me know.

7 responses to “C Major Scale Part 2: The Modes

  1. I applied the idea of modes to learn to fretboard. I took the notes from the E major scale and used them to play the E ionian on the 4th fret, then the F# dorian on the 6th fret, etc…until I get down to the 18th fret with the completion of the D# lokrian. Since you are using the same notes for all the modes, you can be mindful and always know what you’re playing.

    I also like to make little songs out of modal progressions. We’re all familiar with the I IV V progression of the ionian. Try the I II V of the lydian or the i iv viib of the phrygian.

    Modes are fun

    Liked by 1 person

  2. OMG Samantha, this scrambles my brain… I know very basic music theory…. but this made me want to bury my head in the sand. I have a mathematical brain too. As a very basic player of classical ukulele, do I need to learn this? or is it only useful to advanced players who want to compose?

    Florence Ross



  3. Talked to my mom about this post. Her degree was in music-piano. One of her comments was, “I had no idea ukulele players thought about that stuff.” Maybe they haven’t very much, until now?

    Lots of new information here for me. Thanks for making it accessible.


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