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What Are The Modes of the Major Scale? (Modes 101)

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What are the modes of the major scale? What is a mode anyway? If you are newer to music theory and get frustrated when jazz musicians throw around music theory concepts and assume you know what they are, this will be helpful for you.

In this video, I explain what the modes of the major scale are, scale formulas, how to think about them, and why you should be able to play them.

Important Links and Resources

Suggested Resource:

Part of this video is an excerpt from the companion course of my eBook “Zero to Improv.” It’s a great resource for those who are beginners with jazz theory and want to start from the ground up.

Further Reading:

Deepening Your Understanding of the Modes

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


  1. Hi Brent, I understand modes but have a hard time with keeping the naming correct. I'm note talking about the Greek names. Example you have DEFGABCD listed as D Dorian but, when I see D, I expect to see a couple sharps in the scale. Is it not actually C Dorian? C major but starting on the 2nd scale degree?

    • Hey there Joel! No this would be D Dorian. Dorian signals which mode of the major scale it is. It is C Major but starting on the second scale degree, but what note would that be? D. Therefore it is D Dorian. I understand where your brain is wanting to go, but that's just not how we name the modes.


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