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Music Theory Lesson – What Makes a Song in a Mode

New YouTube Music Theory Lesson – What Makes a Song in a Mode

Nate Richards talks about what makes a song in a mode in this music theory lesson. 

So, what exactly is a mode? Let’s start with the Major Scale – which is the overarching parent scale in all Western music. To be brief, the Major scale has 7 notes that climb up the alphabet one letter at a time (a-b-c-d-e-f-g-a-b-c-d-e-f-g-a-etc), and we number them 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. The G Major scale is the key I used in the video, and the notes are G-A-B-C-D-E-F#, numbered G-1, A-2, B-3, etc.

A mode is a variation of the scale note order, and each variation comes with really fancy Greek name (these scales are very old, dating back well over 1000 years used in Gregorian Chant sung by monks – they thought the Greeks invented music so they gave all of the notes and scales Greek names). Take a look at the scale variations below and see that the idea is simply a circling around the same notes – the only difference is the starting note.

(BTW – modal theory goes way, way beyond this initial stage. But, this is a start at the general concept. Each mode eventually will become it’s own little world within the solar system of the Major Scale, with each mode having it’s own idiosyncrasies, chord progressions, emotions, colors, and applications).

I – G Ionian: G-A-B-C-D-E-F# (a.k.a. G Major. “Ionian” is just the Greek term referring to the Major Scale)

ii – A Dorian: A-B-C-D-E-F#-G

iii – B Phrygian: B-C-D-E-F#-G-A

IV – C Lydian: C-D-E-F#-G-A-B

V – D Mixolydian: D-E-F#-G-A-B-C

vi – E Aeolian: E-F#-G-A-B-C-D (a.k.a. E Natural Minor, or the “Relative” minor)

viio – F# Locrian: F#-G-A-B-C-D-E

This is just a start, and you are not expected to be an expert on modes at this point – that takes a long time of lessons, study, practice, and experience.

If you’ve made it this far, you might be confused and wondering what this all means. Here is a good follow-up video to this one to try applying the modes, and hopefully you will start to see how they work. Below that is yet another video from another angle:


New GARAGE BAND at Richards Rock Academy

Join our Garage Band class at Richards Rock Academy! A great beginner/intermediate class for learning to play in a band, and having a blast jamming with other students! Low-pressure environment and no live-shows requirement. For more information or to reserve a seat, email us HERE or call 610-908-5668.garagebandflyer copy 2

Drill #48 – Alternate Picking Exercise


Nate from Richards Guitar Studio and Richards Rock Academy shows you a great alternate picking exercise on guitar that helps increase speed, endurance, and synchronization between the picking and frethand fingers.

When practicing an alternate picking exercise on guitar, you want to start slowly, playing evenly and controlled, and only begin increasing speed once you  have committed the exercise to muscle memory / reflex in the hands. Use a metronome to systematically increase speed gradually over time. When practicing this alternate picking exercise with a metronome, play eighth notes (2 notes per beat, “1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +” using down-updown-up etc picking).

Why do drills such as these? Don’t they seem like a waste of time? On an almost daily basis, I see YouTube videos of great guitarists sharing their warm-up drills and exercises, scales, arpeggios, stretches, etc. Recently, off the top of my head, some of those artists include Alexi Laiho, Jeff Loomis, John Petrucci, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai. I’m constantly on YouTube for my lessons so I get to see many of these videos pop up in my recommendations. If warm-ups, drills, exercises, etc are worth the time of such great guitarists, than they are certainly worth our time and attention.

  1.  Practice with a metronome. Jeff Loomis recommends it, so….yeah….do it.
  2. Be patient. Speed takes time. I’m currently trying to increase my tremolo picking speed, and I’m telling you it is frustrating sometimes. I know what I want to do, I know the goals and techniques I’m striving to perfect, but my hands simply won’t do it – yet. I know I’ll get there, and although it isn’t happening right away I know I’ll wake up one day and BOOM my tremolo picking will be faster than ever. It’s sort of like diet and exercise – you do it and your body will respond. It’s inevitable.
  3. Stop practicing the exercise, then revisit. Once you’ve gone as far as you can and hit a wall, move to doing other exercises for a month or two, then come back to this one. You’ll find that doing a 2nd time around can actually push your speed farther. Don’t expect to get all the way to 100% in the first season of practice. It takes revisiting.

Richards Guitar Studio and Richards Rock Academy offers professional guitar lessons, bass lessons, drum lessons, guitar teacher training, and rock band rock school in Aston, PA. Serving Ridley Park Swarthmore, Garnet Valley, Wallingford, and Delaware County, PA.

How to Play Shut Up and Dance on Guitar


Nate Richards shows you how to play Shut Up and Dance on Guitar – FOR REAL! Linked above is a 5-page guitar tab and a YouTube video lesson tutorial on how to play everything in the song, including chords, power chords, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, intro, verse, chorus, bridge, guitar solo, picking and strumming – everything!

Pop guitar songs are often taught in a watered-down, “easy version but not the real song” way on YouTube video lessons and tutorials for acoustic guitar or electric guitar. My goal with my guitar students is to teach them the actual song, to encourage them to put in the extra effort to learn the real thing, and be proud at the end that they have accomplished the task. Why? Not only is it a waste of time to purposefully learn a song wrong just because it is easier (which then also is a problem when you try to play with other students or musicians and no one knows the song the right way and that prevents them from making music together), but the student misses the opportunity to get a real guitar lesson from the artists themselves! That’s right – when you learn a song “to-the-T”, you’re getting an insight into how that person plays and composes on the guitar. So, if I learn Walk the Moon Shut Up and Dance on guitar, the guitarists are showing me “Hey, here’s how I play rhythm guitar chords,” or “Hey, check out how I solo using the Db minor pentatonic scale and hammer-ons.” Think of that pretend conversation with any of your favorite guitarists. I remember Kirk Hammett from Metallica was my hero, and I wanted to nail down his solos so I could learn from him exactly how he would solo, use scales and techniques, etc. I felt like I was learning trade secrets and uncovering treasures that few people will ever experience.

Take the time to go through this lesson and once you know how to play Shut Up and Dance on guitar FOR REAL you will amaze your friends and family with your performance! It’s worth the extra effort – go big or go home!

Richards Guitar Studio offers professional guitar lessons, bass lessons, drum lessons, music theory class, guitar teacher training, and rock band rock school in Aston, PA. Serving Swarthmore, Glen Mills, Ridley Park, Aston, and Delaware County, PA.

Drill #47 – CAGED Guitar Scale Pattern 1


CLICK HERE for Scale DiagramNate shows you the first of 5 scale patterns that are essential to you guitar development – the CAGED Guitar Scale Pattern 1.

The CAGED System is an ordering of bar chords and scales that help you learn how to play chords and scales in any position on the fretboard that you want. It is a fretboard mapping system, and it makes guitar soloing and improvising in all keys much easier and more manageable. At some point, we will discuss the overarching concept of the CAGED System. However, your first goal is to simply learn, memorize, drill, and improvise using the scale patterns in order to get the scales under your fingers.

  1. Memorize the open position scale AND the octave position scale right from the beginning. the octave position scale is the one you’ll use the most, as it is movable to any key. The open position scale is locked to the key of C Major, so you’ll only be able to use that one when in modes related to C Major.
  2. Practice with strict alternate picking, in addition to economy picking. Start with strict “down-up” picking, no matter what string you are one, no matter what pick you’re on when you change strings, etc. Always a down followed by an up. Then, try economy picking. This is where you change strings from low to high using downstrokes, and from high to low using upstrokes. The effect is that you’ll be picking in the direction that you are changing strings. BOTH picking strategies have merit, although the alternate picking route is the best if you play any genre of rock or metal. For jazz and fusion styles, economy picking is best.
  3. Stay tuned for a lesson on how to practice scales on our blog coming up right after Drill #48. That lesson will offer plenty of advice on how to practice scales once you memorize them, and get the most technique development out of the CAGED guitar scale you are currently working on.

Richards Guitar Studio and Richards Rock Academy offer professional guitar lessons, bass lessons, drum lessons, and rock band school in Aston, PA. Serving Ridley Park, Swarthmore, Garnet Valley, Media, and surrounding Delaware County, PA.


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