Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Climbing with Modes

I've always liked the feeling of ascending through scales with a sweeping technique. The smooth sound, the ease on the wrist and the deftness with which you can reach distant intervals. But what about those who like an aggressive pick stroke here and there? I'm surely not the inventor of this approach, there's a long history of excellent guitar players before me, but I have made an effort to make this approach both logical and also a fun (I use the word loosely) way to explore new modes.
I will post a picture of the technique applied to the G Ionian scale and I will cover the basic movements involved.
For the most part, you would probably opt to avoid starting a phrase so predictably on a root note but for the sake of all the examples we will in fact be starting on the tonic note. So here we have the G Ionian scale played in ascending arpeggios and descending in the typical 3 note per string rock format. All of the examples are derived from this 3 note per string style because it fits the exercise very well but you will see the stretches becoming more exerting when applied to Hungarian modes, etc.

The root note will always be played with a downstroke followed by a hammer onto the third of the given scale, in this case we are playing G and hammering onto B. The next two notes, D and F# respectively, are played as a rake (two more downstrokes); the exercise is geared towards playing diatonic arpeggios in this fashion. Once you reach that note, (F#) on the third string of your arpeggio, you will quickly be snapping an upstroke to the furthest note of the 3 note per string fragment that is played on that particular string, in this case it is (A). Treating (A) as your anchoring note to switch into alternate picking, you will play the descending notes on that string, in this case the next two are G, an octave higher than we began and F#. This is basically the 'unit' you will be thinking of at all times when playing through these examples. A rake through the triad and switching to alternate picking to descend on the top string of that triad. The next rake is an E minor triad starting of the 7th fret of the A string. Once again you will rake the three triad notes (E, G and B) and will be playing a descending three note pattern from the furthest of the three notes on the G string.

If we look at it symmetrically, we are starting a rake from the 3rd note on our bottom string, middle note of the next and finally the first note of the three note pattern on the top string of the triad. Once we reach the top of the rake we are simply reaching to play the descending scale fragment from the furthest of the three notes so we get them all. The idea is to vertically climb 3 strings with the triadic rake and then use alternate picking to play a 3 note descending motif on that string. It makes for an ambiguous mix of climbing quick and descending slow; the triad's intervals are large and then the scale fragments less so. This approach is applied diatonically, you are always looking for the same patterns (3 note per string) but the notes will obviously adhere to the alterations of the scale in question.

Hopefully with the myriad of applications here it will seem less daunting and make a bit more sense. I believe that the theory is hard to explain but the natural application for your fingers will pave the way to understanding the technique. The picking motion demonstrated in the G Ionian example is the same for EVERY mode of EVERY scale. I did not include fingerings because it would take way too long and because I believe that everyone is comfortable with their own habits.


  1. This lesson's changed the way I practice modes. Not only did you cover all the modes, but you managed to come up up with a great sequence that develops both alternate & sweep picking. Excellent job, thanks Keith!

  2. Thanks Hugo! This seems to be my 'bread and butter' when it comes to the way I practice and improvise with modes. I think it really helps in acquiring an agile picking hand.