Why Do I Need to Know Modes on Bass Guitar?

Why Do I Need to Know Modes on Bass Guitar? Before we answer that question, here’s a brief overview of the modal system as it applies to bass.

Simply put, modes are scales. They are scales derived from the notes of a certain scale or key. For any given scale or key, there are 7 different modes or scales. For example, you can use all of the notes in the scale or key of C Major to play 7 different scales or modes. Each mode starts and stops on a particular numbered note in a scale. There are 7 notes in any scale – with the 8th note being the same as the 1st note (high/low octave). They can be numbered as notes 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8(1). If you start with note #1 and play through the next 7 notes – you are playing a mode of a scale. If you start with note #2 of the same scale and play through the next 7 notes – you are playing a different mode of that same scale. Again, each mode starts on a different numbered note in the scale. The chart below shows the name of each mode, and the note number it starts on:

Bass Mode Name and Number of Note Chart

To better understand, let’s look at how the numbered notes apply to a major scale. Let’s use C Major. The notes in the C Major Scale are C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C

Bass Mode Sequence Order of Notes Chart 1

By starting with a different note in a scale, you play different types & sounding scales using the same notes of any given scale. For example, in Ionian mode (starting on 1st note) you will always play a Major scale. In Dorian mode (starting on 2nd note) you will always play a Minor scale with a natural 6th note. Here’s another chart showing the mode name with the type of scale played.

Bass Mode Name and Type of Scale Chart

So… Why Do I Need to Know Modes on Bass Guitar?

Bootsy Collins says “Learn The Modes!”

There are a lot of great uses for knowing and applying modes when playing bass! Here are a few:

  • You can use modes to play 7 different types of scales while still playing in the same key
  • Different modes produce different types of scales. This allows you to create sounds with different moods and feelings – all while staying in the same key of song.
  • Modes help understand what to play in positions all over the finger board. For example – if you play a song in the key of C Major. The 5th note of the C major scale is G. Any scale starting on the 5th note (Mixolydian mode) produces a Major 7th dominant scale. Therefore with a song in the key of C major, you know you can play a G Major 7 scale anywhere on the fretboard and it will fit with that song. This is the same for any key (scale) you play!
  • Understanding modes helps you understand how everything is related all over the fretboard. For example, the Aeolian scale will always produce a perfect minor scale. Therefore the Relative Minor Scale for any major scale is the Aeolian Scale (mode) -> the scale that starts on the 6th note of any major scale.

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Below are fretboard diagrams showing each of the 7 modes. The diagrams are for the key (scale) of C Major. As with everything on bass guitar ~ which is why I love it ~ you can apply these patterns anywhere on the fretboard – to any scale!

The fretboard diagrams mark patterns that require minimal hand motion – patterns are marked with red notes. There are several other ways to play all of these scales. As you learn to understand modes you will see the various ways you can play them – and make connections between each scale!

C – Ionian Mode

  • Type of Scale – Major
  • Start on 1st Note (C)
C Ionian Mode Bass Scale
Ionian Fretboard - Why Do I Need to Know Modes on Bass Guitar?

D – Dorian Mode

  • Type of Scale – Minor with a Natural (higher) 4th note
  • Start on 2nd Note (D)
D Dorian Mode Bass Scale
D Dorian Bass Mode Numbered

E – Phrygian Mode

  • Type of Scale – Minor with a Flat (lower) 2nd
  • Start on 3rd Note (E)
  • Tip: Starting with the E’s below the C’s will allow for completion of the full scale with minimal hand movement – particular when starting with the E on the 7th fret. This is how the diagrams below are marked.
Phrygian Fretboard - Why Do I Need to Know Modes on Bass Guitar?
E Phrygian Bass Mode Numbered

F – Lydian Mode

  • Type of Scale – Major with Natural 4th
  • Start on 4th Note (F)
  • Tip: Starting with the F below the C on the 1st fret allows for completion of the full scale with minimal hand motion
F Lydian Mode Bass Scale
Lydian Fretboard - Why Do I Need to Know Modes on Bass Guitar?

G – Mixolydian Mode

  • Type of Scale – Major with Flat 7th (dominant scale)
  • Start on 5th Note (G)
  • Tip: Starting with the G below the C on the 3rd fret allows for completion of the full scale with minimal hand motion. I also chose to mark G starting on the 10th fret with a pattern covering notes on the 12th fret.
Locrian Fretboard - Why Do I Need to Know Modes on Bass Guitar?
G Mixolydian Bass Mode Numbered

A – Aeolian Mode

  • Type of Scale – Perfect Minor
  • Start on 6th Note (A)
  • Tip: The pattern below shows the scales starting on the A’s below the C’s. You can see that these 2 separate patterns connect the lower to higher octave scales at the 5th fret. The modal system was designed in part to help make connections between lower and higher notes within the same scale – as well as between scales in different modes!
A Aeolian Bass Scale
A Aeolian Bass Mode Numbered

B – Locrian Mode

  • Type of Scale – Minor with Flat 2nd & Flat 5th
  • Start on 7th Note (B)
  • Tip: The patterns below shows the scales starting on the B’s below the C’s which allows for completion of the full scale with minimal hand movement.
Locrian Fretboard - Why Do I Need to Know Modes on Bass Guitar?
B Locrian Bass Mode Numbered

Hopefully we’ve helped you understand the value of understanding and applying modes on bass guitar. Learning the modal system is not a necessity for learning to play bass. However, understanding how modes work will make understanding how to play bass much easier. Modes will arm you with knowledge & tools that will help you become a great bassist. As always, thanks for visiting Bass Player Center. Be sure to check out all of the other great free bass guitar resources that we’ve published.

BTW – If you are interested in taking online bass lessons we also highly recommend JamPlay Bass Lessons. Bass Player Center provided a review of their site and services – click here to check it out!

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Locrian Fretboard - Why Do I Need to Know Modes on Bass Guitar?

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Why Do I Need to Know Modes on Bass Guitar?