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Saxophone Lesson: An Introduction to Modes


As you begin learning to improvise, one of the most important skills on which to focus is your understanding of scales and how they function within the context of specific harmonies. A perfect way to begin mastering this concept is to explore and deconstruct a handful of the most commonly used scales—the seven scales (or modes) derived from the major scale.


What are modes?

Many of you may be wondering, “what are modes, and how can multiple scales be derived from the major scale?” The major scale is comprised of seven unique pitches or notes. Each one of these pitches can be thought of as the starting note (or tonic) of its own scale. Therefore, by using only the notes from the parent major scale, six additional scales can be created by beginning each new scale on the six remaining pitches of the major scale. The seven scales that can be crafted using the notes of the major scale are commonly referred to as modes.


Each of the modes derived from the major scale has a unique name, and, in ascending order, they’re referred to as Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian.


In this online saxophone lesson, Grammy Award-winning saxophonist, lead alto chair of Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, and former member of the Chick Corea Elektric Band, Eric Marienthal teaches the basics of each of the seven modes, including each scale, their accompanying arpeggio, and the harmonic contexts in which each one is most commonly used within jazz improvisation. This is the perfect way to dive headfirst into the concept of modes, and to begin implementing them into your playing.


LEARN MORE: Want to learn how to play the jazz saxophone from a master musician like Eric Marienthal? Try some free online saxophone lessons now!


“The important part about knowing your modes is not only how they’re related to their parent major scale, but also how each individual mode functions in jazz improvisation and musical harmony in general,” Eric explains.


Learning the modes can feel a bit intimidating at first. It can feel like an overwhelming amount information to process, and understanding the context in which each mode can and should be used can feel confusing. However, being able to connect each mode back to its parent major scale is a great way to quickly understand the function of each mode, and, with some practice, the modes and their uses will become second nature.


“You always want ot keep each mode’s parent major scale in mind when playing,” explains Eric. “It’s easier for me to do that, frankly, than think about each mode individually in its own key sometimes. You want to get to a point where you can do that, because each mode should function as its own tonal center, but, for practical purposes, it’s important to always know the parent key from which each mode is derived.”


To learn about the various modes and how to begin implementing them into your playing and improvisation, dive into this online saxophone lesson from Eric Marienthal:


An Introduction to Modes with Eric Marienthal:




Have you always wanted to learn how to play jazz saxophone? Through our comprehensive saxophone lessons online and Video Exchange Learning platform here at ArtistWorks, you can learn from internationally renowned players, like Eric Marienthal, and get personal feedback on your playing.


Eric’s course starts with the basics and teaches everything from beginner saxophone to advanced performance techniques, improvisation methods, jazz standards, and beyond. So, whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player, all levels are welcome and all students will grow and improve their skills as saxophonists and musicians.


Sample some free music lessons here and see what makes ArtistWorks courses some of the best online music lessons around!



Saxophone Lesson: Basic Embouchure with Eric Marienthal

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The 4 Most Common Types of Saxophones: What are the Differences?




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