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Guitar offers us the freedom to play the same note at more than one position by choosing the string and fret we play. Along with the freedom comes the responsibility to choose. We can play the C major notes anywhere on the guitar, but if the root is perceived different from C, then it is considered a mode of C Major with a scale name of its own. What are the reasons that would compel us to choose one note position from another? What are modes? Read on…

C Major scale has the following notes : C D E F G A B C

On the guitar, these notes can be found at different frets on different strings. How do we choose where to play the notes when there are more options than one?

The 3rd string 4th fret is a B note which is the same frequency as 2nd string open note B. Which one do we choose to play?

Guitar offers us the freedom to play the same note at more than one place. Along with the freedom comes the responsibility of choice. How to choose? What are the criteria? What decides where to play the note when there is more than one option?

The choice of string and fret

The choice of which string to play a note on includes considerations like

  1. ease of playing the sequence of notes. Each note should be played at a place which makes sure that the note can be played with ease after playing the note before. Also, each note in a phrase should be played so that the next note in the phrase can be played with ease.
  2. how the right hand has to move. the picking or plucking balance, so that the phrase sounds seamless, smooth and with best efficient execution. when the pick is moving up and down over the strings, which string we choose will affect how easy we can play the phrase, and how well the phrase sounds
  3. some guitarists understand the difference in tone between the strings though the notes will be the same and are keen on finding the right string for the tone sake, though the note will be the same.

C major scale and the modes

The C Major scale starts from C, through D E F G A B, ending in C one octave higher.

If you start from D through E F G A B C, ending in D one octave high, it is the Dorian mode or D Dorian scale.

The notes of D Dorian and C major scale are the same, but where they start and end are different.

Similarly, using the same note of C major scale we can choose to start and end with each of the notes : C to C, D to D …. F to F…. B to B.

The same notes as C major scale, but the root is different from C.

Each of these sequences are called modes – scales starting from each note of the C major scale, through the sequence ending at the same note as we started with – the modes of C major scale.

The modes

C major scale in terms of tone and semitone

The relation between nearby notes of C Major scale can be written as follows :

The notes of C major scale :C D E F G A B C

The relation between notes : T T S T T T S where T is tone (one note in between the two notes : eg, between C and D there is C# which is not part of the scale.) and S is semitone (adjacent notes, e.g. B and C)

In terms of intervals C major scale can be written as : Root – major2nd – major 3rd – 4th – 5th – major 6th – major 7th – root

C major scale starting from D, in terms of tone and semitone

The notes of C major scale, starting the sequence from D : D E F G A B C D

The relation between notes : T S T T T S T

If we consider this sequence of notes starting from D, as a scale from D, we get the following interval pattern : Root – major2nd – minor 3rd – 4th – fifth – major 6th – minor 7th – root.

So when starting from D, using the same notes of C major scale, we get a pattern between the 1,2, 3, 4, 5, 6 , 7 and 8th notes which is different from the pattern when you start from C.

When you start the C Major scale from the second note D, through E F G A B C, ending in D one octave high, it is the second mode of C Major scale.

So if you are starting and stopping on D, even if you use the c major scale notes, it is more convenient to look at it as a D Dorian scale. It is a minor scale (the third note, F is a minor third interval from the root D), while C major scale is of course major scale (the third note E is a major third interval from root C). 

Now if we want a C dorian scale, we can use the pattern of tone-semitones or interval relations got from above. C Dorian scale would be : C D Eb F G A Bb C.

If the root of what you play sounds like D more than C, though you are using the C Major scale notes, it will be seen as a D Dorian scale.

You can play the notes of C major scale on any string of the guitar. If the root is still perceived as C, then it is C major scale. But if the root is E, F, G ,A ,B or C and we use the C major scale notes, it is considered as modes of C major scale with their own scale names.

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