The Major Scale – Modes and Chords

The next chapter of our adventure into harmony concerns the Major Scale and its chords as well as modes.

The major scale is a sequence of 7 notes than operates in a specific whole step/half step pattern across the octave. The pattern is whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half step. Written out for bass, it looks like this in a single octave (Ionian is the modal name for a major scale):

C Major ScaleThe fingering is included. It is the familiar Do Re Me, etc., scale right out of The Sound of Music. It is the basis of most Western music. Notice that the Pentatonic Major scale is a selection of notes from the major scale – 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th completing the octave.

This is the C Major scale in 2 octaves:

C Major Scale 2 Octaves

*There is a mistake in the graphic above – it is not the Aeolian mode, it is the Ionian mode.*

Most of the chords we use are based on the major scale. These chords are built by building a chord in thirds with each scale degree, resulting in this:

C Major Scale Triads

Those are the basic triads formed from the major scale. Add an additional 3 and you get richer, more interesting 7th chords:

C Major 7th Chords

And then for more richness, add another 3rd for ninth chords:

There are other possibilities, but for now, we’ll move onto modes including 2 octave versions of each of the two most widely used modes.

The Dorian Mode

The Dorian mode is the major scale starting on the second degree of the major scale and continuing to the ninth degree to complete the octave. That makes it a minor scale without the flat 6th.

1 Octave D Dorian

There are lots of different ways to use the Dorian mode but one of the most famous in jazz is “So What” by Miles Davis. The entire tune consists of Dm7 and Ebm7 chords. Miles’ solo consists of nothing but the Dorian mode in a highly melodic manner. Listen to it here.

One of the best ways to use the Dorian scale is improvising over the major chord of its root scale. For example, when soloing over a C major chord, use the Dorian mode resolving to its root which is the second degree of the major scale. It gives an unresolved sound which can allow you to go into different directions.

This is the D Dorian mode in 2 octaves with fingering.

The Mixolydian Mode

The Mixolydian mode is the major scale starting on the 5 degree of the scale. This scale would be C major scale starting on and ending on G with a flat seventh.

G Mixolydian Scale

The Mixolydian is used extensively in rock music. Famous examples are Beatles songs “Day Tripper” and “Birthday” and thousands of others. It allows chordal usage that seems less final that the major scale itself.

Here is the G Mixolydian scale in 2 octaves:

Mixolydian scale in G, 2 Octaves

Work with these scales and modes. The next blog post will delve more into the harmony of the major scale itself with a quick primer on chord substitutions.
Bass Guitar Instruction Studio


About Dwight Mabe

I've playing music since the age of 5...a really, really long time. I've been teaching bass guitar and double bass for over 30 years, writing about music and bass guitar for nearly as long.
This entry was posted in Basics, Chords, Music Theory, Scales and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The Major Scale – Modes and Chords

  1. John Lopes says:

    I just stumbled into your site, and had a light bulb moment reading through the post. Suddenly Dorian, etc make sense to me.


    • Dwight Mabe says:

      Great John. Keep looking through the sight and I think you will find some more things that might interest you.


      • John Lopes says:

        Yeah lots of good info here, are you still taking students on?


      • Dwight Mabe says:

        Yes, I am. Go to the Lessons Info and Rates page. There is a form there to sign up for lessons at the top of the page. It will gather all the information I need to get you on the schedule. This is a good time of the year to pick times because many students change their schedules after the holidays. Email me when you’ve filled it out at or you can call me at 336.314.1576 (if I don’t answer the phone, leave a message and I will call you back ASAP).


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