6 Ways To Use Modes On Bass

Music theory confuses a lot of people and nothing more so than modes.

However, once you get past the initial brain fry, they can be extremely useful for bass players.

All the information in this lesson relates to the video lesson below where I give examples throughout.

Make sure you watch it from beginning to end and be sure to scroll to download the free PDF.

What Is A Mode?

Think about a mode as a subset of a parent scale. In C Major, for example, there are seven different notes. The major scale starts on the first note.

Well, if you start a new scale on each of the subsequent six notes, you create six modes. What is incredibly important to note is that each mode creates a triad, arpeggio, and chord.

This is the basis of chord progressions and a whole lot more!

Download and study this incredibly important information:

The PDF above comes from this lesson on modes for bass.

Here are six ways you can make music using modes.

1. Modes Over Chord Progressions (e.g. ii V)

Study the chords that come from the modes (see the free PDF above) and you see that over the ii and V chords (Dm7 and G7) a D Dorian and then G Mixolydian mode fits.

Use this backing track to explore the sounds you can make using D Dorian to G Mixolydian.


2. Funk Bass Mode (Dorian)

Everyone loves a good funk jam. Whilst improvising, musicians often play over a static minor 7 chord and take turns soloing over it.

You'll also find similar sounds in your favourite funk songs.

  • The Dorian mode is the sound of funk bass playing.

Use the shape in the PDF above and target the b3, M6, m7, and root note. Use repetitive rhythms and play with time, feel, and attitude, and you've got yourself a great funk bass groove.

For more Dorian funk grooves (and much more on funk bass technique, style, and theory) check out my Funk Bass course.

Here's another lesson to brush up on your Dorian mode:

3. Bluesy Bass Mode (Mixolydian)

The Mixolydian mode contains intervals that spell out notes commonly used in major blues bass lines. the chord that comes from it is a dominant seven that is used extensively in blues music (and also soul, Motown, and RnB).

Try out the Mixolydian mode (you don't have to use all the notes) over this backing track and this chord progression:

Learn more about the Mixolydian mode in my course. It's a commonly used set of notes commonly found in RnB, Soul & Motown:

4. Modes Over Borrowed Chords

A "borrowed" chord is one that is taken from outside the key that you're in. In the example from the lesson, a Bb Lydian mode is being used over a Bb Major 7 chord.

That use of the Lydian mode over a major chord from outside the key is extremely common.

Bass player extraordinaire Guy Pratt deploys the Lydian mode over a borrowed chord in the song Coming Back To Life by Pink Floyd.

5. Jazz Bass Playing With Modes (ii V I chord progression)

You can use the Dorian (D Dorian over the ii - Dm7), Mixolydian (G Mixolydian over the V - G7), and Ionian (C Ionian or C Major over the I - CMaj7) modes in the common ii V I jazz chord progression.

By the way, I know all the above seems like a major mouthful and really complicated but once you get your head around it, it's actually not that bad. 

Try this progression with the backing track.

6. Writing Music With Modes

This is my favourite use of modes - writing and being creative!

Since different modes create different moods, you can generally find one that matches a style, vibe, or genre you want to create.

There are actually modes of the harmonic and melodic minor scales too. They just add more colours to your musical palette.

Here's what they sound like:

Everything you need to know to get started with major scale modes and how to use them is in the free PDF at the top of this page. 

Download it, study it, don't forget that modes create chords and that they have a strong relationship.

Soon enough, you'll start to hear them in music and be able to make your own music using them.

Other mode lessons for bass:

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