Tired of playing the same melodies and leads? The musical modes are one of the most interesting ways to expand your guitar and music theory knowledge. Do it with this book on modes!

The Best Book On Modes For Guitar

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Does buying a book really make you a better musician? Can you really learn and understand music theory from just one book on modes? Of course, nothing can replace the actual playing of an instrument or the process of writing music and songs. But by reading the right books you can speed up your learning curve.

Modes for guitar by tom kolb
My go-to book on modes for guitar

Buy on Amazon

If you want to become a better musician, songwriter, producer, or composer, then you need to invest time in researching and learning new things. Gathering all this information by yourself is very time-consuming and difficult. So why waste time? I have curated a list of the best books on songwriting for songwriters and the best books on music composition for composers. These lists are made so that you can save time searching and start reading straight away!

About Modes for Guitar

This book was recommended to me by my guitar teacher. And I cannot thank him enough. This book on modes has given me so much. It’s hard to imagine that such a thin book can contain so much valuable information. You can find many summaries online but here is a short description:

In this one-on-one lesson, MI instructor Tom Kolb unravels the mystery of the modes, giving guitarists a complete approach to soloing and a thorough, hands-on explanation of Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian. He also covers melodic minor, harmonic minor, and the blues scale; soloing over diatonic and modal progressions; superimposing modes; patterns, progressions, licks; and much more. The accompanying online audio includes 83 full-band tracks. The audio can be downloaded or streamed and includes PLAYBACK+ tools such as tempo adjustment, looping, and panning capabilities.

What I Like About This Book On Modes

There are many things that make reading this book a no-brainer. But what I like the best is that:

  • It is to the point. So there is no fluff and only essential background information
  • All exercises have notation, tabs, and chords. This means that almost anybody can follow.
  • Each chapter has amazing quick reference guides

In each introduction, the writer gives us some interesting background information about the current mode that you are learning about. He gives examples of what it is most used for and why things can sound as they sound. Of course, there are far more ways that you can use each mode than he has written down. So you should see it as a short summary or excerpt.

The quick reference guides are truly amazing. They have all the information you need in less than half a page! It shows what the scale building blocks of for example the Dorian mode are. What harmonies do you have in the Dorian mode and on what scale degree? Then he also provides you with common Dorian chord progressions and five scale patterns that you can use for playing leads and writing melodies in for example the Dorian mode.

So whatever you want to learn, this book on modes is definitely a solid introduction.

Video review: Modes for Guitar by Tom Kolb

If you don’t want to read and rather watch and listen to my review of this book on modes. Then watch my review below. The video transcript can be found below at the end of this article.

Tutorials On Modal Progressions and Melodies

If you want to learn more about the musical modes and especially how to make modal chord progressions and melodies. Then check out my playlist with music tutorials on YouTube or the articles that I write on the Learning Music Skills website.

What Are Modal Chord Progressions

Modal chord progressions are a series of chords that are built around the unique qualities of musical modes, such as the Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. An easy way to find a specific mode is to derive it from the major scale but start on different notes.

Each mode has a specific blueprint or pattern of whole and half steps. Because of this each mode has a unique sound and mood. When it comes to chord progressions, modal chord progressions use chords that fit within the specific modal scale. Although I am not a big fan of saying that modes have a fixed sound, here’s a short overview of the different moods and tonal qualities:

  1. Ionian Mode (Major Scale): Happy and bright. These chords are built on the notes of the major scale.
  2. Dorian Mode: Has a minor feel with a raised sixth note. This creates a brighter sound.
  3. Phrygian Mode: Has a Spanish or ‘exotic’ quality due to its flattened second scale degree.
  4. Lydian Mode: Has a dreamy, active and unresolved sound due to its raised fourth degree.
  5. Mixolydian Mode: This is also referred to as the dominant mode. Similar to the major scale but with a lowered seventh note. Often used in rock, blues, and folk music.
  6. Aeolian Mode (Natural Minor Scale): Dark and melancholic. These chords are built on the notes of the natural minor scale.
  7. Locrian Mode: Unstable and dissonant due to its flattened second and fifth degrees. This mode is rarely used in traditional tonal music.

Modal chord progressions emphasize the chords that naturally occur in a particular mode, emphasizing its unique sound and flavour.

Video Transcript

Modes for guitar by Tom Kolb.

This is by far the best book on modes for guitar. Period!
Well… That’s just my opinion but if you know something better or something else then be sure to share it with us in the comments.

This book on the musical modes was recommended to me 17 years ago by my guitar teacher.
And at the time I did not fully understand its content, but over the years I’ve come back to this book again and again.

To be honest I would even recommend this book to songwriters and other instrumentalists.
And just to be clear I’m not being sponsored to make this video. And especially not about a book that was published in 2001. And this video is not only a review but it’s also a short introduction into the world of the musical modes. So it should be educational as well!

Here are some reasons why I find this book to be so useful:
It’s to the point and it has just the right amount of background information about each mode.
The quick reference guides at the beginning of each chapter are killer, but more on that later.
And there are many great tips and exercises which have notes chords and tabs, so almost anybody can follow along.

And what I really like is that in the second part of the introduction, he tells us how you can use the musical modes. Which are:
As a melodic device to solo over diatonic chord progressions.
To use it for modal chord progressions and play melodies over modal harmony.
Or to use modes as altered scales.
This is for example when you use an A Phrygian scale where you would actually expect a melody in A aeolian or minor scale as it’s called.

Each chapter and each mode is introduced with what it is most famous for, but I would take that with a grain of salt. Because for example in Mixolydian he says that it is hip and funky. But also the Mixolydian mode can be used for very melancholic music due to its minor chord on the fifth scale degree.

I love how in each chapter it is shown how you can combine your familiar pentatonic scales with the current mode that you are learning. This is an amazing technique that I think many guitarists use. You find the note that’s unique to the mode that you want to play in and you incorporate it into your pentatonic scales.
It’s extremely easy!

As I already mentioned, my favorite part of each chapter is the quick reference guide that you have at the beginning. To the point and yet very complete. Not a word too much or too little!
Here you can see the formula and construction of the mode, if it’s major or minor oriented, what type of chords you will have on what scale degree and my favorite feature is the common progressions.
And of course the five scale patterns for guitar.

What I’m not a big fan of is that in the introduction and also further in the book modes are referred to as scales within scales. And also that modes have parent scales. And although this is true this is not the way how I like to see modes.

I see the musical modes as separate identities, separate scales and also as separate keys or harmony.
So you have separate modal chord progressions. I find this to be the most powerful way of thinking about the musical modes. And also in the book I would have liked to have seen more focus on modal chord progressions and on the harmonies themselves. But then again, of course, it is a book about melodies and leads, so it can be forgiven.

But overall the book Modes For Guitar by Tom Kolb is definitely a fantastic book.
And I’ve used it a lot throughout the years and I think it will come in handy for you too.
So if you’re interested then check out the link in the description.

If there’s any book or piece of equipment that you want me to review then post it in the comments and if I can get my hands on it I will review it! Don’t forget to check out my lists for the best books on songwriting and the best books on musical composition. And if this was useful then of course give it a thumbs up and share it with your musical friends!

Keep on reading, stay creative, and for now…

See you next time!

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