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The Aeolian Mode on Scales

The Aeolian Mode is the purest form of the minor scale. All other minor scales are compared to this, and it is known as a 'relative' minor to the Parent Major Scale.

Scale Equation

A Major
A Aeolian
Modal Equation

Basic Observations
As I mentioned in the intro, this mode is also known as the 'Pure Minor' scale so of course it has the b3, it also has the b7 which the other minor modes have, but it also has the b6.

Key Tone = b6
The b6 is the note that gives this mode it's flavour. Carlos Santana is a great one to listen to the b6 in action! It has a little bit of the Phrygian Spanish kinda flavour too...

Common Chords associated with the Aeolian Mode:
Minor type chords: Dominant chords minor, min7, min9, min11, min7#5, but NOT min13 (the 6th is the same as the 13th right, so Aeolian's b6 would clash with the 13!)

Ionian Mode

Parent Major Scale (PMS)

The PMS of the Aeolian Mode is found a Minor 3rd above the tonal centre.

The easiest way to do this is on the neck. Put your first finger on the TONAL CENTRE on the 6th string and add your fingers one finger per fret, and your little finger will be on the Parent Major Scale.

Doing things like the on the instrument is FAR easier than trying to do in theory in your head. So do it! Look for the easy path.


Note Choices

Over the minor chord the only note that needs attention is the b6 degree, it sounds fine to pass through but resting on it can sound a little strange. Just a little out. It's possible to make it work, but actually it is possible to make even the most out sounds work, it's all about context.

Like with all theory stuff, you MUST try it and hear it for yourself or it will never really make sense. It's ONLY your ears that can tell you when you can use a certain sound.



Ionian Mode

This diagram shows a Major Scale with the chord tones of the Aeolian Minor chord (in red). The red notes make up the TONAL CENTRE. The R showing the root of the TONAL CENTRE. The black notes make up the Aeolian Mode.

The scale is of course, the Major Scale, Position 1 - which we use for all of learning about modes, so you can see clearly how the one scale gets used for each mode (it's a lot better way to learn them than having a different shape for each).

Put the scale with your first finger in the 7th fret (C Major, the root note is in the 8th fret of course) and play it over an Amin (or Amin7) chord (or other chords in the Common Chords shown above). Ideally you should record yourself a backing track, jam with a friend, or use the Aeolian vamp (Track 10) on Really Useful Play Along Tracks.

Listen to how well the red notes sound over the chord and that the other notes link up the red notes and add flavours... make sure you try out resting on the b6 sound (the note F) and listen to how it sounds and the effect it has. It's contains some tension, and you need to learn how to treat it.

This listening is the key to getting modes in your head and understanding how to use them. Let your ears teach you how to use the sound of the mode.

The Aeolian mode is not one I personally dig too much. Not really relevant because there are few people who make it sound awesome, Carlos Santana being the only one that springs immediately to mind, but I'm sure there are more...

However it is often used to play over minor sequences in minor keys. I don't think of this as modal play, it kind of is I guess, but it's really the using of the scale over the one tonal centre that really makes it modal. And often in the key of A minor you will encounter the E7 chord (perfect cadence of E7 leading to A minor) and when you introduce the E7 it contains the note G# which is not found in the Aeolian Mode, it comes from the Harmonic or Melodic Minor, which are the more commonly used. For more about that check out - SC-130 • Demystify The Minor Scales - which should give you a better understanding of the relationships between the minors.

Once you start talking keys there are many examples of people using the Aeolian Mode, lots of the neo-classical guys and rock metal players use it in the sad minor songs!


Lesson ID: SC-516