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Videos / Blog


A seasonal opportunity to show how easy it is to transpose a song into different musical modes.

I use 'Jingle Bells' and change it from being in the major key (Ionian mode) of B into B Dorian; B Phrygian; B Lydian; B Mixolydian; B Aeolian and unfortunately B Locrian (sorry) ;)

Jingle Bells is a simple I IV V song, so by simply counting 1-4 and 1-5, and reading off the chord, the song can be changed.

I then show how easy it is to play the melody using the same minor pentatonic / minor scale shape. Its an interesting feeling to find yourself playing naturally in each mode, creating that distinctive sound but playing within the same pattern!

Hopefully the fabled lightbulb will go on for you as you try this.  :)

I thought it was worth blogging my answer to this question asked on 'Customer Questions & Answers' on my Amazon product page:

Question: How is this different from a chord wheel?

The short answer:

Think of The Mode Decoder as a chord book and solo guide all rolled into one - with extras!

For all diatonic keys and their modes (all 84), the Mode Decoder shows visually:

1. The main major and minor chords plus the half diminished chord
2. Additional chord variations (with ‘easy bar chord’ diagrams on reverse.)
3. Chords are in sequence I ii iii IV V vii viii
4. Solo with the minor pentatonic and minor scale in any key/mode
5. Focus on modal character / target notes both for chords and solo
6. Transpose keys easily or transpose a song between modes - make a sad song happy!

The long answer:

There’s so much more to the Mode Decoder than a regular chord wheel. Because it is a visual system, you don’t need to learn any theory or do any working out to be able to see which chords go together and you don’t need to learn all the modal scales either - just use the regular minor pentatonic scale (and optionally the full minor scale) for all keys and modes.


The Mode Decoder will show you not only what chords are major and minor (and half diminished), but also a handful of variations for each . For example, as well as C major, you can see that Cmaj7; C6; Csus2; Csus4 and a C5th powerchord are all playable in the Key of C major (there are simple bar chord diagrams for all these chords on the back page). Simply use one of these alternative chords in place of the main chord to instantly sound more jazzy or to add colour and light and shade to your playing and composing. Additionally, these chords are colour coded so you can see instantly which ones go best with each mode you are in e.g. if playing or composing in Mixolydian, try choosing the chords marked with a blue dot first.


On the inside, The Mode Decoder will show you which frets to start the minor pentatonic and minor scale pattern so that all the notes are within your chosen key or mode. There are 3 places the minor pentatonic scale will fit and a further possible 3 past the 12th fret for all diatonic keys and modes of these keys (That’s 84 scales). So you can easily solo up and down the guitar neck in up to 6 places in any key or mode using only the minor pentatonic (and optionally, the minor scale).


Unlike a normal chord wheel which is usually based on the circle of fifths diagram, The Mode Decoder is set out in a logical sequence from I ii iii IV V vii viii . This makes transposing easy by just counting. If you have a song in C major with the structure I IV V (C F G), you will see C in the first window, F in the fourth window and G in the fifth window. To transpose this from a major (aka Ionian) progression to be a C Dorian progression for example, just turn the Mode Decoder so ‘C’ is in the Dorian window and then count 1,4,5 to reveal the new chord progression (cm F gm). Great fun for changing the sound of well known songs! You can also easily transpose songs in the traditional way eg to transpose the above to F, just put ‘F’ in the window that C was in (The Ionian) and count 1,4,5 again (F Bb C). Because it is sequenced in a line from 1-7, this also works very well with Nashville Numbers.


I created the Mode Decoder for myself and out of necessity because I didn’t and still don’t have much time to play. I was frustrated that all that time was mostly taken up trying to learn a particular song or scale. Then, once I had learned something, I had to remember it and by then I probably felt like learning something else! My skill level was and is quite low - I can play a handful of chord shapes, cowboy style and bar chord style plus the minor pentatonic scale. Because my job is being a graphic designer, I had the skills to design this product and get it printed and constructed - so that’s what I did 3 years ago. Since then I have been selling on Amazon and taking it to guitar shows around the UK. The response has been fantastic and many have fed back to me with feedback such as “It was a game-changer for me’ and “A light went on and I could suddenly play along to any track”

The Mode Decoder is a compact, but a very powerful way to ‘see’ music and is useful as an aid for writing and analysing songs and for enabling you be able to to solo to most songs without hours of learning scales or music theory! Eventually, you won’t need to even find the key - just find where the pattern fits! Its a must-have because it remains useful whatever skill level you achieve.

Here, there and everywhere from the album 'Revolver' by The Beatles.

A showcase of the theory behind this beautiful Beatles song using The Mode Decoder in an easy to understand tutorial. Because once you see the structure, its easy to play!

It demonstrates the move between the two keys of G Major and g minor and also shows how chords may be 'borrowed' and a clever trick with a secondary dominant chord.

The intro chords are all in the key of G major except for the chord Bb major. I show how Paul McCartney mixes up the modes here by temporarily switching from G major to g minor to add in a Bb major. You can see how this works by simply moving the 'G' from the Ionian window to the Aeolian window. Bb major is 'borrowed' from the g minor key.

G  bm [ Bb ] am C7

Secondary dominant trick:
Moving completely into the g minor key for the bridge a very clever device is used by ending on a C7 chord. This is clever because it is part of the G major scale, in fact the dominant 7th chord wants to resolve to a G. The C7 is also a secondary dominant 7th chord for the g minor key too, so its an excellent common chord to pivot around.

This song also unusually used chords from eb=very one of the 7 notes of the G major scale including the much avoided m7b5!

 This is a fun way I found to play 'Beat it' bu Michael Jackson. Other tutorials will show you how to replicate the song note for note, but here I want to show how the Mode Decoder helps to get up and running with many songs so you can play a pretty good rendition in very little time.

For 'Beat it' I realised that everything centers around the Mode Decoder 'Location 3' - The central Ebminor chord and also the main riff can be found within these notes.

Enjoy! :)

I recently uploaded a cover of ‘The Chain’ by Fleetwood Mac, and Andrew made a very reasonable comment that it would be more useful for me to demonstrate how I used the Mode Decoder to do this.

It also allows me to show you how to pick out the melody (mainly from locations 2 and 3 on your guitar neck).


The first step is to find out the key the song is written. You can do this in 3 ways

    Ask Google! Often you can find out the key a song is played in by Googling the name of the song + ‘key’. This works best for more famous songs.
    Find the chords used in the song from a guitar tab website and then turn the Mode Decoder until the chords match. If there are only a few chords, this could be more than one match, so you’ll need to test each one
    If you have been using the Mode Decoder for a while, you can probably find where the pattern fits in by ear.

The first part of the song I go through is the beginning picked chord. On the tabs I have seen, this looks like an unusual fingering and rather complicated picking, so I use the notes in location 3 to make a simpler version. All I’m doing is barring at the 7th fret and pressing the third string down, 2 frets further up. The notes then just fall into place - plus you can embellish them!

The second part shows how I pick up the melody (and how you can apply this technique to any song) in locations 2 and 3.

Thirdly I show how the ‘Formula 1’ phrase and famous, simple solo fit into location 1 and 3.

Great fun!

Here’s the original cover I’m responding to: