Intro to Your First Lesson

This is a very short guitar course to take you from complete beginner to being able to play along to a favourite track and create songs using chords which go together well.

The lessons contain just a few key patterns and shapes that, when learned and used with the Mode Decoder will allow you to play along to most backing tracks and most music tracks – and be able to compose your own songs in all 7 modes of the 12 keys (That’s 84 scales you’d otherwise have to learn the hard way!).

Lesson structure:

Firstly, how normal guitar lessons are taught traditionally, and why this might take a very long time!

Traditionally, to play in any key or mode you would eventually need to learn all the notes of the fretboard. So if you wanted to play a ‘C’ note for example, and you had learned the fretboard, you could go to the precise frets and strings, and play that ‘C’ note. The only trouble is, this is quite a large learning process – there are usually between 22-24 frets on a standard guitar – and then multiply this by 6 strings!

Each mode has a pattern of 7 interval notes which never changes, one example is the major scale (also known as the Ionian mode). To play in a different mode such as the minor scale (also known as the Aeolian mode), you would need to learn a different pattern; this is also the case for all the other modes – a different pattern for the Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian and Locrian modes. This can prove quite difficult, especially as they are all very similar patterns. It’s like having to memorise a 7 letter code 7 times; no wonder many guitarists pick just one or two modes and stick with those.

For this reason, many beginner guitar lessons start with some basic open chord strumming, subsequent lessons, introducing various additional chords, result in a library of chord shapes as time goes on. Maybe a G chord shape to start, then a C chord shape, then an A minor chord shape and so on. From here it’s possible to strum along to a few songs, so long as each song is in the right key. Eventually, a traditional lesson might introduce the famous ‘Minor Pentatonic Scale‘ pattern, a versatile and very popular scale which contains five out of the 7 notes of a scale. Having learned this, a student could play along to a limited number of songs (possibly in blues E minor or A minor). Progress can sometimes feel slow with this method, and the ability to play along to a variety of different songs can sometimes appear to be a very distant ambition. The Minor Pentatonic Scale is in fact an extremely versatile scale, and the Mode Decoder uses it as a backbone to play in all the modes, not just the minor scale!

Many online lessons teach well known songs and solos “note for note”, which is great if you are going to be in a tribute band, but learning guitar via this method has two distinct problems:

  1. It is hard to remember all the steps, all the way through, true especially for long songs.
  2. You are learning to copy how another guitarist plays instinctively, and not playing your own way. You are simply mimicking ‘them’ at best … and not perfecting what ‘you’ are capable of.

The Mode Decoder lessons approach basic tutorial methods differently, the opposite way round to the traditional method in fact; by initially introducing the 5 notes of the minor pentatonic scale, then using this scale to play along to music; and next by introducing an easy chord learning system, based on bar (or barre) shapes, which are easy to modify into interesting variations.

The mode Decoder ‘trick’

The Mode Decoders’ “trick” is possible, because all popular scales and modes used in what we usually think of as western music today are based around exactly the same pattern, the only difference is:

  1. Where you place the pattern on the fretboard.
  2. Which note of the pattern you start playing first.

Sounds amazing, but it’s true. The Mode Decoder will not only show you where to place this simple pattern for any of these scales or modes, but will highlight what we consider to be the two most important notes…

  1. The Root Note.
  2. That note which we will call ‘The Character Note‘.

Just think of the Root Note as your home note (e.g. For A – Aeolian, the root is ‘A’; and for all the other modes, such as A – Mixolydian, the root note is also ‘A’); and think of the Character Note as the next best sounding note or the note that gives the mode it’s characteristic sound. This note is a different number of frets away from the root note for each mode. Concentrating on these two notes will mean that you will always sound good (so long as you are in time with the music of course, and will have the ‘flavour’ of the mode in your playing added automatically).

What will I learn?


To play single notes or “solo” you simply need to learn one simple 5 note scale shape – The Minor Pentatonic Scale. Chances are you have heard of this already, or if you have started lessons, maybe you can play it already, Normally, it is the basis for playing blues solos, but with the Mode Decoder, it becomes the backbone to all 84 scales and modes – It’s simply a matter of knowing within which frets to play it, and then learning some small additions.

The Minor Pentatonic Scale looks like this:


If you have already learned some chords, its fine to use these, but the Mode Decoder system uses a special type of chord called a Bar (or Barre) chord’. This is so called because you normally ‘bar’ down all the strings of one fret with your index finger, and then press strings on the next few adjoining frets with your remaining fingers. You may initially find this method harder, as you need more strength to hold down the ‘bar’ section… but we use this type of chord because it is very much easier to alter it, resulting in the ability to play more interesting variations – and instantly sound more “jazzy”!!

The Steps:

A) Notes – The Minor Pentatonic scale and beyond.

Lesson 1

  1. Learn the Minor Pentatonic (5 note) Scale – a very simple shape, and sometimes the only scale learned by some guitarists.
  2. Play the Minor Pentatonic scale in 3 locations along to a Mixolydian backing track.
  3. Play as above to an Aeolian mode backing track
  4. Play as above to an Aeolian mode backing track in a different key.

Lesson 2

  1. Learn the extra 2 notes which make up the full minor scale.
  2. Play along to the Mixolydian backing track in 3 locations using these extra notes.
  3. Play as above to an Aeolian mode backing track
  4. Play as above to an Aeolian mode backing track in a different key.

Lesson 3

6. Discover where the 2 most important notes are located (the Root note and the Character Note).

7. Play along to a backing track while concentrating on these 2 notes (your playing should start to sound really good now).

Step 4

8. Choose your own favourite track to play along to; find its’ key (Certain Google sites will usually supply this information).

9. Set the Mode Decoder to this key.

10. Repeat the process listed above.

You should now be able to play along to any track whose key you know!

B) Chords

1. Learn a ‘major’ chord shape starting on the E string.

2. Learn a ‘major’ chord shape starting on the A string.

3. Learn a ‘minor’ chord shape starting on the E string.

4. Learn a ‘minor’ chord shape starting on the A string.

5. Learn the variations (These simple variations on the above only require adding or taking away a finger or two).

6. Learn how to combine the chords shown for your key. This involves just reading information from the front of the Mode Decoder.

At the end of this process, you should be able to play along to any song whose key you know, and make up your own songs by combining chords which all go well together – in any key or mode.

Finally, you will learn how simply starting a chord progression in one of the mode windows, changes the sound of the song. That’s normally very advanced guitar theory, but with The Mode Decoder, it’s all very easy!

Some theory behind The Mode Decoder (and why you don’t need to learn any of it)

There’s a lot of maths and complicated theory packed into the Mode Decoder, and fortunately you won’t need to learn any of it, you won’t even need to know the names of most of the notes you will be playing, or why certain varieties sound good. You can just concentrate on how you feel you would wish to play, and be able to do this in up to 6 positons on your guitar!

To do this, you simply read off which frets to go to, and then play a well-learned and memorised note pattern … and for chords, simply read off which ones to play – the diagram will show you where they are positioned, and where your fingers should be placed.

If you would still like to know the theory behind it all, think of a piano keyboard instead of a guitar:

Imagine sitting at a piano and listening to a piece of music, let’s say it’s in the key of A minor (In the world of modes, this is also called A – Aeolian). Someone asks you to try to play along, so, you might pick a note here and there, seeing which one sounds OK and which sounds terrible. It would certainly take a while to be able to get up to speed this way. This is also the way many of us approach the guitar don’t you think?

Now, if we know that the piece which is playing is in the key of A minor, it’s very easy to select more appropriate notes than by using the “hit and miss” approach – because (if you didn’t know already), ALL the white keys on a piano are in the key of A minor. So, if you play any of these “white” notes to the A minor piece of music, none of the played notes will be incorrect (in fact, the incorrect notes in this case are ALL the black notes).

Because scales repeat in increasingly higher octaves on the piano, all the relevant piano notes can be reduced to just 7 – these are the 7 notes of the A minor scale. Now imagine that on these 7 white keys, 5 are marked in an easy to remember pattern and furthermore the 2 most musical notes, the Root Note and the Character Note were coloured and made obvious. This is essentially what the Mode Decoder does, and it displays what to play, this obviously applies for all 84 scales and modes.