The Mode De-coder is the game-changing chord wheel for guitarists of all levels. You’ll see it’s packed with substantial mode, chord and note guidance, but don’t be daunted by the volume of detail because it really is very straight forward to use!
In a nutshell, the front and back pages tell you which chords go together in harmony, and the inside pages show you the three locations in which to place the simple minor pentatonic scale pattern (with optional seven-note enhancements) on your fretboard – to let you solo freely up and down the fretboard in the key or mode you have chosen .
Without spending hours and hours learning scales and the notes on the fretboard, you’ll be able to play and solo in all 12 keys and all their 7 modes – that’s 84 scales straight away with no intensive learning!
To start playing chords that go together you only need to be able to:
- play a major bar chord and
- play a minor bar chord
To start soloing along to music you only need to be able to:
- play the notes of the minor pentatonic scale
See all the notes of a scale for the key or mode you’ve selected
The first thing the front wheel will show you, once you have selected your key or mode in one of the windows, is all the other remaining notes of the scale in the windows.
But that’s just the beginning!
The next thing the wheel will show you is whether the chords you play for that note should be major or minor ones. (NB If you’re new to the wheel, you can ignore the ‘Half diminished’ box for now.)
Now you want to play different types of chords, not just major and minor...
Now you know your chord types, the Mode Decoder will show you a selection of additional chords which can be played as an alternative to the standard major and minor chords – whilst still keeping you within the scale. e.g. instead of playing C major, you can substitute C major 7th or instead of A minor, you could play A minor 9th. Normally, to do this, you’d have to check the notes of your scale to see if your desired chord was in key but using the Mode Decoder, right away, you’ve saved yourself hours of learning and ‘working out’! Now you’re all set to start composing tour own songs!
Now open up the Mode Decoder and look at the Chord Reference Chart. Here you’ll find diagrams to show you how to play the major and minor chords and all the alternative chords which the wheel has suggested to you. They’re laid out as bar chords because once you can play a major and minor bar shape, its a small step to modify your fingering to play any of the interesting alternative chords suggested on the front page.
Now for an explanation of the inside
The inside is designed to help you play solo guitar. You’ll need to know the notes of the minor pentatonic scale first (see below), as this is the pattern of notes that can be played on three locations on your fretboard up to the 12th fret. (NB The first 12 frets are an octave, but you can then carry on higher up the fretboard by counting fret 13 as fret 1 again).
The minor pentatonic scale
When you turn the wheel on the front, the notes on the inside change too! Look at the notes in the windows and using the diagram underneath them, see where they are located on your fretboard. e.g. in the example below, Location 1 will be at fret 5, Location 2 will be at fret 10 and Location 3 at fret 12 and Location 1 can be sited again at fret 17 (which is 5 frets up from fret 12)
Now you have your location starting points, you can play any note and it will be in the key or mode you chose on the front.
Along with the five notes of the minor pentatonic scale (in black), you’ll see the rest of the notes that make up the full seven note scale (in grey).
You’re now all set to be able to play along to any backing tracks or songs for which you know the key or mode. Just select the key or mode in the front window and turn over to find your locations.
Congratulations, you can now play in 84 scales / modes!
How do I get the characteristic sound of a mode?
First decide what mode you want to compose in. Select it in the front page window. In the diagram we have selected ‘G Mixolydian’
Start with a G chord chosen from those listed in the Mixolydian box.
Now for the dots
The multi-coloured dots simply show which chords contain the mode’s character note. Each mode has one distinctive note that gives the mode it’s character. So if you are playing in G Mixolydian and are looking for the next chord, and want to emphasise the Mixolydian sound, then simply choose one with a blue dot. Any of the chords shown will go together, but it can be useful to know which chords in particular might sound more Mixolydian when composing in Mixolydian.
For modal soloing... make use of the root and character reference page
Like the dots on the front, this page shows where the modal character note can be found. Just look at the coloured section for the mode you are playing in. Each section is exactly the same as the Location diagrams on the Solo Location Page, but it crucially highlights the root note you have chosen and the character note. Using the character note will really emphasise the modal sound. For example, if you are soloing in G Mixolydian, the character note is shown as a blue circle and the root note as a solid blue dot (you’ll hear each mode’s distinctive sound when moving from root to character when you solo over a backing track). The Mode Decoder visually unlocks guitar theory, takes your guitar playing to a new level and boosts your creative music making potential.