SMG Guitar Lesson #17: Aeolian Mode

Unfortunately, due to the recent hurricane this weekend, I was unable to edit and upload a brand new lesson on Aeolian mode. However, this gave me the chance to dip into my archives a bit. I thought it would be fun to share with you a couple of video lessons on the subject that I produced back in 09′. It’s a lot of the same material from the book, the only difference is that now there are better illustrations, and I no longer have a beard!

In this lesson, we’ll discuss the history of Aeolian mode, it’s significance, study the scale pattern most closely associated with Aeolian mode, as well as learn a cool Aeolian chord progression.

Aeolian mode is named after the ancient Greek tribe that thrived between 2000 and 700 B.C. According to Greek mythology, they were founded by  “Aeolus”, the god of wind. So it’s no coincidence that the Aeolians were the inventors of the “Aeolian Harp”, a harp that is played by the wind (These ancient wind harps sounded very similar to guitar feedback).  Their culture also gave rise to the renowned ancient Greek poets Sappho and Alcaeus. Ironically, the Aeolians were rivals with the Dorian tribe, and they probably wouldn’t be happy knowing how often we now use the two terms in the same context.

Aeolian mode is based on the sixth degree of the major scale and is considered the “natural minor” mode of the key. So when you hear the term “minor key,” most of the time it’s in reference to Aeolian mode. The best explanation for this is that there are two complimentary minor chords on the opposite side of the key from the sixth degree that have a “I-IV-V relationship” to one another in the same way that the Major chords found on the fourth and fifth degrees are to the first degree of the key as in Ionian mode.

An Aeolian scale is constructed using the musical compass by turning the dial to the desired root note and selecting the intervals “1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6 (which is technically the same interval as #5), and b7.

Here’s the scale pattern most commonly associated with Aeolian mode, as the lowest note of the scale pattern on the sixth string is the sixth degree of the major key. It’s important to remember that this pattern can be used in any mode in any key.

Here’s the scale pattern in the key of C, where “a” would be the sixth degree of the key, so we’ll begin on the low “a” on the sixth string, fifth fret.

As with all scale patterns, it’s important to learn it in a way that is musical, so that you’ll have some ideas to build on while improvising. Here’s an exercise that demonstrates just that. Note that the key of this exercise varies from that in the video, however the exercise is parallel.

Now here’s an example of a chord progression written in Aeolian mode:

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