SMG Guitar Lesson #18: Locrian Mode

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In this lesson, we’ll cover Locrian mode, based on the seventh degree of the major scale. In this post I will show you how to play a Locrian scale, an exercise to help you while improvising in Locrian mode, as well as a couple of examples of Locrian chord progressions that you can jam on.

If you’ve been following this series of lessons on modes, you may have guessed by now that Locrian mode was named after the ancient Greek Locrian tribes, whose rich history stretches back to the 2nd Millennium B.C.

Here’s how to construct a Locrian scale using the musical compass:

Here’s the major scale pattern most commonly associated with Locrian mode, as the lowest note in the pattern is also the seventh degree of the major key. It’s important to remember, however, that you may use this pattern while improvising in any mode. Notice, how the root note of the parent key (indicated as a square) is found in first octave position. Also note that there are two duplicate notes within the pattern (indicated by rings instead of circles.)

Here’s the pattern built on F# Locrian, from the parent key of G Major.

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. Below is an example of how to make the scale pattern musical. If you really want to take it further, explore the scale and come up with your own musical ideas.

Scales tend to be very linear, that is straight up and down like a straight line. Below the surface though, even the simplest melody will imply an underlying chord progression, because it’s chord progressions that bring out the true color of the mode and make it multi-dimensional. Here’s some examples of what a Locrian progression sounds like. In this case, we have B Locrian mode from the parent key of C Major. This one is fun to jam on!

All of the greatest songwriters and composers throughout history, from Beethoven to the Beatles, have understood that in order to write great music, it’s important to incorporate borrowed chords from closely related keys (ex. keys that have all but one in common). Here’s an example of what a Locrian progression sounds like with borrowed chords. In this case, we’ll borrow a b minor chord from the nearby key of G Major, and a Bb (“B flat”) chord from the nearby key of F.

Stay tuned as next week we will cover more of the best-kept secrets of great guitar playing!

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