How to Play the Aeolian Mode on Guitar

The simplest rule of music is major = happy, minor = sad. One of the most common minor scales in pop, jazz and classical music is the Aeolian mode. In this lesson I will show the easiest and most effective approach for improvising with the aeolian mode.

Use this lesson to:

  • Learn basic modal theory.
  • Tune your ears to this mode’s unique sound.
  • Know how to improvise with it musically.
  • Have fun while you learn!

Before I continue, let me clear this up: Aeolian mode = natural minor scale.

Same notes; different name.

Aeolian Mode Example

Aeolian mode
Can you see how A aeolian has the same exact notes as C Major scale?

Visual Example

Aeolian mode
Play the white notes of a piano from A to A and you play A Aeolian mode, the 6th mode of C major scale.

Real Life Example

chord progression
In this example Am7 is the VI chord in the key of C major. You can play A aeolian over this Am7 chord.

Fingering

I recommend you start off by learning the aeolian mode on the guitar in these two positions. A white circle means that note is the root note of the scale. Numbers indicate what finger to use (1: first finger, 2: second finger, etc). You can easily move this diagram up or down frets to play in any key you want (the magic of being jazz guitarist!).

Aeolian mode Aeolian mode

How to HEAR the Aeolian Mode

To start off with, you can think of A aeolian mode = C major scale. But to really HEAR the unique sound of any mode you need appreciate this mode as its own entity.

Try this:

  • Forget about C major.
  • Play an Am7 chord and play through A Aeolian slowly.
  • Accustom your ears to the sound of the scale, especially the b6 (b13).

Try this with all your modes, think of each scale as its own unique scale. To sum up, modes are easy to learn because they share the same notes. But to get your ears around them, think of each mode as a unique scale and key center. I remember modes being confusing to me when I started out, let me know in the comment section below if this trick works for you!

When to Use the Aeloian Mode

How to Use the Aeolian Mode

The most colourful notes in this mode are 9th and 11. Stay away from the b13 (b6) unless you are aiming for that specific tension. For any song in a minor key, this is your fallback scale. It is a great one to learn when you beginning out. I recommend you check out the Dorian Mode and Melodic Minor Scale for two other options for minor keys.

Many tunes (pop or jazz) will only require you to change just one or two notes from the Aeloian mode to play the changes. Master this mode and you will be well on your way to total guitar wizardry. To get your fingers around the aeolian mode, I recommend you check out, How to Practice Jazz Guitar Scales. Apply the patterns I use in that lesson to get your muscle memory happening.

Here is neat little table I made to summarize this mode:

Aeolian Mode Summary

ScaleAeolian Mode/ Natural Minor
ChordMin7, Min9, Min11
NotesR, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7
C AeolianC, D, Eb, F, G, Ab , Bb
Chord/ Guide Tonesb3rd and b7
Color Tones9th, 11th, (b13)
Avoid Notesnone (well b13 - kind of)
Sam's TipThis is your classic minor scale used in classical music, rock, pop and jazz. This one is handy in a minor ii V i situation as it shares notes with the relative iim7b5 chord and has just one note different with the V7b9 chord harmonic minor scale.

Keep Learning

Free Major Scale Mode Lessons

  1. Ionian
  2. Dorian
  3. Phryigian
  4. Lydian
  5. Mixolydian
  6. Aeolian
  7. Locrian

Thanks for checking out this lesson, please feel free to leave a comment below with any suggestions or questions.

~ Sam Blakelock | pickupjazz.com

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