The Ionian mode belongs to the I chord!
Ionian is the modal name for the major scale (Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do).
The majority of hit songs composed in the popular music tradition take place in the Ionian mode, using the other modes to support it.
You must practise this scale extensively, do not underestimate the importance of being able to solo and write in major!
By starting with the Major Pentatonic and adding notes, you will discover the true sound of the scale since the important intervals, that make up the mode, will pop out. See below.
To learn how to write and improvise with Ionian you must learn all five shapes, take them around all keys and finally connect the shapes.
Let’s start with the E shape.
The E shape
The E shaped Ionian mode is very similar to the Major Pentatonic, simply add 4 and 7.
Looking at the chordacus image below, can you see the E shaped chord? The E shaped Major Pentatonic?
Practise the Ionian mode in an E shape as you see it, like this:
- Major Pentatonic
- Add 4
- Major Pentatonic
- Add 7
- Major Pentatonic
This approach will ensure that you can phrase with this scale since you know where all intervals are inside the shape.
Here’s a video lesson that demonstrates this exact concept, in the key of A.
The A shape
The A shaped Ionian mode is difficult to phrase with, use the A shaped maj7 arpeggio and the A shaped Major Pentatonic to mix things up.
Here’s the video lesson demonstrating how you practise the A shape. When you can do it, take it around the cycle of 4th, that’s A – D – G – C – F – Bb – Eb – Ab – Db – Gb – B and E.
The D shape
The D shaped Ionian mode is difficult to phrase with below the root note. As with most D shapes, it may make more sense to move down to the E shape if you want to play below the root.
However, these intervals are important to know when you use the concept of chords around the D shape as when we play Ionian, each interval can be replaced with a chord number!
As you play the exercise, call out the intervals, or even better, sing them in correct pitch as you play.
This will enforce the connection between your ear and the interval.
The G shape
The G shaped Ionian mode should not be confused with the Em shaped Aeolian mode, focus on the intervals and practise extensively.
If you have been practising all other modes you may be able to see how they all can be found in the Ionian G shape. Like this:
- R – Chord I – Ionian G shape
- 2 – Chord II – Dorian Am shape
- 3 – Chord III – Phrygian Cm shape
- 4 – Chord IV – Lydian C shape
- 5 – Chord V – Mixolydian D shape
- 6 – Chord VI – Aeolian Em shape
- 7 – Chord VII – Min7b5 Arpeggio
All modes need to be mastered individually as well as having its place in the bigger picture. Practise as the video lessons demonstrate and don’t forget to sing along with the intervals.
The C shape
The C shaped Ionian mode is one of the easiest shapes to phrase with due to its compact layout.
Study the shape carefully, can you see all other modes in this as well? Take the advanced course and you will soon!
This exercise will teach you how to connect the Ionian shapes in the key of A.
If you get stuck on a particular shape, go back and practise it as an isolated shape by taking it around the cycle of 4th.
Also, consider how you can vary this connect shapes exercise, here are a few ideas:
- Rhythm, it doesn’t have to be triplets as in video
- Use the same rhythms as the chromatic exercises you practise right now for example
- Don’t just play the exercise up the neck, go back down as well
Cycle of 4th
This exercise takes the Ionian mode and runs it through the cycle of 4th using closest possible shape. If you struggle with this exercise, go back and practise scale shapes individually.
This final Ionian exercise reads:
A Ionian – E shape
D Ionian – A shape
G Ionian – D shape
C Ionian – G shape
F Ionian – C shape
This is then followed by the same shapes, one fret up the neck, like this:
Bb Ionian – E shape
Eb Ionian – A shape
Ab Ionian – D shape
Db Ionian – G shape
Gb Ionian – C shape
This improvisation uses the A Ionian mode. Can you see the major pentatonic shapes? Can you see the 4th and maj7th?
Just like a Major Pentatonic is often mistaken for a Minor Pentatonic shape, you could confuse Aeolian with Ionian.
Compare the Aeolian improvisation with this one. If you can hear that Aeolian sounds minor and Ionian sounds major, you are on your way to being able to play using the technique of ‘new chord = new scale’.
The Ionian mode is the modal name for the major scale.
To learn this mode, we need to build it from the Major Pentatonic shapes. By doing it this way, the new intervals will pop out. Your ears and fingers will know what these notes mean, what makes them sound like they do.
To learn it to perfection as well as finding out how Ionian is used in hit melody writing and guitar licks, take the advanced course.