Aeolian Mode Explained – A Complete Guide In Theory And Practice

THE AEOLIAN MODE

The Aeolian mode is the 6th mode of the major scale. It is contains a ‘flat 3’, ‘flat 6’ and ‘flat 7’. The aeolian mode is an important scale because it is also the relative minor scale, or the natural minor scale. It is used frequently as a kind of ‘default’ minor scale and its sound can be heard across many styles of music. In this post we are going to discuss how to construct the aeolian mode.

If you have read the post, guitar modes explained, or any of the other posts on the different modes, you might already have a solid understanding of modes and its theory. In that case, this post will be a good reinforcement of some key ideas and concepts.

To understand how any mode works, you need to have a very strong understanding of Major scales. If you do not, please read the post on understanding major scales before reading on.

Parallel and Derivative

The Aeolian mode, just like any other mode, can be constructed using the parallel approach or the derivative approach. The parallel approach requires altering the Major scale to produce the desired mode. The derivative approach requires playing the Major scale, but starting on a different note, to produce the desired mode. Let’s explore both these approaches in more detail. Firstly, as I mentioned earlier, the Aeolian mode can be summed up like this:

  • It contains a b3, b6, b7
  • It is the 6th mode of the major scale

Both of these statements are essential to understanding the aeolian mode. Let’s look at the aeolian mode using the derivative approach.

Derivative Approach

The derivative approach means that we can produce the aeolian mode by playing a certain major scale and starting on the 6th note. This is because the aeolian mode is the 6th mode of the major scale. Let’s look at an example. The G major scale contains the following notes:

G – A – B – C – D – E – F#

We are concerned mainly with the 6th note, E. Using the derivative approach, to play E Aeolian, all we have to do is play the G major scale but start on E:

E – F# – G – A – B – C – D

What we have now is E aeolian. Let’s do another example. The F major scale contains the following notes:

F – G – A – Bb – C – D – E

If we play the F major scale, but start on the 6th note (D), we will be playing D Aeolian:

D – E – F – G – A – Bb – C

Suppose we want to play G# Aeolian. Since the aeolian scale is the 6th mode of the major scale, we would need to know which major scale produces G# as the 6th note. This is in fact the B major scale:

B – C# – D# – E – F# – G# – A#

Therefor, if we play the notes in the B major scale, but start on the 6th note (G#), we will be playing G# Aeolian:

G# – A# – B – C# – D# – E – F#

We have just constructed G# Aeolian using the derivative approach.

Parallel Approach

Now let’s look at the parallel approach. The parallel approach requires us to alter the notes in the major scale to produce the desired mode. The information we are concerned with here is that the aeolian mode contains a ‘flat 3’ (or lowered 3), flat 6 (or lowered 6) and flat 7 (or lowered 7). If we play any major scale and lower those notes, we will have constructed the aeolian mode. Let’s do an example. Suppose we want to play F Aeolian:

The F major scale contains the following notes:

F – G – A – Bb – C – D – E

To turn F major into F Aeolian, I need to lower the 3rd note (A becomes Ab), 6th note (D becomes Db) and 7th note (E becomes Eb):

F – G – Ab – Bb – C – Db – Eb

We have just produced the F Aeolian mode. Let’s do another example using the parallel approach. We want to play G Aeolian. G major has the following notes:

G – A  – B – C – D – E – F#

To make G Aeolian, we need to lower the 3rd note (B becomes Bb), 6th note (E becomes Eb) and 7th note (F# becomes F):

G – A – Bb – C – D – Eb – F

We have just produced the G Aeolian mode using the parallel approach.

1 More Example

It is important to realize that both the derivative approach and parallel approach produce the same results. Let’s do 1 more example just to illustrate this point. Suppose we want to play C Aeolian. Using the derivative approach all we need to know is, which major scale has C as its 6th note. The answer is E flat:

Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C – D

Of course, to play C Aeolian, we just need to play the E flat major scale and start on C:

C – D – Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb

Now let’s see if we get the same result using the parallel approach. The C major scale has the following notes:

C – D – E – F – G – A – B

If we ‘flatten’ the 3rd note (E), 6th note (A) and 7th note (B) we get the following:

C – D – Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb

As you can see, both the derivative approach and parallel approach have produced the same result for C Aeolian. This will work for any Aeolian scale that you wish to play.

As I mentioned earlier, the aeolian scale is also called the relative minor scale or the natural minor scale. It is said to be relative to the scale that it is derived from (derivative approach). For example, the relative minor of C major is A minor. This is because A aeolian is derived from C major and contains the same notes. The relative major key of E minor is G major. This is because E aeolian is derived from the key of G major (again, they contain the same notes). This is a short explanation to something that could be discussed in more detail, but it is quite useful to be aware of relative major/minors in every key.

Here is a list of the Aeolian modes in every key:

A Flat Aeolian
A Aeolian
A Sharp Aeolian
B Flat Aeolian

B Aeolian
B Sharp Aeolian
C Flat Aeolian (impractical)

C Aeolian
C Sharp Aeolian
D Flat Aeolian
D Aeolian
D Sharp Aeolian
E Flat Aeolian

E Aeolian

E Sharp Aeolian
F Flat Aeolian (impractical)
F Aeolian
F Sharp Aeolian
G Flat Aeolian (impractical)
G Aeolian

G Sharp Aeolian


 

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About Genaaron Diamente

I play guitar. I teach guitar. I like making music. I'm trying to build this site up to be a valuable resource for guitar students and teachers.

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