THE LOCRIAN MODE
The Locrian mode is the 7th mode of the major scale. The locrian mode contains the following ‘lowered’ or ‘flattened’ notes:
2, 3, 5, 6, 7
The locrian mode is quite a dark sounding mode. It is used often over half diminished chords, because it contains a flat 3, flat 5 and flat 7. We are not going to go into too much detail in this post regarding its sound and its use in musical contexts. What we will explore here is what the mode is and how to construct it.
If you have read any of the other posts on the other modes, or if you have read guitar modes explained, you will probably have a pretty good understanding of how modes work already. Even still, because the locrian mode is said to be the ‘hardest’ mode, it is a good chance to test out your knowledge and consolidate some key ideas and concepts.
If you have not read any of the above posts, the one thing that you do need to be familiar with is major scales. You need to be able to understand major scales from a conceptual point of view and you need to be able to construct them in any key. If you are not confident with the theoretical and practical application of major scales, please read the post understanding major scales before moving on.
Parallel and Derivative
To understand any mode, you need to be comfortable with analyzing them using the parallel approach and the derivative approach. It might sound complicated but it really is not. Basically, there are two different ways of producing the one mode. In this post, we are going to explore exactly how to do that. Let’s look at the derivative approach first and then look at some examples.
The derivative approach involves constructing a mode by playing a certain major scale and starting on a different note. The mode that you are playing is therefor said to be ‘derived’ from the original major scale used and is thus called the derivative approach. Let’s look at the locrian scale using the derivative approach.
As I mentioned earlier, the locrian mode can be defined by the following:
- It is the 7th mode of the major scale
- It contains a ‘flattened’ (or ‘lowered’) 2, 3, 5, 6, 7
With the derivative approach, we are only really concerned with the fact that it is the 7th mode. This means that it is built upon the 7th note of the major scale. Or to put it even more simply, to play the locrean mode, we play the major scale and start on the 7th note. Let’s do an example. The A major scale contains the following notes:
A – B – C# – D – E – F# – G#
The 7th note of the A major scale is G#. Therefor, if we play the A major scale and start on G#, we are now playing G# Locrian:
G# – A – B – C# – D – E – F#
That’s it. We have just produced G# Locrean using the derivative approach. Let’s use the same approach for a different key. F Major has the following notes:
F – G – A – Bb – C – D – E
The 7th note of F major is E. Therefor, if we play F major but start on the 7th note, we will produce E Locrian:
E – F – G – A – Bb – C – D
We have just produced E Locrian using the derivative approach. Now, let’s say we want to play A Locrian. Using the derivative approach, we need to know which major scale contains A as the 7th note. Knowledge of major scales is important here. Of course, B flat major contains A as the 7th note:
Bb – C – D – Eb – F – G – A
Therefor, to play A Locrian, we simply need to play the B flat major scale and start on A:
A – Bb – C – D – Eb – F – G
We have just produced 3 examples of the Locrian scale using the derivative approach. Now let’s move onto the parallel approach:
The parallel approach involves playing the desired mode by altering the existing notes of a certain major scale. As I mentioned before, the locrian mode contains a b2, b3, b5, b6, b7. That means that relative to the major scale, the 2nd note, 3rd note, 5th note, 6th note and 7th notes have been ‘lowered’ or ‘flattened’. Again the best way to demonstrate the theory is to look at some examples. Suppose we want to play C Locrian. As you most likely know, C Major contains the following notes:
C – D – E – F – G – A – B
Now, to turn C major into C locrian, we need to lower the 2nd note (D becomes Db), 3rd note (E becomes Eb), 5th note (G becomes Gb), 6th note (A becomes Ab) and 7th note (B becomes Bb). What we now have is the following:
C – Db – Eb – F – Gb – Ab – Bb
We have just produced the C Locrian mode using the parallel approach. Let’s do another example. Let’s construct G Locrian:
G Major has the following notes:
G – A – B – C – D – E – F#
If we lower the 2nd note (A becomes Ab), 3rd note (B becomes Bb), 5th note (D becomes Db), 6th note (E becomes Eb) and 7th note (F# becomes F), we get the following scale:
G – Ab – Bb – C – Db – Eb – F
We have just constructed the G Locrean mode using the parallel approach.
Using Both Approaches
The key to truly understanding modes, including the locrian mode, is to understand that both approaches produce the exact same result when used to construct a given mode. Let’s do 1 more example and use both approaches to get there. Let’s assume we want to play the D Locrian mode. We will construct it using the parallel approach first. D major has the following notes:
D – E – F# – G – A – B – C#
In order to turn D major into D locrian, we need to lower the 2nd (E becomes Eb), 3rd (F# becomes F), 5th (A becomes Ab), 6th (B becomes Bb) and 7th (C# becomes C) notes:
D – Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C
We have just constructed D Locrian using the parallel approach. Now, let’s try to do the same using the derivative approach. Remember, the locrian mode is the 7th mode of the major scale. If we want to play D locrian, we need use the major scale that contains the note D as its 7th. It is of course E flat major:
Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C – D
Therefor, if we play Eb major, but start on D, we get the following:
D – Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C
As you can see, both approaches have produced the same result for D Locrian.
The best way to practice modes in theory and in application is to go over the information until it makes as much sense as possible and then start playing the mode in different keys.
Here you find links to every Locrian mode and all the positions along the guitar fretboard.
Here is a list of the Locrian in every key:
A Flat Locrian (impractical)
A Sharp Locrian
B Flat Locrian
B Sharp Locrian
C Flat Locrian (impractical)
C Sharp Locrian
D Flat Locrian (impractical)
D Sharp Locrian
E Flat Locrian
E Sharp Locrian
F Flat Locrian (impractical)
F Sharp Locrian
G Flat Locrian (impractical)
G Sharp Locrian