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The Locrian Mode (guide and dicussion)

Phil W

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OK, following requests, here's my Lowdown on Locrian . . . not the most commonly used mode I know - but there you go.


The Locrian mode is built off the seventh degree of the diatonic major scale (in the key of C: B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C)


(or in the key of F: E, F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E)


The pattern is of Half Step - Whole Step -Whole Step - Half Step - Whole Step - Whole Step - Whole Step


You can also conceptualise it as 1, b2 , b3. 4, b5, b6, b7

I find this a better way to conceptualise it as it makes it easier to play e.g F# locrian without necessarily having to think of which key it is in (although you should know!)



Arranging the mode in thirds gives us (e.g. E locrian)


E G B D F A C (1 b3 B5 b7 9 11 b13 )



This means we can build chords from the mode such as a diminished triad (1 b3 b5), minor7 (1 b3 b5 b7) - also known as half diminished.


So if you hear or see Co C-7b5, Cm7b5, Cø or Cø7 then note choices from the C locrian scale might sound OK over it.


You mostly meet half-diminished (minor 7 b5) chords in jazz in a chord sequence known as a minor ii V or a minor ii V i. Minor ii Vs can also resolve well to a major chord in some contexts.

So, in all the following examples D locrian is a potential tone choice:


Dø G7b9 or Dø G7b9 Cm or Dø G7b9 C or

Dø Galt or Dø Galt Cm or Dø Galt C


If that confuses you, ask questions.


The thing to practise is playing the locrian as scales and arpeggios to get the sound fixed in your head as an option in terms of musical choices.


The qualifier to this is that since the 1960s the use of melodic minor modes have become more predominant in jazz so jazz musicians often use a mode of the melodic minor over half-diminished chords. The one used is identical to the locrian but with an unflattened ninth. Let's call it Locrian natural 9.

This sounds a little sweeter.


Using this mode, over a Dø chord a jazz musician might use D locrian D Eb F G Ab Bb C D

or D locrian natural 9 - D E F G Ab Bb C D


Generally, before the 60s the former was more common, since the 60s the latter has been more common but a lot of guys use both.


Somewhat strangely, the other main use of Locrian mode is apparently Death Metal - only that I've read that I've not heard it.


Songs using Locrian


Marbles - John McLaughlin (I've not checked but a few Mahavishnu tunes have a Locrian kind of sound to me - I might well be wrong)


The following I got from Wikipedia so I wouldn't count on all of them -

Army of Me - Bjork (sounds like phrygian to me but there is a b5 in the bassline)

First section of YYZ - Rush

Painkiller - Judas Priest

Errr . . .lots of death metal

Err . . . help me guys! :blush:

Warning: Advanced Bit


McCoy Tyner's Locrian V chord (with thanks to Mark Levine - get his Jazz Theory Book to learn more)


McCoy played some pretty advanced chords and managed to create a very unique sound on piano - famously in backing John Coltrane. Often instead of playing D7 G for example, McCoy would play Ab/D G - that means one bar of an Ab triad with D in the bass resolving to G.

If you analyse the notes from Ab/D (D Ab C Eb) the only diatonic key that the notes could come from is Eb major. So that means that Ab/D relates to D locrian.


So . . . if you ever get that gig with McCoy Tyner (or one of his many copyists) you can improvise using notes from D locrian over D7 chord with Ab in the bass.






Modes and scales are not music. They are tonal palettes and theoretical concepts that can aid the study of and creation of music. Never play a scale in a solo (unless you want to sound like a bad high school jazz soloist). Get the sounds in your head as sonic colours in your palette. Play scale fragments and don't be afraid to go outside the scale/mode even when playing modal jazz - it's the chromatic notes that often make the line more fluid.


Play what you hear!


Any typos above, please let me know!


Also any requests for the next instalment, please post here! Diminished scales? Whole tone? Lydian? Ionian? Melodic Minor modes?


Oh yeah - an example of locrian being used extremely well!



Frank Gambale - oh yeah!


{edit per PhilW}












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No... I don't get it and never have (you said to ask questions...)


So, if a guitarist is playing a C chord and I play a D as the root to his chord, then that's ok 'cause I'm in the Locrian mode? Doesn't it just sound like a bum note?


I'm not trying to be a smart-arse, it's something that's always puzzled me.

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The way I would look at that situation Kramer is that you would be playing the D note to create a tension that you would then resolve some way.


To me modes are basically a system of relative colours, each one produces a relative sound to its root centre. Say Ionian is happy, Locrian is evil, Lydian is Joe Satriani etz. I don't see them as rules more as serving suggestions. Playing rock music, as I mostly do the "Power Chord" is king therefore I get to pick the mode/key I feel best represents the song as there are very little 3'rds hogging the sonic limelight dictating the key centre. Plus they are great for getting to know your way around the neck of the bass.



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No... I don't get it and never have (you said to ask questions...)


So, if a guitarist is playing a C chord and I play a D as the root to his chord, then that's ok 'cause I'm in the Locrian mode? Doesn't it just sound like a bum note?


I'm not trying to be a smart-arse, it's something that's always puzzled me.


As far as I understand it ( :crazy: ) You wouldn't play a D scale over a C chord. But you could play a C Locrian over a C chord which uses parts of the Locrian scale to make it up.

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Thanks Phil (any anyone else contributing)

I understood what the modes are, but now I am at least understanding how they 'should' be used and work. The lightbulb is finally getting a little brighter each day. (I think I am at about 30 watts at the moment, If I can get to 60 by the time I pass on I'll be happy!) :)



Don't have a job you don't enjoy. If you're happy in what you're doing, you'll like yourself, you'll have inner peace. ~ Johnny Carson
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Well, it seems I have a couple more minutes.


Basically Vince, modes aren't essential knowledge really unless you play jazz but any knowledge is useful and modes help you find your way round the fretboard as stated.


I doubt you'd ever have to think 'locrian' in a rock, country or blues song unless you had to build a line or a solo over an extended minor 7 b5 chord.


In jazz, though, it makes a lot of sense to know which notes might sound good on a m7b5 chord. Try playing Woody 'n' You. s far as C major with a D in the bass, that's a D sus chord. Playing non-chord roots is not necessarily a modal concept. Try playing a C triad with the right hand on piano and hitting different roots, come are very nice. I like C/Bb and C/D a lot.

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Thanks Phil. Don't rush these lessons as I had just worked out a pleasing riff in the Dorian mode. It takes time to practice the scale and get into the sound of the scale. I found the first time I played Dorian the notes still wanted to resolve back to the root chord. Having then found a riff that starts with the first three notes of the Dorian scale it seemed to fix scale in my head. Nice. The Locrian looks more tricky in trying to make it melodic.


Thanks for your contribution of time and effort Phil. Nothing's for free anymore, but it would appear this is the exception:)



"We will make you bob your head whether you want to or not". - David Sisk
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Cheers guys, OK I will hold it there for a while. I first came across Dorian in funk tunes and Santana style jams.


It can overcomplicate things sometimes to think in terms of modes. The main application is when you have an extended period over just one or two chord or when you have a tune where the tonic centre is not a major chord.



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Now having practiced over this scale a bit I noticed that it's a bit like having two scales in one.


If you play 1,3,4,6,7,8 you have a version of a minor scale based on the root

If you play 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 you have obviously a major scale based on the second note in the scale.


This looks like unorthadox behaviour by Brand X to me and I assumed for 27 years that they simply played say Em/F/Em/F ie two adjacent chords. It didn't and wouldn't have occured to me that it could have been within a single scale.


Brilliant - try it.



"We will make you bob your head whether you want to or not". - David Sisk
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  • 3 weeks later...

Brand X - Percy Jones?

Back in early 80s when i first discovered UK (holdsworth)

and Return to Forever, and all the wonderful progressive music that was out there i bought a Brand X album.

The bass playing never sounded like it fit with the rest of the music and was a real turn off for me.

I must be unsophisticated.


Related Side bar: Mr. Phil W.

a friend turned me on to a book by Adam Kadmon called the "Guitar Grimoire"

it has been very useful in my studies.

Modes are discussed and charted at length.


check it out.


Mongo Play Bass - It have more than 1 Strings


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I was young and a rocker - and you guys know your stuff so maybee I'll look through the old collection and give BrandX another try. Phil Collins was good then.

If I still dont like Percy's playing at that point,

then the real litmus test for me will be:

How you guys feel about the vocals on Steve Howes 1st solo album, Beginings. If you liked them then it can only mean that I went mad some time back in 1982


Mongo Play Bass - It have more than 1 Strings


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This thread is a painful reminder to me that I need to revisit all my old theory stuff. When not challenged to actually use this information I tend to forget it.


I've got to go dig out my old Brand X albums.


I loved them at the time and I loved Percy's playing for being so inventive and un-stereotypical.


Dig that Nuclear Burn, baby. :)


That Phil guy they had drumming with them was no slouch either.

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  • 1 month later...

How about Enigmatic? I am confused by the steps. It appears to me that it is: Half Step, 1-1/2 Steps, Whole Step, Whole Step, Whole Step, Half Step. What am I missing here?


It would be 1, b2, 3, #4, #5, #6, 7 I state that with a big ?

"The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know" by Me
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Well I had to look it up. In twenty something years of bass playing and some very esoteric music I've never come across it though I had heard of it.


It's the kind of thing you're only really likely to come across in lists of weird scales. It's a synthetic scale (if that's the right word) i.e. one that someone made up and you can make your own up too.


The description of the notes in the scale looks correct.

In C: C Db E F# G# A# B C

so that would be half step, one and a half steps, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step, half step


According to this link it was invented in Milan in 1888 by professor Adolfo Crescentini (apparently on a whim - but I challenge other Lowdowners who might know some kind of logic behind it).


Verdi famously used it in Ave Maria, apparently Joe Satriani uses it a lot and it's claimed that John Coltrane, Farnk Zappa, John McLaughlin, John Scofield, Allan Holdsworth, Scott Henderson and Arnold Schoenberg have used it in compositions. Can't realy say I've ever noticed. I have a copy of some pages from Coltrane's practice notebook at home somewhere and I think I do remember him scribbling out the scale in a list of exotic scales to practise. Don't think he ever composed anything with it though.


Here's another insightful thread:


on the use of the scale and its modes


TBH to me, it sounds similar to the seventh mode of the melodic minor with a raised seventh instead of a sharpened ninth and if I was improvising over a dominant seventh chord I might play something similar to line based off the enigmatic scale whereas in reality I'd be playing an altered scale (also called superlocrian) with some chromatic passing notes.


e.g. C altered - C Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb with a passing note B natural


almost identical to


C enigmatic - C Db E F# G# A# B


So, one to learn is you're a big Satriani fan or you love the sound of it, otherwise not worth a lot of effort.



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