Crazy Scales: The Locrian Mode
The Locrian mode is the 7th mode of the major scale. This means that it looks on the fretboard like you’re playing the major scale starting from the 7th note. It’s very important that you understand that this is just how it is on the fretboard. The Locrian mode isn’t related to the major scale in any other way.
They definitely don’t sound similar!
For a start, the Locrian mode has a ‘diminished fifth‘- which is just the technical way of saying that the 5th note is flattened. This may not sound like much, but if you remember my post on chords, you’ll realise that this means we can’t have a major or a minor chord.
So, this scale cannot be used over major or minor chords.
This is a pretty big deal, as it also rules out anything that is based on a major or minor chord. No major 7ths, minor 7ths, dominant 9ths…most of the chords we would usually use don’t fit this scale.
Scroll down for the tab.
So, what can we use it over?
There are a few places that you’d want to use this scale:
- When trying to solo over a ‘minor 7 flat 5’ chord
- When soloing over a static drone, powerchord or ‘root note’
- When playing over a riff that uses the Locrian scale
The scale formula for this mode is: 1 – b2 – b3 – 4 – b5 – b6 – b7 . The only note that isn’t flattened is the 4th and even that is dissonant!
In G# (as I play it in the video), that gives us these notes:
A, Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G and the main notes you want to be emphasising with this are the minor third (b3, in this case “B”), the diminished fifth (b5, in this case “D”) and the minor 2nd (b2, in this case “A”).
Here is the tab for the G sharp Locrian mode:
…and here is the chord that it fits over, a G sharp minor 7 flat 5:
Here is the tab to the lead part that I play in the video.
Without Lead Guitar:
Playing the Solo
The example solo uses the D Locrian mode. This is because I wanted to tune down to dropped-d tuning and sound heavier in the rhythm parts.
The First Half of the Solo
For the first half of the solo, I’m staying fairly close to the root note- D (15th fret; B string). The first two lines are made up of four, 2 bar phrases. This essentially means I’m playing the 15 fret on the B for one bar, and then a scale pattern for the second bar. This idea repeats in four phrases.
It’s often a good idea to break up your lead lines into phrases like this. I could have just played a constant stream of notes from the scale, but that probably wouldn’t be as musical.
The 4th bar (phrase 2) is probably the trickiest part. In the video, I use my first finger to roll across the 13th, and then the 15th frets. This is really important to get clean sounding, as merging the notes together will sound sloppy!
Remember, also, that this bar in is triplets, meaning three notes per beat.
The Second Half
The Locrian mode itself isn’t very melodic. Actually, some would say that it’s even unmusical. For the rest of the solo, I’m using arpeggios from the scale to create more of a sense of melody.
The next four bars use small, three string sweep patterns followed by short scale runs. I’m still sticking to the ‘2 bar phrase’ idea, so you can break these licks down into two bar ‘chunks’.
I start with a B flat major arpeggio, in C shape, pulling off from the 13th to the 10th fret. Then, I sweep down the rest of the chord shape, ending on the 10th fret of the G. Then sweep back up the chord.
Then the tricky part. You’ve just swept down across the strings, and this part needs you to go back and do another down-sweep. The chord shape is the same, but it might feel awkward at first. Just keep practicing and you’ll get it!
Remember to use a metronome and take it slow at first, before building up speed.
The lick ends with a descending run down the D Locrian scale.
Next, I sweep the same pattern again, but this time with the 12th fret on the G string, instead of the 10th. This is because I’m imagining a G minor 7 arpeggio in A shape.
This then ends with another descending run using the D Locrian scale. This time I start a little bit higher and end with a bend (but it is definitely the same scale!).
The Last Part
For the last part of this solo, I break away from the ‘2 bar chunk’ idea that I’ve been using for most of the solo. For the last two lines I’m using a ‘4 bar chunk’ instead. This is to build up tension before the end of the solo.
Technically, the ‘chunks’ are called ‘phrases’, and changing the length of your phrases like this can be a great way to build tension. It’s just not what your audience expects.
After repeating the original ‘mini-sweep’ from earlier I sweep through four, C-shape arpeggios. They are: C minor, D diminished, E flat major, and then back to D diminished. All of these chords are taken from the E flat major scale (which is the major scale with the same notes as the D Locrian mode).
At the very end of the solo, I play up the D Locrian scale from the D on the 17th fret of the A string. The solo ends on a bend from the C (17th fret; G string) to the D.
Finally, here is a scale diagram for the Locrian scale with the major scale as a comparison. The highlighted notes are the ones that make the mode different. Then, there is the 7th shape of the major scale, and the pentatonic scale.
I included the pentatonic scale because some people might find it easier to add notes to the minor pentatonic to get the sound. Just add notes where I’ve highlighted and you can play the pentatonic with a Locrian vibe.
(just click for full size, and then right click to select ‘save image as…’)
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