The Ionian Mode

Ionian Mode

This is first of the seven modes of a major scale and is probably the most commonly used mode. This mode is used even by the guitar players who are not aware of the modal theory because it is also the natural major scale. We will focus on learning the modes using C major scale as an example so that it doesn’t become complex for you to understand the theory and other related concepts. This particular approach to understand modes of a major scale is known as the derivative approach. Within this approach we keep changing the root note as we progress through the scale. The Ionian mode has the following interval structure;

R 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

The Ionian scale in the key of C major is C Ionian because it is the first mode of this scale. You may have understood how to construct this mode from the previous lesson but let’s refresh it. To play C Ionian, you will take C as a root note and then apply the above interval structure to it. This will look similar to the following;

R 2 3 4 5 6 7 8


  Ionian Mode

Ionian mode has a very plain and clean sound that is also sometimes considered sterile, it does not have a lot of brightness as some other modes, and therefore it can be considered as a basic mode. The simplicity of this mode is due to its interval structure which doesn’t have any flats or sharps in it. However flat and sharp notes are the ones which add most of the flavor to any scale/mode. Therefore their absence makes this mode very much straight-forward. You can easily identify the Ionian mode being played in songs due to its straight-forwardness and clean sound. Ionian is famous for its usability in ballads and easily digestible songs. It can be used in different types of music including Rock, Pop and Blues.

Relevant Chords of Ionian

Another important theoretical aspect to learn about every mode is to have a grip over the chord progressions suitable for a particular mode. When you make a song or improvise a solo over your favorite backing tracks, it is always helpful if you know which chords are being played. Another advantage of knowing which chords to be used in rhythms is that you know which chords to play if you want to create a particular sounding instrumental. If you manage to produce a good sounding chord progression for rhythms your whole composition will sound excellent and this is only possible if you know modes and hence the chord progression of each mode.

Understanding the chord/mode relationship is very tricky and there are different approaches to use chords in the application of modes. We will focus on the basic approach so that you are not overwhelmed with the complexities of very technical theoretical concepts. One thing to remember here is that a mode will sound good if the chords used in its progression contain notes from this mode. Therefore it is essential that you use chords which are created from the notes of a particular mode and specifically using chords from the notes which create most of the flavor of that mode.

For each mode you can create triads, 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th chords which can be used in your compositions. You need to learn about these chords if you wish to use them in your music however it is always easy to use only the triads and 7th chords for producing good songs/instrumentals. Let’s now start with which chords we can use for the Ionian mode. Whenever you need to develop a chord progression, start with the root and then add other relative chords of the mode. So, for Ionian, the root note is C and since it is a major scale, you can use C major chord without any hesitation. You can also start with C major 7th, and add further chords.

After you have chosen the root chord/first chord (based on the root note of your mode), comes the tricky part and needs your creativity implemented at its fullest. One approach many guitarists follow is to play IV and V chords (IV and V represent the 4th and 5th degree in our interval structure/notes in the mode) in addition to the root chord. This is simple in our example; root chord is C major while IV and V chords are F and G. Easy? Right!

Now comes the difficult part because you have to go one step further about which chords to be used in your chord progressions. This second approach requires you to use the notes for chords which have the most characteristic tone of the mode. In the case of Ionian we have the following chords in addition to the root chord which will add most of the flavor to the mode;

  • IV Major 7th
  • V Major 7th

So now you have understood which chords you can use for Ionian mode, it is important that you experiment with these chords. Although the above chords create most of the flavor of Ionian mode you can also use other relevant chords without any hesitation because this will broaden your vision and improve creativity. Within the next lessons we will focus on using the chords with maximum tonal characteristic of a particular mode instead of focusing on the IV and V approach.

Famous Compositions in Ionian

The last part of this lesson provides information on which songs/instrumentals have used a particular mode. Following are the famous songs/instrumentals which have used Ionian mode;

  • Joe Satriani – Always with you, Always with Me
  • Joe Satriani – Friends
  • John Petrucci – Wishful Thinking
  • The main melody of Starry Night

[asa_collection no_content]modes[/asa_collection]

Avatar photo


Ahmed is a regular contributor to GuitarChords 247 and brings you in-depth guitar lessons and music theory.
View More Posts by Ahmed

1 comment