Talking Technique: Modes on a String

Typically when we play scales, we play across the strings, but there’s a lot of value in playing all the way up a single string. It helps us to think in positions and to mentally know how many steps you are skipping as you walk up the string. Today we’ll be working on our theory as well as our technique as we go through the modes.

If that sounds scary, don’t worry! There are only three “building blocks” that you’ll encounter when going up the string. We’ll work through each mode with fingerings all starting on the same root note to reinforce the differences in how to build them.

Today’s tip: When you’re making shifts, be sure to make them smooth! We’ve got an easy yet powerful exercise to focus on smooth jumps.

Austrian-gone-Californian Ariane Cap is a bassist, educator, blogger and author. In her book Music Theory for the Bass Player and corresponding 20-week online course, she teaches music theory, bass technique, bass line creation and fretboard fitness in a systematic, practical and experiential way. She just released a brand new course on ear training for the bass player: Ear Confidence - 6 Paths to Fearless Ears. Contact her via her blog or website.

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Share your thoughts

  1. isky

    One of the best “visual” lessons ever. Great system of shapes. Been always struggling with modes (except for minor and major) and I think I found my “right” method.
    Love it, thanks Ariane.

      • Allen Quillian

        Found one of your excellent videos on the use of modes and how to use them in improvisation. I didn’t save it and haven’t been able to find again. Could you send a link? Or where it was posted.

  2. Jack

    Really good information, presented in an accessible format. I’ve come back to upright in the past year or so, and need work on getting out of first position naturally. The single string scale is a great way to reinforce landings, and I will use it.
    I would like to suggest you adjust the recording, as the fingerboard slides/squeaks became a distraction to me.
    Again, thanks.

  3. Scott

    Keep up the good work!

  4. Mark

    Thanks for the lesson. Wondering what you might think of fingering 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4, just one real shift but constant pivoting.

    • Hi Mark, I am tempted to ask if you are a guitarist ;) But yeah, I think it is a valid technique, sure. Especially in the upper octave of the bass, no problem. In the lower octave you will stretch a ton, especially with something like lydian, which is all shifts. In order to understand the modes I think the way in the video is better because it helps to understand the modes on top of being a good tech exercise.

      • Mark

        Thanks Ariane, I agree that the fingerings in your lesson are great to use. Not a guitarist, just have used the 1234 for a long time (in addition to those in your teaching) and like the way it sounds in a lot of situations.

  5. Fausto

    I really like the approach of starting every mode from the same note, I think it’s working for me. I have been practising this a lot this week ,without looking at the fretboard, and it’s really paying back.
    Thanks Ariane, another great lesson.