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The Ionian Mode - The Good Old Major Scale

Here we are back where we started with the main scale! All the modes we have discussed recently are derived from this! No one really calls it the Ionian Scale anymore, it’s just the Major scale, but for the sake of completeness, for this set of articles, I will.

It is made up of the following notes:


Therefore C Ionian would be made up of the following notes:


Unsurprisingly, Ionian is one of the ‘Major’ modes! This is the most important scale in Western music and even non-musicians recognize it, even if they don’t know why. It is quite a bright sounding scale, some might say sweet/sickly, but can produce some very catchy melodies. It would be quite hard to make something rock/heavy in it, but anything else goes! As always, these are just guidelines as to where to use modes, all of them can be used in any genre, but some have stronger tendencies towards certain genres.

The Ionian Scale will work well over a major chord (plus maj7 etc.). Because everyone knows this scale so well we have certain expectations of where the melody will go, and we can use this to our advantage and hold off the change/movement to a different time to add an element of surprise.

The chords that are built on the notes of Ionian always follow the same pattern. I know I’ve referred to this in past articles, but it’s important so bears repeating.


When analyzing a chord sequence the position of the 7th chord can help a lot. An Ionian sequence will (generally, not always) start with a Major chord (or Maj7) with the root note of the key! The 7th chord appears on the 5th scale degree, and as there is only one (dominant) 7th chord this is a sure-fire way to recognize an Ionian progression (provided they’ve used extended chords of course!).

The position of the triton in the scale gives us a 7th chord on the V chord. Change from this chord back to the I chord (in the key of C – G7 to C) we get one of the strongest chord movements in music. It seems so obvious to people that this is where it will go, that to not go there is almost like not finishing a sentence!! As per the melodies, this can be used to our advantage, and leave that resolution until the moment of maximum impact.

Try playing some Ionian chord progressions to get the feel for yourself.


Below is an Ionian Chord Progression for you to listen to and get the feel of. Have a jam over it too!!

Ionian Mode Chord Progression Play Along Track


Use C Ionian or C Major Pentatonic and make some sweet sounds!!

Work hard and most importantly, have fun!!


-Duncan Richardson - MU Columnist


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