In this guitar lesson we are going to take a look at what the Aeolian mode sounds like, a common guitar scale shape for it, and how to bring out the Aeolian sound in your playing. The Aeolian mode is essentially just a natural minor scale so it is a bit darker and sadder sounding than a major scale. In order to see how this scale is made we will start out with an A major scale and alter a few notes to make it into a natural minor scale. Once you understand how the Aeolian mode is made we will let you know what notes can be emphasized in the natural minor scale to bring out the Aeolian sound
The A major scale is spelled 1A 2B 3C# 4D 5E 6F# 7G#. In order to make this A major scale into an A Aeolian, or natural minor, scale, all you have to do is lower the 3rd, 6th and 7th scale degrees one half step each. The C# would move down to a C, F# down to an F, and the G# to a G. With this in mind, an A natural minor scale would be spelled 1A 2B 3C 4D 5E 6F 7G and the key signature would be no sharps or flats. Odds are you have heard or played a minor scale before. Check out the scale diagrams for the A major and A minor scales shapes that we are using in this lesson.
There is another way to think about the Aeolian mode. If you pick any major scale and start on the 6th scale degree you would be in the Aeolian mode. For example, take the key of C major. The C major scale is spelled 1C 2D 3E 4F 5G 6A 7B. Go to the 6th scale degree, which is an A note, and play your C major scale starting on that note. Now you could say that you are playing an A Aeolian or an A natural minor scale. Notice that the key signature for C major and A minor are the same, this is because A is the relative minor key of C major.
Now that you know how the Aeolian scale is made let’s learn what notes in the scale can be emphasized to bring out this particular sound in your playing. If you emphasize the 1st, 3rd, 6th, and 7th scale degrees of the Aeolian model you will start to get a good feel for what this mode sounds like. Try recording an A minor chord over and over again and then play the recording back. If you don’t have a way to record just have a friend play an A minor chord over and over for you. Play around with the A minor scale over this chord and see what each note sounds like over the A minor chord. The 1st scale degree gives us the tonal center of the scale, the 3rd scale degree gives the minor quality to the A minor chord and the 6th and 7th scale degrees help the listener to focus in on the altered notes of the major scale. A great way to start emphasizing these notes is to learn your A minor 7 arpeggios and use them to play over the A minor chord. The A minor arpeggio is made of the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th scale degree of an A natural minor scale. Throw the 6th scale degree to the arpeggio and you will be on your way to expressing the sound of the Aeolian mode.