Dansm's Guitar Scale Lessons
Translating Modes Into Any Key
I've shown all the major scales in the key of G and all the minor scales in the key of Em. What if you want to play them in another key? Well, that's easy. Just use your knowledge of the fretboard and these simple rules, and you're set! I hope this helps, and if you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me.
All right, you've got the ionian mode of the major scale, as shown below. The root of the scale is indicated by the white-filled circle. If you are playing in the key of G, this note must be a G. And as I told you in the lessons, to play this as the G major scale, you put that white-filled circle on the sixth string 3rd fret. As you should know, this note is a G. The higher modes continue from there; for example, A dorian starts on the fifth fret (which is an A).

OK, let's say you want to play this scale in the key of A. You need to put the white-filled circle on an A somewhere, and the way to do this is to play it at the fifth fret. The rest of the modes continue from there (B dorian starts on the seventh fret, etc.).
You can use the same logic to place any scale on the fretboard. Just find where the root of the scale is that you want to play, and put the white-filled circle in your ionian mode there. The diagram below shows all the notes on the sixth string, in case you are unsure:

There's one other problem you may encounter: what do you do when you are playing modes up the fretboard and you get to the 14th or 15th fret? On an acoustic, you can't get much higher than that (unless you have a cutaway). I'll use the G major scale as an example. I start at the 3rd fret, and then progress directly through the five other modes using these frets: 5th, 7th, 8th, 10th, and 12th. This gets me through the aeolian mode. However, I can't play any higher, so I skip back down and play the locrian mode at the 2nd fret. This is the easiest way to do it: play through the mode on the 12th or 13th fret and then drop back down to the 2nd or 3rd. This should work for almost all the scales. I hope this helps!
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1998 Daniel E. Smith.