Modes demystified

Modes.  A subject that tends to send a shudder down most guitarists’ spines.  And to be honest, it was the one thing when I started learning theory that really confused the life out of me for a while.  But stick with it, it will make sense.

If you’ve read my previous theory posts, thanks, that makes me happy.  If I’ve written them properly you should be familiar with Keys and the notes in each particular Key.

In the last blog post, we created a simple melody line using the C major scale over the chords of Cmaj and Fmaj from that Key.  Now you can create plenty of melodies using a major scale but sometimes you need a bit of variety.

I have said before that intervals are the secret to music.  If you take the Key of C major, the notes form the C major scale.  We can play through this sequence but instead of starting from the C note, start from each of the different scale tones.  Although we’re playing the exact same notes, the different starting position and intervals between them will give a different feel and sound to each mode. Each of the scale tones has a specific (Greek) name as shown below:

C D E F G A B

I

ii

iii

IV

V

vi

vii

Ionian Dorian Phrygian Lydian Mixolydian Aeolian

Locrian

So we’re saying that each Key has 7 modes and the major scale is one of these modes.  We can compare each of these modes to its’ respective major scale and we find the following:
Ionian = Major scale
D Dorian = D E F G A B C D      D Major  = D E F# G A B C# D
Dorian = 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7     intervals: T S T T T S T
The b3 gives the Dorian mode a minor feel.
E Phrygian = E F G A B C D E            E Major = E F# G# A B C# D# E
Phrygian = 1, b2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7    intervals: S T T T S T T
The Phrygian mode is related to the Aeolian mode with the 2nd scale degree a semitone lower.  It also has a minor feel.
F Lydian = F G A B C D E F          F Major = F G A Bb C D E F
Lydian = 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7           intervals: T T T S T T S
The Lydian mode has a major feel.
G Mixolydian = G A B C D E F G        G Major = G A B C D E F# G
Mixolydian = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7          intervals: T T S T T S T
The Mixolydian is related to the major, having a dominant 7th.
A Aeolian =  A B C D E F G A          A Major = A B C# D E F# G# A
Aeolian = 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7       intervals: T S T T S T T
The Aeolian is also known as the natural minor scale.
B Locrian =  B C D E F G A B             B Major = B C# D# E F# G# A# B
Locrian = 1, b2, b3, 4, b5, b6, b7     intervals: S T T S T T T

The Locrian is a related to the Aeolian with the second and fifth degrees a semitone lower.
I hope all this makes sense, but if you’re like me it will probably just take a little while for it to sink in.  In future posts we’ll explore these modes in a bit more detail with examples of how they sound.
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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. John Morton

    Andrulian, I’d been using modes for many years before I discovered that our major scale, the Ionian, didn’t achieve it’s pre-eminence until comparatively recently in the history of music.

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