May 6th, 2007
This is a post I have been hesitating on for a long time. Since the theory behind a mode is somewhat hard to grasp at first, I was not sure how to break it down modes in a way that you could easily understand. But due to the importance of modes I decided I can’t push them off any longer. But I will try to cover modes in installments and as clearly as I can. This first lesson on modes will just outline what modes are and the names of the modes of the major scale. In later lesson I will cover modes in greater detail. So lets get crack’n.
Before you start this lesson you must understand how a major scale is made. If you don’t know this yet then see my post on building the major scale
What is a mode?
Simply, a mode is a diatonic scale that has 7 notes and one of those notes functions as the starting point (the “root” or the “tonic”). So the major scale is a mode because is has 7 notes and the first note of the scale functions as the “root” note.
Why do you need to learn modes?
The best reason to learn modes is because different modes have different sound qualities. They evoke different emotions. When you are writing a song or improvising you will want to express yourself in all different ways. Knowing different modes will allow you to musically express yourself and keep your songs and solos sounding fresh and interesting.
The 7 Greek Modes
There are 7 modes in western music that were named by the Greeks. These modes are used by almost all composers and songwriters today. There modes are 7 different scales that are derived from the major scale. Each mode is said to have a different type of sound and bring up different types of emotions. Here are the 7 modes and the moods they are said to evoke:
Ionian mode (AKA the major scale)- The Ionian mode is happy sounding
Dorian mode – the Dorian mode is sad sounding
Phrygian mode- The Phrygian mode is mysterious sounding. It is used a lot in flamenco guitar.
Lydian mode - the Lydian scale is happy sounding
Mixolydian mode- The Mixolydian mode is happy sounding
Aeolian mode (AKA the Minor Scale)- The Aeolian scale is sad sounding
Locrian Mode- the Locrian mode is used to create tension
The modes above are all derived from the major scale. The different modes are made by starting and ending on a notes other than the root not of the major scale. Let’s see what I mean using the C major scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C:
If we start from a different note and end on that same note we have that notes mode. The mode that you are playing depends on the position of the note within the major scale. Starting and ending on the 2nd note will always give you the Dorian mode. Starting and ending on the 3rd note will always give you that note’s Phrygian mode. And so on in the same order that I have the modes listed above.
Now just as each degree of the major scale has a number to go along with it (The major scale is built as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), every mode also has corresponding numbers that relate to that notes major scale. Here is what I mean:
We know the D Dorian scale is D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D. So lets compare that to the D Ionian mode (Major scale). The D major scale is D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D. So our D Dorian scale has a b3 and a b7 (because the 3rd note of D dorian is an F, while the 3rd note of D major is F#, so its flat. Same with the 7th note of C vs. C#). So to get any Dorian Scale all you have to do is make the 3rd and 7th of that major scale “flat”. So if we wanted to play a C dorian it would be C D Eb F G A Bb C. You can also build a dorian scale by using the Whole- Half formula of W-H-W-W-W-H-W
Lets look at the rest of the modes compared to their major scales to find out how they are made.
E Phrygian mode is E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E. Compare this to E major: E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E. So the Phrygian mode spelling is 1, 2b, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7 or H-W-W-W-H-W-W
F Lydian mode is F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F compared to F major: F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E, F. So the Lydian mode spelling is 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7 or W-W-W-H-W-W-H
G Mixolydian mode is G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G compared t G major: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G. So the Mixolydian mode spelling is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7 or W-W-H-W-W-H-W
A Aeolian mode A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A compared to is A major: A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A. So the Aeolian mode (aka the minor scale) spelling is 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7 or W-H-W-W-H-W-W
B Locrian mode is B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B compared to B major: B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A#, B. So Locrian mode is spelled 1, b2, b3, 4, b5, b6, b7 or H-W-W-H-W-W-W-
Remember that these formulas can be used to get any mode you want. Just apply the scale adjustments to any major scale to get that given mode, or start from any note and apply the appropriate whole-half steps.
Now the tricky part is how to use modes. I will cover that in a later lesson as you will need some time to digest what modes are before you begin to use them. Please post any questions if you have them. Stay tuned..