Seven Modal Scales

Each and every major scale can be looked at from seven different angles—one mode starting from each note in the scale. While modes theoretically come from parent major scales, it's easiest to think of them as their own entities.

Ionian

Ionian is the first mode to learn about, and you already know it. The Ionian scale is simply the major scale. It follows the interval pattern WWHWWWH. FIGURE 6.1 shows an F Ionian mode. Since the Ionian mode is simply the traditional major scale, think of Ionian as the proper name for a major scale. It's great to know what the proper name is, but you don't have to be caught up in its usage and refer to every major scale as an Ionian mode; the terms are interchangeable.

In a classical music-theory class, modes are commonly referred to as church modes because of their widespread use in sacred music—especially Gregorian chant. Relegating modes to historical learning is a disservice, however. Modes are alive and well in modern music, especially jazz.

TRACK 14

FIGURE 6.1 Mode One: The Ionian Mode (Major Scale)

Dorian

The Dorian mode, the first of the displaced scales, is a major scale played from its second note. If you continue to use F major as the parent scale, the Dorian mode in this key starts from the note G and progresses up the same notes. FIGURE 6.2 shows the G Dorian scale. The G Dorian scale uses the interval pattern WHWWWHW.

TRACK 15

FIGURE 6.2 Mode Two: The Dorian Mode

There is a very important aspect to understand about modes. The G Dorian scale comes from the F major scale and shares all the same notes. This is an important learning tool, but all musicians need to learn the modes as “their own thing.” The Dorian mode is a scale unto itself, with its own distinct sound. If you look at the notes of G Dorian (G–A–B.

You could look at the Dorian scale as a minor-type scale, with an altered sixth note. In this case, the sixth note is raised up a half step. It's very much like a flavored minor scale. Today modes are used to spice up traditional major and minor scales that may sound overused and dated. As you'll see, all of the rest of the modes will closely resemble either a traditional major or a traditional minor scale.

When you think of the parent-scale relationship between each mode, don't fall into the trap of thinking that each mode has to be related to its parent scale. Using the minor scale as an example again, you don't have to think about its related major scale, do you? No, it can stand on its own. The same holds true for all of the modes. Learn to see them on their own if you plan to use them quickly.

Phrygian

Phrygian, the third mode, is the result of forming a scale starting from the third note of the parent major scale. Using F major as the parent scale, the Phrygian scale is an A Phrygian scale. It uses the interval pattern HWWWHWW (see figure 6.3). Phrygian has a distinct sound and sometimes recalls the music of Spain, as Spanish composers often use this scale.

TRACK 16

FIGURE 6.3 Mode Three: The Phrygian Mode

The A Phrygian scale (A–B–C–D–E–F–G–A) looks very much like a traditional A minor scale (A–B–C–D–E–F–G–A). The only difference is that the A Phrygian scale lowers the second note a half step. You could say that Phrygian is just a minor scale with a lowered second note—and you'd be right.

Lydian

The fourth mode of the major scale is the Lydian mode. Using F as a parent scale, you come to the B Lydian scale. Lydian uses the interval pattern WWWHWWH. See FIGURE 6.4.

TRACK 17

FIGURE 6.4 Mode Four: The Lydian Mode

The Lydian mode is a striking, beautiful, and bright sound. It's used by film composers to convey uplifting spirit and is a favorite of jazz and rock composers. The Lydian scale is so bright and happy that it's no surprise it's

closely related to the major scale. The B major scale with a raised fourth note. The raised fourth tone results in a bright and unusual sound and allows the plain major scale to have a unique overall effect.

Mixolydian

The fifth mode of the major scale is called the Mixolydian mode. Using the parent scale of F, our fifth mode is C Mixolydian. C Mixolydian, or Mixo as it's commonly abbreviated, uses the interval pattern of WWHWWHW. See FIGURE 6.5. The Mixolydian mode is a mainstay of jazz, rock, and blues music.

TRACK 18

FIGURE 6.5 Mode Five: The Mixolydian Mode

The Mixolydian mode is closely related to the major scale but is slightly darker sounding. The C Mixolydian scale (C–D–E–F–G–A–B–C) closely resembles the C major scale (C–D–E–F–G–A–B–C). The only difference is that the Mixolydian scale lowers the seventh note of the major scale a half step. The lowered seventh note gives the Mixolydian mode a bluesy, dark color, leading away from the overly peppy major scale. Because of this, it's a staple of blues, rock, and jazz players who want to darken the sound of major scales. It also coincides with one of the principal chords of jazz, blues, and rock music: the dominant seventh chord (C7, which you're going to learn all about in Chapter 8).

Aeolian

The sixth mode of the major scale is the Aeolian mode. In Chapter 4, you learned that minor scales are derived from the sixth note of a major scale.That's right, the Aeolian mode is the natural minor scale. This is another mode that you already know. Aeolian is the proper name for natural minor. You can refer to it as Aeolian at parties and look smarter. Using the parent key of F major, our sixth mode brings us to D Aeolian. You'll also remember that the keys of F major and D minor are related keys—F Ionian and D Aeolian are related modes from the same parent scale. The D Aeolian scale uses the interval formula WHWWHWW. See FIGURE 6.6.

TRACK 19

FIGURE 6.6 Mode Six: The Aeolian Mode (Minor Scale)

Since the Aeolian scale is an exact minor scale, there's no need to compare it to another major or minor scale. Some players are still more comfortable with major scales. If this applies to you, just look at Aeolian as a major scale with lowered third, sixth, and seventh notes.

Locrian

The seventh and final mode is called the Locrian mode. In our parent scale of F major, the seventh mode is E Locrian. E Locrian mode uses the interval pattern HWWHWWW. See FIGURE 6.7. The Locrian mode has a very distinct sound that you won't encounter often. Actually, you may go your whole life without ever hearing it or using it. Nevertheless, it completes your knowledge of modes, so it's good to know it.

TRACK 20

FIGURE 6.7 Mode Seven: The Locrian Mode

The E Locrian scale (E–F–G–A–B–C–D–E) looks a lot like an E minor scale (E–F–G–A–B–C–D–E). The only difference is that the Locrian scale has a lowered second and a lowered fifth note.

  1. Home
  2. Music Theory
  3. Modes and Other Scales
  4. Seven Modal Scales
Visit other About.com sites: