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That will make sense in just one second. Here are your seven basic modes:. They are numbered 1 through 7, and their number is the scale degree which acts as their new tonic. So for instance, the Dorian mode of C-Major begins on the 2nd scale degree, D, and then climbs through to C at the 7th scale degree, using the exact same pitches with no sharps or flats. You simply shift yourself forward a number of scale degrees and use that note as your new tonic.

That is how it's done, but the problem is that you won't be communicating about it in this way.

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The reason is that musicians talk to each other about scales based on the tonic, or root note. While modes are easily constructed from C-Major, what truly defines them is their sequence of intervals, which makes them very different from your typical scales and key signatures. All major scales follow the above sequence which leads the various accents used in different major key signatures. But modes wrap through that sequence instead. Visually you can see the pattern rolling out with the diagonals full of H's. This is how you'll remember which mode features which sequence of intervals until you begin to have it memorized.

Ultimately you'll want to think about it in terms of scale degrees and accents, because you can apply these modes to any major or minor scale. Because a mode is a type of variation on a scale, there are no key signatures to memorize.

Understanding Modes

What you need to remember is how you will alter the existing key signature. This final table represents how you should think about these modes once you're able to work out the details in your head. Understanding is the most important, and then you won't have to bother with committing it to memory. It will happen naturally.

If you're the type with a strong imagery-based memory then you'll have an easy time with this, because there's even a visual pattern in this layout. The real absurdity comes when you realize that some of these are the exact same scales by different names. For instance, all of these are the same:. It can get a little silly like that, but fortunately you'll be working off of chord charts or at least working on a staff.

Only the super modal jazz guys improvise while jumping around modes and keys. Now, we'll talk about each mode itself and the peculiarities of each. Each has a specific note that gives it it's characteristic. Each is also major or minor in it's own right beyond the scale you start with, which will help you choose which to use to match the emotional impact of your song.

Each of the main seven modes of Western music has certain characteristics that can help you achieve your songwriting goals. Let's look at each individually. An astute observer will have noticed that the Ionian mode is none other than the Major Scale by another name. It is the exact same.

How to Make Music Modes from Major Scales

This is the mode we all know and love, used in pop music non-stop most of the time with the same chord progression too. The attractive aspect of this mode, other than it being the easiest to work with as it demands no variations on the chosen scale, is the tension and release that comes out of the half step between the 6th and 7th scale degrees. The tension is released as the 7th resolves back to the root, creating very clearly delineated melody loops and song segments. The Ionian mode produces an uplifting, innocent, happy, and upbeat style of song.

Constructing the Modes

You hear it in pop music, children's music, and gospel. The Dorian mode feels like a Minor Scale due to the minor triad up front, but here the 6th scale degree is natural instead of flat while the 7th is flat. This gives this mode two curious characteristics. It sounds melancholic but brighter and more positive than the typical minor scale. The 7th doesn't quite resolve which creates a sense of restlessness. You hear this mode used in lots of Celtic and Irish music and those genres heavily influenced by them like Folk, Country, Blues, and Bluegrass. The Phrygian mode creates an ambiguous sound that leaves the listener uncertain of what they are hearing.

Because the 2nd note is flat, it sounds strange to most people who are used to a whole step to the 2nd degree as in typical major and minor scales in the Ionian mode. Because of this, it's not used in music so much as in film scores. This strangeness can create a sense of mystery, dread, tension, and an impending negative event while still having a sense of warmth.


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You'll catch some classical artists using it as well as metal bands. It's also known as the Spanish Gypsy Scale. They vary by one note, the sharp fourth. It largely shares the same sounds and uses as Ionian for happy, pop, and children's music. The sharp fourth strongly wants to resolve to the 5th and it's important that you use this to your advantage or you might as well just be writing in a major scale.

Musical Modes Explained

The Jazz genre and many show-tunes have exploited this very well to keep you engaged in the performances. The Mixolydian mode also varies from Ionian on one single note, the flattened 7th. It's a popular choice for solo improvisations when in a major key because it provides a slightly unfamiliar counterpoint to help keep things fresh.

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A mode is like a scale in a different position. Let's take a C scale. When we play it starting on C, it's just like any other major scale. However, when we play it starting on it's second scale degree, D, it is in a D mode.

Understanding the Modes

It is essentially still a C scale at heart, but it's in a D mode; specifically a D Dorian mode. When we play that C scale starting on an F note, we call it an F Lydian mode. These names come from the scale degree that the mode starts on. So when you start on a second, its a Dorian mode. Here's a list of the names depending on what scale degree they start on. R - Ionian Yes, it actually has a name. So let's say you wanted to find an E Dorian mode.

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How would you do that? First we can find what scale degree a dorian mode starts on: From there you ask, "What major scale has E as the second? So take a D major scale:. So what about an F Aeolian mode? First, what is Aeolian? It's the 6th mode. So what major scale has F as the sixth?