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The Music Modes - A Review

We’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at the modes, so this week we bring together a quick summary of them, in case you’ve forgotten or you are new to the articles.

Each mode has a certain ‘flavour’ or ‘sound’. Each one tends to lend itself to certain genres of music, but these are only suggestions, any mode can be used in any genre, it’s a case of experimenting with them and being creative. Music Theory is just a tool to aid understanding, in the end, it comes down to you, the musician, to create!

Modes can be thought of being ranked from ‘brightest/happiest’ to ‘darkest/saddest’.


Lydian


Lydian is the brightest sounding of all the modes. This is due to the #4. The #4 (or tritone) creates a series of 3 whole tones from the root. Because the 4th is augmented (#) it ‘pushes’ the melody strongly towards the 5th. This gives it a sense of rising upwards. It is quite popular in Film Scores where it can be used to convey a light, expansive feeling.

Lydian Play Along Backing Track




Ionian


Slightly less ‘bright’ than Lydian, this is the good old Major scale masquerading under a different name. This is the most important scale in Western music and even non-musicians recognise it, even if they don’t know why. It is quite a bright sounding scale, some might say sweet/sickly, but can produce some very catchy melodies. It would be quite hard to make something rock/heavy in it, but anything else goes!

Ionian Play Along Backing Track




Mixolydian


Mixolydian is the last of the ‘Major’ sounding modes. It differs from the Major scale by the one note (b7). It is quite a bright sounding scale but avoids the ‘cheesiness’ of the Major Scale. The b7 combines with the major 3rd to create a mix of major and minor colour to the mode that makes it quite distinctive. It is used quite extensively in rock music where you can use the Major Pentatonic scale and target a b7 whilst playing to get the sound.

Mixolydian Play Along Backing Track




Dorian


This is the middle mode and interestingly this is the only mode based on the Major Scale whose series of intervals are the same forward and backwards. This is very interesting, when the melody is played ‘upside down’ the interval structure remains the same! A musical palindrome!

Dorian is the first of the ‘minor’ modes and differs from the more commonly known Natural Minor (Aeolian) Scale in that it has a Major 6th, which makes it lighter sounding. This is the most important note when playing a melody in Dorian, it is the note that gives it its distinctive sound. Dorian is used in most styles of music, particularly folk, pop and jazz.

Dorian Play Along Backing Track




Aeolian


The Natural Minor Scale in disguise! Along with the Minor Pentatonic Scale it is the most common Minor Scale in Rock and Metal. It is used almost universally, it evokes a melancholic/dark/sad emotion. This feeling can be related to by everyone, we’ve all been there!

Aeolian Play Along Backing Track




Phrygian


It differs from the Natural Minor (Aeolian) scale by one note (b2). Interestingly if you ‘invert’ Phrygian you would get the Ionian (Major) mode. It has an exotic sound, conjuring images of Spanish flamenco, but can also sound heavy. The b2 is used to great effect in metal, riffing on E then throwing in the F (the b2). In recent years it has also come into more use in the world of EDM and Hip Hop.

Phrygian Play Along Backing Track




Locrian


The last mode, the darkest most menacing sounding of them all! Even though Locrian is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Lydian, it is more closely related than you may at first think. If you flatten the root note of Locrian, you will end up with Lydian! Also, both of them contain a #4/b5 which gives a certain kind of tension to them. This is sometimes a challenge to deal with!

There isn’t that much music written in Locrian as it is difficult to write in and as mentioned above can be quite unsettling. As an example the bass line of Army Of Me by Björk is Locrian. Heavy Metal bands have used Locrian to great effect, think Slayer, due to its ‘evilness’, but this is more riff/melody driven than a chord sequence.

Locrian Play Along Backing Track




I hope this review of all the modes has been helpful!! Work hard and most importantly, have fun!!




-Duncan Richardson - MU Columnist


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