The Modes - What Are They?

In last week's article we looked at Diatonic Chords. We can also build scales in the same way. These are called modes, and from what I’ve seen, they strike fear into the heart of some musicians, so please bear with it, it’s not as bad as it sounds!!

Again we will stick with the Key of C:

In the same way we built all the chords in the key, we play a scale starting on each note.

On the face of it, so what? Well, we have started on the note D, this implies it is a scale in the key of D. As we have done previously (see my article "The Importance of Learning the Major Scale") we need to compare it to the D major scale to see what’s happening.

This new scale is called Dorian and is a Mode. If we keep these intervals we can now play Dorian in any key!

If we continue this exercise (starting from each note) we can complete the following table:

So there you have it, all 7 modes, and you can play them in any key, just start on the note you want and play the correct intervals! That’s a lot of scales just by applying some music theory.

If you remember that a minor chord has a ♭3 we can think of the scales in the following groups:

Major type scales: Major (Ionian), Lydian and Mixolydian*

Minor type scales: Dorian, Phrygian, Natural Minor (Aeolian) and Locrian

*Mixolydian is sometimes referred to as a Dominant Scale

I suggest you play the modes starting from the same note so you can get the sound of each scale in your head.

Starting from C:

Until next time, practice those modes!

-Duncan Richardson - MU Columnist

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