Music Theory: Modes?
Posted on 08/03/2016
Modes are one of those things in music that seem a lot harder than they actually are but once you understand the concept then it is extremely easy to work them out over any key signature.
First lets look at the C Major scale…
The C major scale can also be called C Ionian mode. The 2 are exactly the same.
Now lets take the C major scale, but instead of playing C-C, lets play D-D using the notes of the C major scale.
This is called D Dorian mode. See how simple that is! You should now be able to see a pattern forming, so next up if you play E-E over C major you get E Phrygian Mode. Note: do not confuse these with D major / minor or E major / minor as we are still playing them over the C major scale. Modal scales sound very different to major / minor.
E-E over C major.
F-F over C major.
G-G over C major.
A-A over C major. (Exactly the same as natural minor scale)
B-B over C major.
All we have done is taken the C major scale and start it on different notes of the scale. The names of the modes relate to the interval from the root scale, take Mixolydian mode for example which starts on the 5th degree of a scale. So in C major, mixolydian always starts and ends on G – the 5th degree (C, D, E, F, G) If we were in Bb major then mixolydian mode would be F-F (Bb , C, D, Eb, F).
Here is a list of the mode names and the interval from the root note that they start on.
1 – Ionian
2 – Dorian
3 – Phrygian
4 – Lydian
5 – Mixolydian
6 – Aeolian (Also the same as the natural minor scale.)
7 – Locrian
When composing modal music, in order to get away from it sounding like the original key (i.e C major) you should keep going back to the root of the mode in order to establish that as the new root. So again, if we are in C major and we want to write a piece in F Lydian mode, instead of using a C chord as chord 1, we would use F and keep coming back to that F chord whenever possible to establish that as the foundation of the mode.
Modal scales sound very different to normal scales, people are so tuned to just 2 scales – major and minor, that when hearing a modal scale it can often sound wrong but they are a great way to create different textures in music. If you want a sentimental sound then Lydian mode works perfectly. If you want a very dark sounding piece then Locrian is great for that as it’s very dissonant sounding with use of tritones.
Learning modes can be a very useful compositional tool, it is easy to create different emotions using these and not to mention they are great to solo over! They are found most commonly in jazz music for this very reason.
Give it a go for yourself, you can only truly appreciate modes when you can hear how different they sound. If you have any questions then feel free to leave them below and I will try to answer them.