Looking for All Seven Modes of Music?

Before we begin our discussion on the seven modes of music, understand that a ‘mode’ is a scale. That simple definition should have already put you at ease in the event the word “mode” sent a confusing chill up your spine. “Modes” in fact, is just a fancy (albeit, archaic) word that describes the scales we have today. But they’re not all the same.

Although they’ve changed over the years, today’s seven modes of music originated from the ancient Greeks. For it was within this segment of history that Greek musicians exploited the natural relationship between math and music, and invented what we now know as the major and minor scales. But they differ from the scales we play today. Each ancient Greek scale started and stopped on the notes that make up the major C scale. And each is named after an ancient Greek city: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian.

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Here’s a quick summary of each mode and their “feel” relative to the original Ionian intervals:

The Ionian mode is made of the familiar “do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do” song pattern of our major scale and it’s played like this: whole step – whole step – half step – whole step – whole step – whole step – half step. All of the remaining six modes follow this exact pattern — only they begin on different notes. This mode is found in most of the popular songs we have today and you’ll hear a bit of tension and release between its ti and do notes.

The Dorian mode is played with this pattern: whole step – half step – whole step – whole step – whole step – half step – whole step — and it’s a common pattern found throughout Celtic music and early American/Irish folk songs. Because the last note in the Dorian mode doesn’t sound complete, its songs appear sad.

The Phrygian mode follows this pattern: half step – whole step – whole step – whole step – half step – whole step – whole step. Because it complements the Ionian mode, you’ll hear this mode in the music of modern composers and the solo lines of guitarists. Guitar solos played in the Phyrgian mode sound great when they’re played against the melodies of other modes. As a result, musicians regard it as useful as the Aeolian scale (described below) — only it doesn’t sound so sad.

The Lydian mode follows the whole step – whole step – whole step – half step – whole step – whole step – half step pattern and it’s the exact opposite of the Ionian mode. It therefore sounds and feels as complete as any major scale, however it provides for unexpected intervals. That’s why this mode is popular among jazz musicians. The Lydian mode grants jazz musicians access to inventive major and minor chord progressions.

The Mixolydian mode follows the whole step – whole step – half step – whole step – whole step – half step – whole step pattern and it’s similar to the Lydian mode above. Both the Mixolydian and Lydian mode provide a sense of the major scale with minor intervals. Like the Phrygian mode, this mode makes a great platform for solos in an Ionian key.

The Aeolian mode follows the whole step – half step – whole step – whole step – half step – whole step – whole step pattern. Today, this mode what we call our minor scale, which makes it appropriate for modern blues songs. Music of the Aeolian mode has an overwhelming sensation of sadness, much more so than of the Dorian mode.

The Locrian mode follows this unique pattern: half step – whole step – whole step – half step – whole step – whole step – whole step, which makes it one of the least liked modes of all. Many musicians prefer not to use it, but refer to it as a ‘theoretical’ mode instead. Mathematically specking, it works. Musically, its intervals are just not that interesting.

Memorizing “I Do F(ph)ollow Lonely Men And Laugh” is a good way to remember each of the seven modes of music.

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Posted by Tania Gleaves

  1. Hi, wondering if you can help, when do music notation I am not so sure to write a G# or Ab, F# or Gb, D# or Eb, etc…

    Thanks

    Frank

  2. G# and Ab have the same pitch…Whether you call it G# or Ab depends on the interval or scale/ key you’re in.

    For example, the perfect fifth of C# is G# NOT Ab; but the perfect fifth of Db is Ab NOT G#…This is all music theory.

    If you’re just playing by ear, it doesn’t matter since it’s the same pitch…

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