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In music, a scale is an ordered series of musical intervals, which with tonic, define the notes. The modes are basically a scale but with the other notes apart from the root note being used as a tonic.




A C major scale would go like this.


This is known as the Ionian mode and C is the tonic center.

If we make the 2nd interval of the major scale, D, the tonic center, then we have a Dorian mode.


If the third interval, E, is used as the tonic center then we have a Phrygian mode.


This work for every note of the scale, and any key. The modes, in order of interval from the 1st of the major scale are:

Ionian (1st)

Dorian (2nd)

Phrygian (3rd)

Lydian (4th)

Mixolydian (5th)

Aeolian (6th)

Locrian (7th)

2 ways to remember them are "I Don't Particularly Like Modes A Lot" and "I Don't Punch Like Mohammed ALi".

Major and Minor Modes

The chords of the interals of a C major scale are as follows:

1st ( C ) - Major (Ionian Mode) 2nd ( D ) - Minor (Dorian Mode) 3rd ( E ) - Minor (Phrygian Mode) 4th ( F ) - Major (Lydian Mode) 5th ( G ) - Major (Mixolydian Mode) 6th ( A ) - Minor (Aeolian Mode) 7th ( B ) - Diminished (Locrian Mode)

This is the same with the modes so the Ionian, Lydian and Mixolydian are Major, and the Dorian, Phrygian and Aeolian are minor.

Mode Differences

The Ionian mode is identical to a major scale. The Lydian mode is a major scale with a raised 4th scale degree. The Mixolydian mode is a major scale with a lowered 7th scale degree.

The Aeolian mode is identical to a natural minor scale. The Dorian mode is a natural minor scale with a raised 6th scale degree. The Phrygian mode is a natural minor mode with a lowered 2nd scale degree.

The Locrian mode is the natural minor with a diminshed 5th and 2nd scale degree. Locrian is the only mode with a lowered 5th or diminished 5th.

A quick way to compare the differences of modes is to look at the formulas. In these formulas the intervals the mode goes up in are shown. T means a tone, and S means a semitone.

Ionian - T-T-S-T-T-T-S

Dorian - T-S-T-T-T-S-T

Phrygian - S-T-T-T-S-T-T

Lydian - T-T-T-S-T-T-S

Mixolydian - T-T-S-T-T-S-T

Aeolian - T-S-T-T-S-T-T

Locrian - S-T-T-S-T-T-T

Modes And Chords

The table below shows what mode should be played over certain chords.



Modes have been used in impressionism, jazz, (modal jazz) and more contemporary 20th century music. The use of modes today is different from their use in early music though.

The Ionian mode is another name for the major mode, in which much Western music is composed. The Aeolian forms the base of the most common Western minor scale. In orchestral and neoclassical music accidentals are commonly used on the 6th and the 7th. This is not an aeolian.

Besides the Ionian major and Aeolian minor, the other modes have limited use in music today. Folk music is often best analysed in terms of modes. For example, in Celtic traditional music the Dorian and Mixolydian modes occur (as well as major and minor scales). One reason the mixolydian mode for example is good for Celtic music is that it contains a double tonic (e.g. a bflat instead of the b that would normally be in a c major scale). The Phrygian mode is an important part of flamenco music. The Dorian mode is also found in other folk music, particularly Latin and Laotian music, while Phrygian is found in some Central European or Arab music, whether as natural Phrygian or harmonic Phrygian (Phrygian Dominant), which has a raised third (the "gypsy scale"). Mixolydian mode is quite common in jazz and most other forms of popular music. Because of its dream-like sound, the Lydian mode is most often heard in soundtrack and video game music.

Some works by Beethoven contain mode use, and Chopin, Berlioz, and Liszt made extensive use of modes. They influenced nineteenth century Russian composers, including Mussorgsky and Borodin; many twentieth century composers used modal elements, including Claude Debussy, Leoš Janáček, Jean Sibelius, Ralph Vaughan Williams and others. Zoltán Kodály, Gustav Holst and Manuel de Falla.

They have also been used in popular music, especially in rock music. Some notable examples of songs using modes include Scarborough Fair, which uses the Dorian mode, and many of the jam-songs of The Grateful Dead. The Dorian and Aeolian modes are also very prevalent in modern punk and post-hardcore music.

While remaining relatively uncommon in modern (Western) popular music, the darker tones implied by the flatted 2nd and/or 5th degrees of the Phrygian and Locrian modes are evident in diatonic chord progressions and melodies of many guitar-oriented rock bands, especially in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as evidenced on albums such as Metallica's "Ride the Lightning" and "Master of Puppets", among others.

Solo guitarists like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and John Petrucci use modes a lot in their works. Satrani especially uses the lydian mode because of it's other worledly feel.

Greek History

Early Greek treatises on music referred to modes, or scales, which were named after certain of the Ancient Greek subgroups (Ionians, Dorians, Aeolians), one small region in central Greece (Locris), and certain neighboring (non-Greek) peoples from Asia Minor (Lydia, Phrygia).

The Greek modes were:

Ionian Dorian and Hypodorian Phrygian and Hypophrygian Lydian, Hypolydian Mixolydian Aeolian Locrian

Plato felt that playing music in a particular mode would incline one towards specific behavior associated with that mode, and suggested that soldiers should listen to music in Dorian or Phrygian modes to help make them stronger, but avoid music in Lydian, Mixolydian or Ionian modes, for fear of being softened. Plato believed that a change in the musical modes of the state would cause a wide-scale social revolution.

The philosophical writings of Plato and Aristotle include sections that describe the effect of different musical modes on mood and character. For example, this quote is from Aristotle's Politics:

“ The musical modes differ essentially from one another, and those who hear them are differently affected by each. Some of them make men sad and grave, like the so called Mixolydian; others enfeeble the mind, like the relaxed modes; another, again, produces a moderate or settled temper, which appears to be the peculiar effect of the Dorian; and the Phrygian inspires enthusiasm. ”

Plato and Aristotle describe the modes to which a person listened as molding the person's character. The modes even made the person more or less fit for certain jobs. The effect of modes on character and mood was called the "ethos of music".

Related GMC Lessons

Modes And Chords

Learning The Modes

Modes 101