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  • Candice Alderfer

The Moods of Music: Modes

Updated: Apr 28, 2019

I like to think of modes as music having multiple personalities. Modes have different patterns that lay out the intervals between notes and create different sounding scales. The major and minor scale are two modes out of seven that are based on the "whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half," sequence. This pattern is the major scale and this pattern can change when we choose to start the tonic note on a different scale degree, thus creating the different modes. Starting the scale on a different position shifts the intervals. Each mode has a distinct sound and depending on that sound, can create different styles of music catered for different genres, all while using the same notes in a scale in different scale degree positions.


1. Ionian - The exact same as the major scale. Has generally more upbeat and bright feeling. This feeling tends to work extremely well with pop music.


2. Dorian - Based on the natural minor (Aeolian) scale with a raised sixth scale degree. Similar to a minor scale, this mode can have a slightly sad feel to ityet hopeful feel to it. This mode is used a lot in jazz, blues and rock music.


3. Phrygian - Also based on the minor (Aeolian) scale but with a lowered second step, this mode is tension-filled and creates an almost, anticipating feel to it. Used widely with latin music.


4. Lydian - Based on the major (Ionian) scale but with a raised fourth. This mode is rarely used in other genres other thank jazz music. Just like major scales have relative minors, this is a mode that is also parallel to dorian.


5. Mixolydian - Also based on the major (Ionian) mode with a lowered seventh step. This is best known as the mode that lends itself exclusively to Blues music.


6. Aeolian - The "natural" minor mode. This is the mode that is parallel to major.


7. Locrian - This is known as the mode with no existing perfect fifth. This is one of the least used modes in music.


Starting the tonic note on different scale degrees changes the tonal center. There are many ways that I've heard the tonal center to be described, but the most comprehensive and easiest way that I've come to understand the most is that its the tone that our ears feel the need to resolve or come back to. I like to think of it as the most important note that dictates the feel of all the other notes in the scale. Changing the tonal center is what creates all the different feels and moods that differentiate the different modes.



Here are the steps that make up the seven modes based on the major scale


Ionian: whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half (major)

Dorian: whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half-whole (based on minor scale with a raised 6th step)

Phrygian: half-whole-whole-whole-half-whole-whole (based on minor scale with a lowered 2nd step)

Lydian: whole-whole-whole-half-whole-whole-half (based on major scale with a raised 4th step)

Mixolydian: whole-whole-half-whole-whole-half-whole (based on major scale with a lowered 7th step)

Aeolian: whole-half-whole-whole-half-whole-whole (minor)

Locrian: half-whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole


Here are some examples of modes using C and D





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