Music Modes Explained – Classical Music


What are modes?

The modes are a series of seven musical scales, each derived from the diatonic scale – meaning they have seven notes and have two intervals which are semitones (semitones) and five intervals which are tones (steps). integers).

Originating in ancient Greece, fashions existed long before the modern concept of “keys”. Instead, each mode started on a different note of the scale – so in a scale of C (or the key of C as we think of it in modern classical theory), the first mode starts on C and ends on C an octave above, the next mode begins in D and ends in D the octave above, the third mode begins in E and ends in E the octave above, and so on.

Modes are therefore a means of rearranging the pitches of a scale so that the focal point of the scale changes. In a single key, each mode contains the exact same pitches, but the accent changes to create different moods or characters.

Related to the diatonic modes are eight Gregorian modes (or church modes), which became popular in medieval Europe, and which form the basis of Gregorian chant. These, however, are quite different from the diatonic modes discussed below.

What is the difference between scales and modern modes?

A musical scale is a set of pitches in an octave arranged in ascending or descending steps. In Western classical music, scales are identified via set intervals (tones or semitones – or whole steps or semitones) to form commonly understood major and minor variants (such as natural, harmonic, and melodic minor). These variants can be applied to different keys, such as C, D, E etc.

Modes are simply versions of a parent scale. Thus, in C major (C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C), the first mode begins on C, but keeping the same pitches but starting the sequence on D (D – E – F – G – A – B – C – D), we create the second mode of the major scale.

How many modes are there?

There are seven modes, each with an ancient Greek name: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. Some are major modes as understood in Western classical music, some are minor, and some are less clear.

Generally speaking, however, three of the modes are predominantly major: Ionian, Lydian, and Mixolydian, and four of the modes are predominantly minor: Dorian, Phrygian, Aeolian, and Locrian. In major modes, the third note of the scale is a major third above the tonic (first note) and in minor modes, the third of the scale is a minor third above the tonic.

What are the seven modes and their characteristics?

Ionian mode

The Ionian mode is the first mode and is identical to a modern major scale – the third of the scale is a major third above the tonic.

dorian fashion

The Dorian mode is the second mode and is very similar to a modern natural minor scale – the third note in the scale is a minor third above the tonic, but the Dorian sixth note is a major sixth above the tonic rather than a minor sixth, as in the natural minor.

Phrygian fashion

The Phrygian mode is the third mode and is again similar to a natural minor scale – except the second note is a minor second above the tonic, rather than a major second.

Lydian Mode

Lydian is the fourth mode and is almost identical to a modern major scale – except the fourth note above the tonic is augmented (raised).

Mixolydian mode

Again, this fifth mode is almost identical to a modern major scale – only this time the seventh note above the tonic is flattened to produce a minor seventh rather than a major seventh.

Wind mode

This sixth mode is identical to a natural minor scale, with flattened sixth and seventh notes above the tonic.

Locrian mode

The seventh mode is a minor scale but with an added minor second and a diminished fifth above the tonic.

How are modes used in modern music?

The Ionian mode is another name for the major scale used in much Western music, while the Aeolian mode is the same as the most common Western minor scale, the natural minor.

Modal melodies are often found in traditional folk music – traditional Irish music, for example, uses the Mixolydian, Dorian and Aeolian modes, while much flamenco music is in the Phrygian mode. Modern pop songs, too, can often be constructed modally, which explains their feeling of being neither quite major nor quite minor.

Simon and Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair is written in the Dorian mode

Among classical composers, Kodály, Holidayst and De Falla used modal elements in their music, as did Debussy and bartok.


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