What’s The Deal With The Modes?

 

You might be curious as to what the modes are. You’ve heard other musicians talking about them. You may have found hundreds of explanations of modes around the Internet.

But are you still struggling to understand what modes are and how they work?

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one.  I’ve been there myself.

In this blog, I’ll break down the modes of the C major scale and then show you how each mode is built off of the root note C.

Keep in mind, it takes time to learn modes and know how to apply them to your instrument and musical situations.

Step 1 – The C Major Scale

Understanding modes begins with the C major scale.

The notes in the scale are C, D, E, F, G, A, B and back to C.

The pattern of whole steps and half steps from note to note is Whole, Whole, half, Whole, Whole, Whole half.  

(If you’re not familiar with this information, you’ll need to understand how major scales are built and how key signatures work before you begin learning about modes. Check out Musictheory.net for an explanation of major scales.)

https://www.musictheory.net/lessons/21

Step 2 – Know your intervals

In music theory, intervals are essential to understanding how music works.

An interval is the distance from one note to another note. (If you’re not familiar with intervalsstart there.  This information is critical to understanding and applying modes. Visit musictheory.net for a tutorial on intervals.)

https://www.musictheory.net/lessons/30

Step 3 – The 7 modes of the major scale

There are 7 modes of the major scale.  Their names in order from 1-7 are Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian.

Let’s look at how each mode is constructed.

  • 1 - Ionian - Play a C Major Scale starting on C and ending on C. 

C Ionian shares the same notes as the C major scale.

Notes of C Ionian are C, D, E, F, G, A, B and back to C.

Pattern from note to note is Whole, Whole, half, Whole, Whole, Whole half.

Intervals of C Ionian are R-M2-M3-P4-P5-M6-M7-R

C Ionian mode corresponds to a Cmaj7 (I chord) in the key of C.

  • 2 - Dorian – Play a C Major Scale starting on D and ending on D. This becomes D Dorian.

Notes of D Dorian are D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D.

Pattern from note to note is Whole, half, Whole, Whole, Whole, half, Whole.

Intervals of D Dorian are R-M2-m3-P4-P5-M6-m7-R

D Dorian corresponds to a Dmin7 (ii chord) in the key of C.

  • 3 - Phrygian – Play a C Major Scale starting on E and ending on E. This becomes E Phrygian.

Notes of E Phrygian are E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E.

Pattern from note to note is half, Whole, Whole, Whole, half, Whole, Whole

Intervals of E Phrygian are R-m2-m3-P4-P5-m6-m7-R

E Phrygian mode corresponds to an Emin7 (iii chord) in the key of C.

  • 4 - Lydian – Play a C Major Scale starting on F and ending on F. This becomes F Lydian.

Notes are F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F.

Pattern from note to note is Whole, Whole, Whole, half, Whole, Whole, half

Intervals of F Lydian are R-M2-M3-#4-P5-M6-M7-R

F Lydian mode corresponds to an Fmaj7 (IV chord) in the key of C.

  • 5 - Mixolydian – Play a C Major Scale starting on G and ending on G. This becomes G Mixolydian.

Notes are G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G.

Pattern from note to note is Whole, Whole, half, Whole, Whole, half, Whole.

Intervals of G Mixolydian are R-M2-M3-P4-P5-M6-m7-R

G Mixolydian mode corresponds to a G7 (V chord) in the key of C.

  • 6 - Aeolian – Play a C Major Scale starting on A and ending on A. This becomes A Aeolian.

Notes are A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A.

Pattern from note to note Whole, half, Whole, Whole, half, Whole, Whole.

Intervals of A Aeolian are R-M2-m3-P4-P5-m6-m7-R

A Aeolian mode corresponds to an Amin7 (vi chord) in the key of C.

(A Aeolian shares the same notes as A natural minor)

  • 7 - Locrian – Play a Play a C Major Scale starting on B and ending on B. This becomes B Locrian.

Notes are B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B.

Pattern from note to note Whole, half, Whole, Whole, half, Whole, Whole.

Intervals of B Locrian are R-m2-m3-P4-b5-m6-m7-R

B Locrian mode corresponds to a Bmin7b5 (vii chord) in the key of C.

Step 4 – Modes starting on the note C

Next, we’ll build each mode off of the root note C. This is called the parallel approach.

  •  1 - Ionian - Play a C Major Scale starting on C and ending on C. This becomes C Ionian. C Ionian means the same thing as C the major scale.

Notes of C Ionian are C, D, E, F, G, A, B and back to C.

Pattern from note to note is Whole, Whole, half, Whole, Whole, Whole half.

Intervals of C Ionian are R-M2-M3-P4-P5-M6-M7-R

C Ionian corresponds to a Cmaj7 (I chord) in the key of C.

  • 2 -Dorian – Play a Bb Major Scale starting on C and ending on C.  This becomes C Dorian.

Notes are C, D, Eb, F, G, A, Bb, C

Pattern from note to note is Whole, half, Whole, Whole, Whole, half, Whole.

Intervals of C Dorian are R-M2-m3-P4-P5-M6-m7-R

C Dorian corresponds to a Cmin7 (ii chord) in the key of Bb.

  • 3 - Phrygian – Play an Ab Major Scale starting on C and ending on C. This becomes C Phrygian.

Notes are C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C.

Pattern from note to note is half, Whole, Whole, Whole, half, Whole, Whole

The intervals of C Phrygian are R-m2-m3-P4-P5-m6-m7-R

The C Phrygian corresponds to a Cmin7 (iii chord) within the key of Ab.

  • 4 - Lydian – Play a G Major Scale starting on C and ending on C. This becomes C Lydian.

Notes are C, D, E, F#, G, A, B, C.

Pattern from note to note is Whole, Whole, Whole, half, Whole, Whole, half

Intervals of C Lydian are R-M2-M3-#4-P5-M6-M7-R

C Lydian corresponds to a Cmaj7 (IV chord) in the key of G.

  • 5 - Mixolydian – Play a Play an F Major Scale starting on C and ending on C. This becomes C Mixolydian.

Notes are C, D, E, F, G, A, Bb, C.

Pattern from note to note is Whole, Whole, half, Whole, Whole, half, Whole.

Intervals of C Mixolydian are R-M2-M3-P4-P5-M6-m7-R

C Mixolydian corresponds to a C7 (V chord) in the key of F.

  • 6 - Aeolian – Play an Eb Major Scale starting on C and ending on C. This becomes C Aeolian. (Also called C natural minor)

Notes are C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C.

Pattern from note to note Whole, half, Whole, Whole, half, Whole, Whole.

Intervals of C Aeolian are R-M2-m3-P4-P5-m6-m7-R

C Aeolian corresponds to a Cmin7 (vi chord) in the key of Eb.

  • 7 - Locrian – Play a Db Major Scale starting on C and ending on C. This becomes C Locrian.

Notes are C, Db, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, C.

Pattern from note to note Whole, half, Whole, Whole, half, Whole, Whole.

Intervals are R-m2-m3-P4-b5-m6-m7-R

C Locrian corresponds to a Cmin7b5 (vii chord) in the key of Db.

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