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Properties of musical modes

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Properties of musical modes

The modern musical modes consist of seven different scales related to the familiar major and minor keys, each with different properties and characteristics which distinguish them from one another. Called the Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian modes, each of these seven modal scales is composed of a particular arrangement of the diatonic tones of an octave.

Mode characteristics

Each mode has a characteristic scale degree and certain harmonic structures that give each its distinctive sound. Although the names are of Greek origin, the tone sequences are different from Greek modes with similar names.

  • The Ionian mode is the only mode whose dominant seventh chord type occurs naturally on the fifth scale degree, as V7. Without further clarification, "major mode" or just "major" refers to the Ionian mode.
  • The Dorian mode has a characteristic raised sixth relative to the Aeolian mode—or a 3 and 7 relative to the Ionian—which produces a major IV chord and a minor II chord. The dominant seventh chord in this mode occurs on the fourth scale degree, as IV7.
  • The Phrygian mode has a lowered second relative to Aeolian—or a 2, 3, 6, and 7 relative to the Ionian—which creates its characteristic II major and v diminished chords. The dominant seventh chord in this mode occurs on the third scale degree, as III7.
  • The Lydian mode has a raised fourth (4) relative to the Ionian, and creates a iv diminished, vii minor, and a II major chord. The dominant seventh chord in this mode occurs on the second scale degree, as II7.
  • The Mixolydian mode has a lowered seventh (7) relative to the Ionian. The dominant seventh chord in this mode therefore occurs on the tonic, as I7. Other characteristic chords are v minor, and a VII major chord. There is also a iii dim chord, but it is not used extensively in modal compositions.
  • The Aeolian mode has a 3, 6, and 7 relative to Ionian. The dominant seventh chord in this mode occurs on the seventh scale degree, as VII7. Its other characteristic chords are the minor iv and v chords. There is a subtle distinction between an Aeolian modal composition and a composition in a minor key, because the sixth and seventh degrees in a minor key can be altered to create major IV and V chords. The Aeolian mode is also more commonly known as the Natural (Pure) minor scale. In cases where the Aeolian mode has the same key signature as a particular major key but with a different tonic, it is referred to as the relative minor scale. For example, A Aeolian is the relative minor of the C major scale.
  • The Locrian mode has lowered second and fifth scale degrees relative to the Aeolian and has a diminished i chord. It is highly unstable, and its diminished i chord makes establishing tonality in the mode nearly impossible. The few pieces written in this mode usually used an altered i minor chord (B-D-F) to establish the tonal center, and then used the minor iii (D-F-A) and major V chord (F-A-C) to establish the modality. Omitting the fifth degree when using the i chord is another option. The dominant seventh chord in this mode occurs on the sixth scale degree, as VI7.

Relationship between the modes

Perhaps the simplest way to understand the seven modern modes and the relationship between them is to view them as successive rotations of a single set of seven notes—for example, using the notes of the C Major scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. This is the C Ionian mode because C is the referential note, and the pattern of intervals above that note corresponds to Ionian. (The major scale and Ionian modal scale in any key are identical.) Retaining the notes of the C-major scale as the frame of reference:

  • C Ionian mode consists of the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C (Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do)
  • D Dorian mode consists of the notes D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D (Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do, Re)
  • E Phrygian consists of E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E (Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do, Re, Mi)
  • F Lydian consists of F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F (Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do, Re, Mi, Fa)
  • G Mixolydian consists of G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G (Sol, La, Ti, Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol)
  • A Aeolian consists of A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A (La, Ti, Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La)
  • B Locrian consists of B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B (Ti, Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti)

All of the above examples consist of precisely the same notes; the distinction amongst them is the tonal center of each mode. The D Dorian scale assumes the note D to be central. In other words, the note D becomes the tonic, while all the notes remain the same as those of the C-major scale. This concept can be transposed chromatically to every major scale.

Applying this principle to the fixed-do solfège syllables and scale-degree numbers from the original major scale results in movable-do solfège and scale-degree numbers relative to each new tonic (and with accidentals applied in relation to the degrees as found in the major scale) as follows:

See also

  • Musical mode

References

Footnotes

Notations

  • Dahlhaus, Carl. (1990). Studies in the Origin of Harmonic Tonality, trans. Robert O. Gjerdingen. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-09135-8.
  • Hoppin, Richard H. (1978). Medieval Music. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 0-393-09090-6.
  • Judd, Cristle Collins (ed.) (1998). Tonal Structures of Early Music. New York: Garland Publishing. ISBN 0-8153-2388-3.
    • Curtis, Liane. "Mode".

Further reading

  • Brent, Jeff, with Schell Barkley (2011). Modalogy: Scales, Modes & Chords: The Primordial Building Blocks of Music. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Corporation. ISBN 978-1-4584-1397-0
  • Grout, Donald; Palisca, Claude; and Burkholder, J. Peter (2006). A History of Western Music. New York: W. W. Norton. 7th edition. ISBN 0-393-97991-1.
  • Levine, Mark (1989). The Jazz Piano Book. Petaluma, CA: Sher Music Co. ISBN 0-9614701-5-1.
  • Meier, Bertrand (1988). The Modes of Classical Vocal Polyphony, Described According to the Sources, translated from the German by Ellen S. Beebe, with revisions by the author. New York: Broude Brothers.
  • Miller, Ron (1996). Modal Jazz Composition and Harmony, Vol. 1. Rottenburg, Germany: Advance Music.
  • Powers, Harold S. (1980). "Mode", in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. London: Macmillan. (The classic treatment of mode in the English language.)
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