Theory – Modes

Modes and Scales

Modes are easiest to understand if you relate them to major scales. So, first, this on major scales. There is a formula for constructing a major scale from any note.  If W stands for a whole step and H stands for a half step then that formula is W-W-H-W-W-W-H.  If you apply that formula starting on any note, you will construct a major scale.  Major scales all have the same sound. If you sing Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do, you are singing a major scale.  They sound the same because they all have the same formula of whole steps and half steps.  The mode based on tonic to tonic (I to I) is the Ionian mode or major scale. So, if you change the arrangement of these half steps and whole steps, you get a different “sound” or “mode.” If you were to play the scale From II – II in any major scale, you get the Dorian mode. The names of these modes comes from ancient Greek civilizations who first sought to organize notes in this manner.  I will list these here in the key of C.  I will also list them by Roman numerals.  You would be well advised to start thinking in terms of Roman numerals.

C – C, or I – I is the Ionian Mode

D – D, or II – II is the Dorian Mode

E – E, or III – III is the Phrygian Mode

F – F, or IV – IV is the Lydian Mode

G – G, or V – V is the Mixolydian Mode

A – A, or VI – VI is the Aeolian Mode

B – B, or VII – VII is the Locrian Mode

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