This lesson is divided into two parts. Although modes are the main focus of this lesson, part 1 is about minor scales which I think is good to know before we discuss modes in part 2. ------------------------------- PART ONE -- minor scales The 6th degree of a Major scale becomes the first degree of a minor scale. A is the 6th degree of the scale of C Major, so A becomes the first degree in the scale of A minor. You use the same key signature for A minor, as you do for C Major (niether has any sharps or flats). Here are some examples: C Major: c d e f g a b c degrees: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 -- A is the 6th degree a minor: a b c d e f g a C Major has no sharps or flats...so A minor doesn't either. D Major: d e f# g a b c# d degrees: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 -- b is the 6th deg b minor: b c# d e f# g a b D Major has 2 sharps...so b minor has 2 sharps also. Since the minor scale is based on the key signature of a Major scale, they are said to be 'relative'. This means that the scale of b minor, is relative to the scale of D Major, because b minor is based on the 6th degree of the scale of D Major and has the same key signature. The minor scale has 3 forms. The NATURAL minor, HARMONIC minor, & MELODIC minor. The ones in the examples above (a minor and b minor) are known as NATURAL minor scales. Their sharps or flats are exactly as their relative Majors (the Major scales they are based on). Composers of the past started altering this natural minor scale to suit their taste and began to use the HARMONIC minor scale. This is found by first finding the natural minor scale, and then raising the 7th degree one half step. So in the key of a minor, g becomes g#: a b c d e f g# a = A harmonic minor (although we usually only refer to it as 'A minor'...leaving out the word 'harmonic') The harmonic minor is the most common of the 3 forms. The MELODIC minor key came about because the harmonic scale was harder to sing so they changed it. This one is different depending on whether it's ascending...or descending. Ascending it is Melodic...but descending, it is natural. Again, first you find the natural minor, then you make the changes. Raise both the 6th and the 7th degrees a half step each to get the melodic minor. The A melodic minor scale, ascending and descending, would look like this: a b c d e f# g# a a g f e d c b a f and g are sharped going up, but natural coming down. ------------------------------------ PART TWO -- Modes A mode is a type of scale that is based on a Major scale. (like the natural minor, based on the 6th degree) For examples, we'll be using the key of C. c d e f g a b c 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 Each mode begins on a different scale degree, but still uses the key signature of the scale it was based on (it's relative Major). For example, the second mode (called Dorian), begins on the second degree of the Major scale, in this case the scale of C Major. So that would mean that the Dorian mode begins and ends with D but still uses the same key signature as the scale of C Major....that is, it has no sharps or flats. The D Dorian scale (no sharps or flats) is unlike the D Major scale which has 2 sharps. If you begin and end on the third note of the scale of C Major, you are in yet another mode. There is a different mode for each scale degree. Each mode has a characteristic sound. You can use them for putting specific types of feelings into your songs. Here are the names of the modes and each characteristic sound they have. Scale degree Mode Characteristic Sound 1 Ionian Vibrant (Major scale) 2 Dorian Sad 3 Phrygian Gloomy (like in some heavy metal) 4 Lydian Longing 5 Mixolydian (used in rock) 6 Aeolian Emotional (natural minor scale) 7 Locrian A bit oriental Try playing these scales both up and down, and listen to the differences in sound/mood. Each mode based on the key of C: c d e f g a b c -- Ionian d e f g a b c d -- Dorian e f g a b c d e -- Phrygian f g a b c d e f -- Lydian g a b c d e f g -- Mixolydian a b c d e f g a -- Aeolian b c d e f g a b -- Locrian Remember, when playing the above scales.....NONE of them have any sharps or flats because they are all based on the key of C. Each mode based on the key of D (which has F# and C#): d e f# g a b c# d -- Ionian (key of D Ionian -- or D Major) e f# g a b c# d e -- Dorian (key of E Dorian) f# g a b c# d e f# -- Phrygian (key of F# Phrygian) g a b c# d e f# g -- Lydian (key of G Lydian) a b c# d e f# g a -- Mixolydian (key of A Mixolydian) b c# d e f# g a b -- Aeolian (key of B Aeolian -- or B minor) c# d e f# g a b c# -- Locrian (key of C# Locrian) You'll notice that the scale we traditionally call Major, is in fact the Ionian mode. The scale we traditionally call natural minor is in fact the Aeolian mode. Each of the modes are either major or minor: Ionian -- Major Dorian -- minor Phrygian -- minor Lydian -- Major Mixolydian -- Major Aeolian -- minor Locrian -- minor Whether a mode is major or minor depends on the chord which it is built on. If a mode is built on the second degree of a major scale, it's first chord would be minor, making that whole mode minor. For example, in the D dorian mode (relative of C Major), the first degree is D. In Ionian mode (C Major), D would be a minor chord, so the scale of D dorian is a minor mode. In a Major scale, each chord degree is always either Major, minor, or diminished: degree: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 type: M m m M m m d M (M = Major m = minor d = diminished) So then the chords for the key of C would be (M = Major, etc): C M, d m, e m, F M, G M, a m, b diminished D dorian is minor, E phrygian is minor, F lydian is Major, etc. TRANSPOSING MODES Next time you write a song and you find that the melody doesn't quite convey the feeling your lyrics are trying to express...try changing the mode! To transpose from one mode to another, without changing the key signature, write out the Major scale with the degree numbers below them: C Major: c d e f g a b c degrees: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 Then write out the scale for the mode you want to transpose to, also with the degree numbers below them: d dorian: d e f g a b c d degrees: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 So if your song is in the Ionian mode of C Major.... use the scale degree numbers from the Ionian mode, then look up the same degree numbers from the dorian mode. Next, listen to the difference in sound and see if that's the feeling you were looking for. See how much fun you can have with the modes! Example: Ionian melody (C Major): c e g f e c Ionian degree numbers: 1 3 5 4 3 1 scale of dorian mode: d e f g a b c d dorian degree numbers: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 Ionian melody degree numbers: 1 3 5 4 3 1 dorian melody from dorian degree numbers: d f a g f d I think the dorian mode sounded prettier than the Ionian in this case. Play both and see what you like best! Now if you simply transposed from C Major to D Major...you'd still have the same characteristic sound of the Ionian mode...only at a higher starting point. Also, the melody would be d f# a g f# d instead of just d f a g f d. (because D Major has two sharps f# and c#, D dorian is all natural) Play both of these: d dorian melody: d f a g f D Major melody: d f# a g f# FINAL NOTES You might want to experiment with existing songs and change the modes to see what effect it has on the song. This is be really fun!! Try Amazing Grace, or some christmas carols, or P & W choruses, or hymns. Try some CCM, or some of your own songs! I once wrote a song that soon lost it's appeal to me. So one day I changed it from Ionian mode to Mixolydian. That was a little better and I started to use power chords with it (playing only the 1st and 5th degrees of the chord). But then I changed it to Dorian mode and wow! What a difference that made! Now I really love it! It even inspired me to play in a different style. :) More of an arpeggio rhythm rather than power chords. I think a lot of guitarists would really like Mixolydian as it's popular in rock. You also might want to keep the mode you are using because you still like the characteristic sound or the feeling it has, but it may be too high or too low. If you are in G Mixolydian (based on C Major) and want to lower it, you might try the Mixolydian mode based on B Major. So you would figure out the mixolydian melody and degree numbers, then figire out the B Major degree numbers. Then starting with B major's 5th degree, you'll find the scale and degree numbers for F mixolydian. You can then transpose it and see if this is a better range for you to sing your song. You can probably see what a great tool this knowledge of modes is going to be for your songwriting! You can fool around with the different modes and get inspired by the sound!
Jason's Theory Page (more to come)