The way I remember modes is, for example, that I know that the Lydian mode is the major scale two half-steps up from the root. That is, I would play in the D major scale if I wanted to play in C Lydian, or I would play in the G major scale if I wanted to play F Lydian. Is there a chart that breaks it down like this? The charts I have seen have all the C modes be C major scale, just played at different starting points, and I know that's wrong.

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    Does this answer your question? What are the interval patterns for the modes? – Richard Jan 26 at 15:55
  • I don't want to put this in my answer, because it tries to explain in a no-nonsense way how to learn modes. But I think the thing you're trying to remember about C Lydian is, you play a D major chord when you're in C. Chord, not scale. If your song is in C and you play a D major chord over C, it gives a characteristic Lydian feel. The D major chord has an F# note, so it might help you remember what the change to normal C major scale is: F becomes F#. But this is still not the primary thing, the essence of Lydian is to think you're playing like normally in C major, except F is raised to F#. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Jan 28 at 18:52
  • Modes are basically "you change one note slightly" - that's really all it is !!! – Fattie Jan 29 at 3:21
  • Check this too: music.stackexchange.com/q/97786/9426: The idea is you start with the Major scale and gradually add alterations, until you've flattened all seven scale degrees. Then you just keep on going... – Brian THOMAS Jan 29 at 17:18
  • Your last sentence to me is the problem. The modes of the C Major scale do just start at different notes, that /is/ correct. But you are thinking that means C Dorian has the same notes as C Ionian, that's wrong. D Dorian is the second mode of the C Major scale. When playing D Dorian, you are playing a C Major scale, but with the D as the tonic (I) note. The third mode is E Phrygian, C Major scale but with the E as the tonic. Etc... Note. the other comments are correct, but are from a different the perspective of altering the major scale. – Scott Carlson Jan 29 at 18:10

Forget the "rotating a major scale" thing. It's presented as a way to derive modes, but in practice it only seems to be backwards thinking that confuses people. When you want to create a modal feeling, you can't start calculating scale rotations. Think about modes as modifications to what you already know: common major and natural minor scales. And learn them one at a time. There's no need to learn all in one go. Learn what Lydian feels like, and spend a week playing Lydian stuff.

C Lydian = you play like you would in C major, except the F note is raised to F#. Lydian is a major mode (i.e. the third, C-E interval, is a major third), where the fourth scale degree is raised by a semitone. In normal C major, you have a D minor triad chord on the second scale degree, but in C Lydian you have a D major triad chord on the second scale degree.

C Mixolydian = you play like you would in C major, except the B note is lowered to Bb. Mixolydian is a major mode, where the seventh scale degree is lowered by a semitone. In normal C major, you have a G major triad chord on the fifth scale degree, but in C Mixolydian you have a G minor triad chord on the fifth scale degree. And a Bb major triad chord on the seventh scale degree.

C Dorian = you play like you would in C minor (C natural minor scale), except the Ab note is raised to A. Dorian is a minor mode (=the third, the interval from C to Eb, is a minor third), where the sixth degree is raised by a semitone. In C natural minor you have an F minor triad chord, but in C Dorian you have an F major triad chord.

A Dorian = you play like you would in A minor (A natural minor scale), except F is raised to F#. In A natural minor you have a D minor triad chord, but in A Dorian you have D major triad chord.

D Dorian = you play like you would in D minor (D natural minor scale), except Bb is raised to B. In D natural minor you have a G minor triad chord, but in D Dorian you have G major triad chord.

Etc. Learn the modes as modifications to what you already know. And learn them one by one, how they sound and what it feels like to operate in that mode. You don't have to learn all of them in one go.

Maybe I should add this. Modes do not start from a different place. EVERY MODE STARTS FROM THE TONIC NOTE.


Lydian starts from the tonic. Mixolydian starts from the tonic. Dorian starts from the tonic. They all start from the tonic. Don't let anyone tell you the confusing story about starting from a different note. It's only helpful for double-checking if you're not sure you remember what Lydian looked like, sort of like you can check that you multiplied 5 x 8 correctly by adding 8+8+8+8+8 to see if you get the same result. Always remember that all of the modal scales start from the home note.

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    You're answers are always spot on especially on Modes. I took a class on improvisation at Berkley and they couldn't explain it except the whole "start on this note" crap. I tried to hunt you down online to pick your brain to no avail. – mike628 Jan 28 at 0:04

All of the answers here give accurate information on modes and their construction and how they are derived but I’m going to provide you with a way to learn and conceptualize modes that with some practice and memorization will have you playing and understanding them effortlessly.

We all know that modes come from the basic major scale. We get a different scale construction by starting the scale on the different degrees of the scale, etc etc. The problem is the practical application of this can be confusing (ok, play an Eb scale from G to G) and it doesn’t fundamentally teach you the qualities of the modes and how they relate to each other so take that information and put it on the shelf.

I was shown a method of learning and teaching the modes which is very intuitive and will stick with you. The concept is simple, learn all the modes and their construction with just one root. Also learn the relationship between the modes in a step by step basis. By starting with one mode and simply changing one note at a time you will get through all the modes and do so in a logical manner, what I refer to as bright to dark. Here is a chart that lays it out with the root of C:

enter image description here

The single note change from one mode to another is shown in parentheses. There are 3 major, 3 minor and one diminished mode. Once you learn modes this way you will be able to gradually play them in any key and know the qualities that each mode has but more importantly you will know them as what they really are, individual scales, each with their own unique character.

Here are all the spellings using intervals:

Lydian 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7

Ionian 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Mixolydian 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7

Dorian 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7

Aeolian 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

Phrygian 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

Locrian 1 2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7

Another interesting thing about learning modes this way is that the relationship from one mode to the next is actually the change in accidentals going through the cycle of 5ths. If this thought sounds confusing you can put it on the back burner for now and just focus on learning the one note difference from the brightest to the darkest mode in my first diagram. Here is a chart but with key signatures that shows the exact same thing:

enter image description here

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    "conceptualizaré"? Your Québécois is showing. :-) – Aaron Jan 26 at 20:32
  • @Aaron Boy that was a doozie of a typo, that’s what I get for having spellcheck AND a Spanish keyboard on my iPad, lol! (I also speak fluent spanish) – John Belzaguy Jan 27 at 0:14

A D Major scale for C Lydian is wrong -- D Major has C# in it. For C Lydian, you would play G Major. Same problem for F Lydian; you would play C Major, not G Major. The modes you're asking about -- the diatonic modes -- are major scales (i.e., Ionian scales) played on different starting notes. C Major, D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian, A Aeolian, B Locrian all share the same key signature.

The more general formula is based on scale degree relative to the major (Ionian) scale.

Given a major scale:

Starting on Gives
1 Ionian
2 Dorian
3 Phrygian
4 Lydian
5 Mixolydian
6 Aeolian (Minor)
7 Locrian

Another way to look at modes is by modification relative to the Ionian scale.

Given a particular key (i.e., C, D, E, ...)

Mode Change from Ionian
Ionian none
Dorian b3 b7
Phyrgian b2 b3 b6 b7
Lydian #4
Mixolydian b7
Aeolian b3 b6 b7
Locrian b2 b3 b5 b6 b7
  • "Major" mode is normally called "Ionian" – user1079505 Jan 26 at 15:46
  • @user1079505 Good point! Updated. – Aaron Jan 26 at 15:50
  • @user1079505 - either - either Ionian mode - or - major scale – Tim Jan 26 at 16:27

They way I do it is first classify modes into major and minor families.

Then I add the alterations for each mode.

Basic major mode is ionian and basic minor mode is aeolian.


Lydian is major mode (ionian) with a raised fourth degree ♯^4.

Mixolydian is major mode with a lowered seventh degree ♭^7.


Dorian is minor mode with a raised sixth degree ♯^6.

Phrygian is minor mode (aeolian) with a lowered second degree ♭^2.

Locrian is the odd one out using two alterations: minor mode with lowered second degree ♭^2 and lowered fifth degree ♭^5.

In many ways it makes sense to treat locian mode as a special case. It was not used as a Church mode or in common practice "classical" music. It doesn't have a traditional, stable tonic (the ostensible tonic chord would be a diminished triad.) Also, when you set locian aside as the odd one, you get two mode families - major and minor - and each of those has one raised tone and one lowered tone variant. That's a pretty symmetrical, easy to remember arrangement.


Don't where your Lydian idea is from, but it'll give you wrong answers every time!

Two ways of understanding modes.

All modes can be attributed to the same parent key / major scale.

Well stick with key C here. Only ever using the diatonic notes contained therein.

Mode C-C - Ionian. Mode D-D - Dorian, Mode E-E - Phrygian. Mode F-F - Lydian. Mode G-G - Mixolydian. Mode A-A - Aeolian. Mode B-B - Locrian. Every one using ony C major scale notes.

Another way: Each mode uses a particular tonic note (and all of its scale notes).

So, C Ionian = C major notes. C Dorian uses the 2nd note of B♭ scale. C Phrygian uses 3rd note of A♭ scale. C Lydian uses 4th note of G scale. C Mixolydian uses 5th note of F scale. C Aeolian uses 6th note of E♭ scale. C Locrian uses 7th note of D♭ scale.

Each of the above modes use all the notes in the quoted scale.

To bear in mind - C Dorian is not the same as the Dorian of C!!

C Dorian is based on the B♭ major scale, while the Dorian of C uses the C major scale notes!


We use the relative note names of the moveable DoReMi (Solfege).

And to break down the modes to beginners you learn the Do Re Mi - scale, built of 2 identical tetrachords of 2 whole steps and 1 half tone step: W W H between them is another whole tone step: W W H -W- W W H

Now firstly we don't name them with the Greek terms: just spell Do-ladder, Re-ladder ... etc.

Do Re MiFa So La TiDo

Re MiFa So La TiDo Re

MiFa So La TiDo Re Mi

Fa So La TiDo Re MiFa

So La TiDo Re MiFa So

La TiDo Re MiFa So La

TiDo Re MiFa So La Ti

Like we can see each church mode has another root tone, the half tone steps are always between MiFa and TiDo, but the situation (structure) of each ladder is another.

This system we apply to all keys like the movable Do.

If we have understood this kind of "transposition", we name the modes relative to the keys and scales: The Do-ladder (Jonian) is always identical with the scale of the tonic (major scales) and the La-ladder is (Aeolian) is the same like the relative minor scale. With other words each mode is another relative scale of a certain key: Regard the example of Tim: C - Dorian is the Re-ladder of Bb-major.


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