Teaching myself modes, I'm writing a short piece for string quartet that always holds to the same key, but starts out in locrian and ends in lydian, going through all the modes, brightening up and quickening up the pace as it goes along.

I would assume this is also called a modulation, but I don't know if there is terminology for this kind of mode shift.

  • Do you mean (e.g.) starting out in B Locrian and ending up in F Lydian, going through the modes of C major? Or do you mean starting out in C Locrian and ending up in C Lydian, with C remaining as the Tonic? Or something else? May 29, 2021 at 20:14
  • @topo The second one. May 30, 2021 at 0:45
  • Aha, thanks. I wasn't clear on that because I'm not sure that moving between different major and minor modes would necessarily be called "staying in the same key". May 30, 2021 at 6:26

2 Answers 2


I don't know of a specific term for this, but I think your recommendation of "modal shift" is a pretty good one.

In any event, I would recommend against using the term "modulation," since it really necessitates a change of tonic pitch. And since your piece is explicitly monotonal (that is, "having a single tonic pitch"), modulation wouldn't really apply here.

  • If we say the tonic isn't changing, how do we identify the changes of mode? May 29, 2021 at 16:42
  • @topoReinstateMonica I actually use the term "change of mode," believe it or not!
    – Richard
    May 29, 2021 at 16:51
  • I mean... what characteristic of the piece is changing such that we can say there has been a change of mode, if not the 'tonic'? May 29, 2021 at 17:02
  • @topoReinstateMonica I'm not sure I follow. If we move from C Dorian to C Lydian, the tonic C hasn't changed, but the mode has. Thus this is a change of mode, not a modulation. But if we move from C Dorian to A Lydian, the tonic has changed, and so it's a modulation. It's the same logic of why we don't say C major to C minor is a modulation.
    – Richard
    May 29, 2021 at 17:21
  • Aha - I think I was interpreting the question differently to how you and Tom have interpreted it. I've asked for a clarification from OP but I'm probably just being an outlier as usual... May 29, 2021 at 20:16

There are several terms that I've heard:

  1. Modal mixture is a term used in jazz to describe borrowing chords from a different mode of the same tonic.

  2. Modal interchange is another term for it

  3. Parallel scales can be used for any scales that share the same tonic.

  4. Pitch axis is used by some guitarists, particularly in metal/shred. In my opinion this is a terrible name, because it duplicates the label for a different concept (theorist Emo Lendvai coined the term to describe inverting a melody around some pitch other than the starting note of a phrase) - but then Steve Vai used the same term in describing his use of parallel scales.

  5. Modal mutation can be used to describe shifting from one mode to a parallel mode by altering one note.

  • I was unfamiliar with the term parallel mode. I have since acquired it into my vocabulary. Thank you kindly. :) May 30, 2021 at 0:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.