I've been playing around with octatonic and enneatonic (sp?) scales of 8 and 9 discrete notes (not including the octave, of course). For the modes, this leaves one or two missing terms for the 8th and 9th modes. But for all my Googling, I can't divine the origin of the Greek terms for the first seven, from Ionic to Locrian. Does anyone know? I'm picturing columns. This may be more of a language question, but I figured I'd start here.

Also, "enneatic" the correct term for a nine-note scale? I'm going by this Wikipedia page on ordinal numbers. I believe 10 is "decatonic," 11 is "hendecatonic," and 12 (the Chromatic scale) is "dodecatonic."

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    From the Wikipedia page, ennea- is ordinal. To denote the number of distinct tones in a scale, you want cardinal. The 12-tone scale is dodeca- + tonic, not dodecat- + onic.
    – phoog
    Nov 9, 2021 at 8:54
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    Personally, I prefer the convention where Locrian is called ti mode (because its scale is ti-do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti), avoiding the unnecessary complication of Greek names.
    – dan04
    Nov 9, 2021 at 22:51
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    The Greek names corresponded to geographic regions and they probably referred to more than just scales, including aspects of style (which is onr meaning of modus means in Latin). Sort of like "Delta blues" or "Viennese waltz". Unless you're actually doing ancient Greek music theory I would recommend not using these names at all. Nov 10, 2021 at 1:18

1 Answer 1


The diatonic modes — ionian, dorian, ..., locrian — don't apply to octatonic scales. So for any given octatonic scale, the first mode, for example, is not "ionian" (unless you develop your own naming system, in which case you could call the remaining modes whatever you like). Generally, the first mode is just "the first mode", and so forth. Same for 9-, 10-, or 11-note scales.

The Greek mode names, in modern usage, have nothing to do with the actual Greek system. The names as used in Greece as generally credited to Aristoxenus, then assigned by Medieval theorists who were trying to link the ancient Greek system to the "modern" system, and then revived again by Renaissance theorists attempting to give a veneer of succession from the Greek system. As a starting point for some background on this, I recommend:

As far as the terms for 9-tone scales, I've most frequently encountered "nonatonic".

If you really would like to have a consistent naming system for every possible scale, you could do worse than using Forte Labels (Wikipedia: List of Pitch-Class Sets).

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    Weren't the theorists who applied the Greek mode names to their own modes medieval rather than renaissance?
    – phoog
    Nov 9, 2021 at 8:49
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    Food for thought: the 5th mode of the harmonic minor scale is the Phrygian Dominant scale.
    – Dekkadeci
    Nov 9, 2021 at 14:25
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    I would add that the Greek mode names (in their usual use nowadays) apply specifically to the diatonic scale. So not only do they not apply to octatonic scales, but they don't apply to other heptatonic (i.e., 7-note) scales. E.g., the first mode of the harmonic minor scale is not "Ionian".
    – msailor
    Nov 10, 2021 at 12:38

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