How did the ancient greek Ionic dialect become the name of the first mode of the diatonic major scale?...being Ionic.

Similarly, how did the ancient greek Aeolic dialect become the name of the first mode of the diatonic minor scale? ...being Aeolian (as well as the sixth mode of the diatonic major scale).

  • Why do you think the modes were named after dialects? The word "German" in "German shepherd" does not refer to the German language, for example.
    – phoog
    Nov 10, 2021 at 9:45
  • Agreed, I’m a bit puzzled by the linguistic word “dialect.” While I see from en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ionians that the tribes did in fact have their own dialect, it seems more likely that the modes were named “for” the tribes themselves, or for their associated geographic regions. Nov 10, 2021 at 11:27

1 Answer 1


Medieval music theorists were attempting to link the scales used in plainchant to the ancient Greek modes, and they adopted the names of Greek regions used earlier by Aristoxenus, as the scales were somewhat analogous. The same thing would happen in the Renaissance, when theorists would again borrow the Greek names in order to establish a veneer of succession from ancient Greece.

For more, see the Wikipedia entry on Dorian Mode: Medieval Dorian Mode, and also Musical system of ancient Greece: The system of Aristoxenus

  • 1
    Just to call out the key sentence in the second article: "Thus the names Dorian, Lydian etc. should not be taken to imply a historical continuity between the systems." So "The medieval modes evolved from ancient Greek usages" === false, and "The Renaissance folks plucked these names out of thin air, never used in actual ancient Greek usages" also === false. Nov 10, 2021 at 13:20

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