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By definition, a major scale is:

W W H W W W H

similarly, a minor scale is:

W H W W H W W

Now, the standard notion of Greek modes begins with: a major scale, and the construction of the modes with the steps and whole steps of the major scale, like:

  1. Choose the C key and build its major scale:

W W H W W W H = C D E F G A B C This is the famous Ionian mode.

  1. Now, choose the next note of the scale as key: D.

Then, note that we can construct a new scale pattern just seeing the steps and whole steps between the notes (which will ends in D):

W H W W W H W = D E F G A B C D This is the famous Dorian mode.

Now, the whole thing began with a major scale as fundamental pattern. Therefore, my question is: What if we start with a minor scale; it will be called "minor Greek modes"?

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    Those modes have Greek names, but they are not Greek modes.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 8:45
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    To expand on @phoog's comment: The seven modes built on some rotation of WWHWWWH are most unambiguously described as the diatonic modes.
    – Theodore
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 15:09
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    As others note, the Greek modes are totally different from the medieval European ("church") modes with pseudo-Greek names attached to them. But in the 16th-17th centuries, people did start thinking of the eight or twelve church modes as being primarily "major" or "minor" based on the size of the third above the final, and they were adding so many chromatic alterations that the other distinctions started to blur. This is where major and minor keys came from, oversimplifying somewhat. Keep in mind also that the church modes start on D, so it's not accurate to say they start from the major scale. Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 18:36

3 Answers 3

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What if we start with a minor scale; it will be called "minor greek modes"?

Well no, because the minor scale is already a mode of the major scale; it is the Aeolian mode. You could define any of the modes as the "home mode," but the set of other modes derived by starting on each of the different scale degrees would be the same.

On the background information, I feel compelled to note that the Ionian and Aeolian modes that we recognize today were only established in the sixteenth century. Before that, there were only the Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, and Mixolydian authentic modes (and their plagal counterparts, the Hypodorian, Hypophrygian, Hypolydian, and Hypomixolydian, which had the same final pitch but different range and dominant).

These modes, in turn, were not the same as their ancient Greek namesakes, because they arose in the middle ages as the result of some misinterpretation of ancient Greek sources. For this reason, they're more accurately called "church modes" or "medieval modes" than "Greek modes," but since modern modal music usually has little to do with medieval music, it's probably best just to call them "modes."

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It's logical that all modes of the major scale follow that same sequence, but starting at different points along it. Seen better as circular rather than linear. Thus Ionian (parent, major) is TTSTTTS, Dorian moves one along, TSTTTST, and so on. Taking us to Aeolian, which is only another start point round the sequence.

Starting from there, it makes no sense to continue the sequence with the next note, etc., and call them modes of the minor! They're still the same!

The main fact of minor modes is their 3rd note. If that produces an interval of m3, then it's a minor mode. If it produces M3, it's a major mode. (Both against their root notes, I should say) This really has not much to do with the parent scale.

So, minor modes are Aeolian, Dorian and Phrygian, and major modes Ionian, Lydian, and Mixolydian. Leaving Locrian as a fairly unusable (!) minor also.

There are also modes of the melodic and harmonic minors, again spawned from the parent scales. Those will have different intervals from what you have stated, and are modes from or of those other minors, but not necessarily major or minor modes in their own right. That's dictated again by m3/M3.

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First of all. The definition of major and minor scales is not correct. Major scale is every scale with the major third. Minor scale is every scale with minor third. Therefore Ionian, lydian and mixolydian modes are considered major, whereas dorian, phrygian, aeolian (and locrian, which is not present in the old music) is considered minor.

The modes are older than the concept of major and minor. The old music did not use all twelve semitones. There used to be six modes in which the music was written. Later, people realised that the most beatiful for them were Ionian and Aeolian modes. Since these were almost only two used modes in Baroque and Classical era, Ionian scale is called the major scale and aeolian (and later harmonic and melodic scale) were called minor.

Therefore as an answer, we can call the Greek modes major or minor, as I wrote in the first paragraph. We can start wherever we want. The only thing that matters is the third.

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    "Major scale is every scale with the major third. Minor scale is every scale with minor third": this is going to be controversial. It's true in some contexts, and it's certainly consistent with Bach's title page for the Well-tempered Clavier, but most modern theory teachers would give a negative mark if someone responded to an exercise asking for a major scale by writing a Lydian or Mixolydian scale.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 9:02
  • @phoog - I guess, like so many others, Vit is conflating scale and key...
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 9:40
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    @Tim perhaps, but it might be useful to quote Bach's aforementioned title page: The Well-Tempered Clavier, or Preludes and Fugues through all the Tones and Semitones, Concerning both the major third or Ut Re Mi and the minor third or Re Mi Fa. Whether we take replace the word "scale" with "key" in the first paragraph, it's equally correct (in the baroque sense) or incorrect (in the modern theory class sense). Related to this, "mode" can refer either to scale or to key.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 11:58

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