Going to learn all the modes by ear. But finding info about is this strangely hard? Ionian and Aeolian is the same as major and minor, right?

And what about the rest, you guys got any tips?

So far I've only been able to find stuff on dorian. Regular minor scale with a raised 6th, sounding like a dreaming minor.

Tips like that on the other scales will be highly appreciated.

  • 1
    Are you asking how to identify a mode when heard as a scale (i.e., the notes ordered from lowest to highest) or when heard in the context of a piece of music?
    – Aaron
    Mar 24, 2023 at 22:19
  • Forgot to add, as a scale :) Mar 24, 2023 at 23:25

3 Answers 3


You can probably recognize the modes as "major-ish" or "minor-ish". Then you can recognize specific modes by how they differ from the regular "major" and "minor" sounds you're familiar with. For example, Phrygian is like minor-flat-2. You could learn it as the "minor-ish" sound with that flat-2 sound. Since you said you want to recognize the scales played as a scale, simply playing the scales yourself will really help ingrain the sound in your head. Learning to hear it in music is arguably more important- to that end, I'd recommend listening to and playing music in that mode.

You might not need/want emotional labels for the sounds. This is sort of like the old "major is happy, minor is sad" deal. I think this teaching tool works with new musicians because they are already familiar with both sounds (from popular music) and they already have this classification in their head (most of the happy songs are major, most of the sad songs are minor). But, remember that the goal is to learn what major and minor sound like. This heuristic doesn't really identify major and minor- I've seen comments like "This must be major because it sounds happy" on songs that are clearly minor.

You already made a connection for yourself with Dorian, which will help you connect "Dorian" with the sound you've heard ("dreaming minor") but haven't had a label for. But if you don't recognize the sound of the other modes as anything, then there isn't much benefit (for ear training) to attach someone else's emotional label to them.


Check out this question: Does this progression through the modes have a name?

To get familiarity with the modes, don't just play piano white notes C-C then D-D then E-E and so on. Because if you do that, you still sound like you're in C.

Far better to progress through the given sequence, so you play C Ionian, C Mixolydian, C Dorian, C Aolian, C Phrygian, C Lochrian, B Lydian, etc. When you play through the modes in this specific order, each scale differs from the ones before and after it in just one pitch.

  • I wouldn't encourage messing about with more than one mode at one sitting - so this wouldn't work for me.
    – Tim
    Mar 25, 2023 at 20:07
  • I think the very best way to appreciate them is side by side (or consecutively at least). Then you can hear the difference that changing just one note makes. It's also easier to construct modes (if you've not memorized them) if you think "flatten the 7th, the 3rd, the 6th and the 2nd", and so on on. Mar 26, 2023 at 21:29

Just get into it! Play each mode, as a scale, and get used to playing in each mode - visiting the root of each often as you play, with the root chord involved too.

You've uncovered Dorian - used a fair bit by Santana - so try some of his pieces. Mixolydian is covered in a lot of Beatles songs - look for those in particular. Make up some tunes which use Mixolydian.

That's probably better than relying on something you find on the 'net - even if you do!

You'll find initially that you tend to gravitate to the parent key, and bear in mind Aeolian is only one embodiment of a minor key. Good luck!

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