For example, C Ionian has the same notes as D Dorian. But when looking at the scale degrees, I think they have to be different. Here's what I mean:

C Ionian:

    C Db D Eb E F F# G Ab A Bb B C
    1 2b 2 3b 3 4 5b 5 6b 6 7b 7 1

D Dorian:

    D Eb E F F# G Ab A Bb B C Db D
    1 2b 2 3 4b 4 5b 5 6b 6 7 7# 1

Since the D Dorian has the same notes as C Ionian, when I try to name the scale degrees accordingly suddenly there is a 4 instead of a 3b, and the 4b and 7# appeared out of nowhere...

Is this right?


This is not right. The modes of the major scale each have 7 notes; instead you have listed both scales as having all 12 possible pitches, but just starting on different notes. You have listed a chromatic scale on C and a chromatic scale on D.

Also, the way you describe a number of the intervals is not correct: for instance C-F# is a 4# (in your notation).

As different modes have the same number of notes, you can think of them as having the same degrees (eg. I, II, III etc.), but the intervals between them are not the same. It is the different intervals produced between the different degrees of modes which gives them their character.

Using your notation, C Ionian and D Dorian have the following notes:

C Ionian (C Major):

    I   II  III IV  V   VI  VII
    C   D   E   F   G   A   B
    1   2   3   4   5   6   7

D Dorian:

    I   II  III IV  V   VI  VII
    D   E   F   G   A   B   C
    1   2   b3  4   5   6   b7

Really, the flat intervals above should be called minor intervals (m3, m7).

So, as you can see, the notes are the same for C Ionian and D Dorian (as you said!), but the intervals each degree creates with the root notes (C for C Ionian; D for D Dorian) are not the same.

It would be interesting to see where you got the information about these modes from; it is pretty far from accurate!

  • I was reading this page about harmonica positions, and then I was trying to deduce what it would mean to change the mode rather than the position. For example playing a harmonica in the key of D, in 1st position, Ionian mode, would mean I'm playing in the key of D, and playing a harmonica in the key of C, 1st position, but using a Dorian mode would mean I'm playing in the key of D also (I'm pretty sure that's right, hope you follow). And then I tried to figure out how the scale degrees in the charts would change. angelfire.com/tx/myquill/PlayingBlues.html – Malki Apr 15 '14 at 9:20
  • Also, there's this video that tries to explain the modes on a harmonica - youtube.com/watch?v=mjxknb5p30U And this one explains the difference between positions and modes - youtube.com/watch?v=Rfd13ZA8pBI – Malki Apr 15 '14 at 9:23
  • I guess the chart (link in my first comment) lists all the pitches in the chromatic scale as having scale degrees for completeness. Thanks for the clarification! – Malki Apr 15 '14 at 9:26
  • @Malki I'm not sure whether I follow you on the harmonica example. Are you saying that you use a C-major harmonica to play D Dorian? That’s correct: C major and D Dorian are enharmonic equivalents, so you can use a harmonica tuned to C major to play D Dorian. You could also use it to play A minor, another enharmonic equivalent. (I am not a harmonica player, so I don't know whether there are practical problems with any of that, but theoretically they are equivalent.) – Bradd Szonye Apr 30 '14 at 21:59
  • @Bradd - it's a bit more complex than that. Basically you can play any scale on any diatonic harmonica using a technique called "bending" which is equivalent to bending the strings of a guitar to change the pitch. You just need to know how to play each note, and make sure to play the correct notes of the scale. When I asked the question I did not understand the difference between scale degrees and intervals. – Malki May 4 '14 at 7:14

If you looked at the scale/mode notes as a circle rather than linear, it may make more sense to you. I can't draw it here, but the CYCLE of notes will be more accurate as music goes round instead of along. By this, I mean go round your circle, starting at, say, C, and the notes are in Ionian. Start at D and you've got D Dorian. Start at E - I hope you follow.

Points already made - you can discount chromatic notes in between - they're red herrings. You are quite mixed up naming notes - calling F# a b5.There's a lot of knowledge missing, I'm afraid. This is probably why you are mixed up.Check out INTERVALS and you'll see.

As Dom and Bob have indicated, Ionian in any key will have the same notes exactly as Dorian starting a tone up, because both use the same set of notes. There are various really good Q&A on this site relevant to this subject. Read them.


Scale degrees are always made from the notes in the scale so you have a lot of unnecessary notes in your example above. It should look like this.

C Ionian:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 

D Dorian:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

They have the same scale degrees because each scale has 7 notes in it, but the distance between the scale degrees may vary for each scale. The steps between each scale degree are as follows:

C Ionian:

 W W H W W W H 

D Dorian:

 W H W W W H W 

This is what makes these two scales/modes different. Notes outside the key may be raised or lowered based on context. For example, in D Dorian if you were going chromatically from F to F# to G you would be going from 3 to #3 to 4 and if you were going chromatically from G to Gb to F you would be going from 4 to b4 to 3. Notes outside the scale are based on context.


For a great explanation of modes, see “What is a Mode?” from Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts and watch his very entertaining explanation. It's nearly 50 years old (he starts singing that great “new” hit “My Baby Does the Hanky Panky” as an example of Lydian mode), but just as entertaining and informative now as it was then. That's how I learned modes back when I was 10.

The lecture is in four parts on YouTube: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.

  • Thank you for pointing out this excellent lecture! I watched it last night with my fiancée, and we were both enlightened and entertained. – Bradd Szonye Apr 30 '14 at 21:17
  • 1
    I remember being enthralled by it when I was a kid, and finding that because of it I had no difficulty with modes when I got into music school. It was funny to be able to see it again on youtube 40 years later and realize that I still remembered much of it. Perhaps a bit fractured though, I remembered a song about going to see miss Mary, and was a bit surprised to see that it was really "Along Comes Mary". :) – BobRodes Apr 30 '14 at 21:22

to be very direct and simple;

all diatonic scales, including all modal scale degrees will always be relevant (both in their natural or transposed positions) to either it's tonic chord and it's chord quality (Major or minor) or 1st Modal chord and it's chord quality. For both the Major and or minor Modes including all of the 1st seven C-Major modes, there is only 1 scale in use, the C Major Scale- it is simply transposed, which automatically changes the relationship between the scales degrees in relation to its corresponding root chord position. Surprisingly all of the 1st seven C Major "Modal Scales" (except Ionian and Aeolian which are identical to their perspective diatonic parent scales up to the 1st octave or Locrian, which has 2 altered scale degrees in comparison to it's diatonic parent scale- Bmin.) only differ by 1 altered scale degree in comparison to their diatonic parent scales.

In conclusion:

it does not matter if you compare the modal scales (degrees) to their diatonic parent scales or if you compare the different modes and their perspective scale degrees to one another- the interval structure of the scale degrees does not change, it merely transposes according to it's position- only the name, function and transposed position of certain scale degrees in relationship to the root chord will change or be affected.

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