4

I am having some confusion is respects to the formal definition of what the various modes are. I know that their defined in relation to their scale, however, I've come to realise this may not be best way to define it.

For instance, the Phrygian mode of the minor scale is the major mode, as follows:

 T ST T T ST T T

      T T ST T T T ST

The Aeolian mode of the Major scale is also the natural minor scale.

However, because these two scales are one of the same, they have the same modes. However, the 'Dorian' mode of each scale is different, so is the Phrygian mode, and so on. Thus we could say we have 14 modes, but only 7 are unique. So what is the official status quo on this?

Also, I know that there are other modes which have a completely different arrangement, but the major and minor modes or scales, at least is respects to Western culture, dominant at least 95% of music, likely more (that's also accounting for the 7 modes, not just the natural minor/major scales). And as the two are the same, this is way I was wondering if there is a formal definition of the unique modes.

To those scales which are unique, would the modes that are then formed be given the same titles as the modes of the major/minor scale?

If I may ask another but related question - I hear there are many, many modes out there, but how many are actually unique? As an ambiguous example, say there were 1000 out there, only say, maybe 50 of them could be unique. By the way, by unique, I mean in the sense that they have a different sequential arrangement of semitones, but if two modes share the same sequence, regardless of order, then their combined total of modes is equal to the sum of just one of the original modes.

  • 6
    There is no such thing as "the Phrygian mode of the minor scale". Phrygian (in the modern sense) is a fixed diatonic mode. You can't simply start any scale on the third note and call it Phrygian. – Matt L. May 14 '15 at 7:30
6

You kind of have a skewed view of what modes actually are. The modes we name are set constructs, not based on if you build on any degree on any scale. The third scale degree is only Phrygian in Ionian(major). The scale built on the third of Aeolian(minor) is Ionian(major). The Phrygian mode does exist in Aeolian mode, but is built off scale degree 5 as building it off that would create the scale pattern we know as Phrygian.

To demonstrate this let's look at all the modes that exist naturally in the standard C major scale:

C Ionian        C   D   E   F   G   A   B   C
D Dorian        D   E   F   G   A   B   C   D
E Phrygian      E   F   G   A   B   C   D   E
F Lydian        F   G   A   B   C   D   E   F
G Mixolydian    G   A   B   C   D   E   F   G
A Aeolian       A   B   C   D   E   F   G   A
B Locrian       B   C   D   E   F   G   A   B

As you can see, they all contain the exact same notes and if we line them up, you can actually see how they relate.

C Ionian        C   D   E   F   G   A   B   C
D Dorian            D   E   F   G   A   B   C   D
E Phrygian              E   F   G   A   B   C   D   E
F Lydian                    F   G   A   B   C   D   E   F
G Mixolydian                    G   A   B   C   D   E   F   G
A Aeolian                           A   B   C   D   E   F   G   A
B Locrian                               B   C   D   E   F   G   A   B

So no matter how you arrange the notes above you get only 7 modes as the pattern is what defines what mode is not what relative scale degree you are building off of.

There does exist more exotic modes based off of variations we make to the natural scale and the same idea applies where there exists one pattern per scale degree. For example, the modes based of the harmonic minor scale are:

A   B   C   D   E   F   G#  A
B   C   D   E   F   G#  A   B
C   D   E   F   G#  A   B   C
D   E   F   G#  A   B   C   D
E   F   G#  A   B   C   D   E
F   G#  A   B   C   D   E   F
G#  A   B   C   D   E   F   G#
A   B   C   D   E   F   G#  A
B   C   D   E   F   G#  A   B

I did not name these because most of them don't have official names although it is rather easy to derive it using the modes we already know and accidentals.

  • Ahhh, I see, so the official title given to those modes are those that originate from the major scale. See, my confusion at first was defining what a scale and what a mode is, then I learned that it's just a tautology (the same), and as you can see from my question I came to further realisations. Though I did not know that the major scale was the starting point with which other modes were built, so thank you for clearing that up! ^.^ – user108262 May 14 '15 at 21:17
5

I am having some confusion is respects to the formal definition of what the various modes are. I know that their defined in relation to their scale, however, i've come to realise this may not be best way to define it.

Modes are not defined by how they are related. Modes are defined by their interval pattern, by how they are constructed. There are different ways to represent that construct, you used one of them to represent the minor scale, as a string of tones and semi-tones:

T ST T T ST T T

And that's how the modes are defined, by their construction, by their formulas, by how they are built. In your example above you just defined the minor scale. That's the form of the minor scale, it can't have any other or it would be another scale, another mode.

Before continuing, it's very important to note that major scale and Ionian mode are synonyms, they refer to the exact same thing. Minor scale and Aeolian mode are synonyms too. Keep this in mind. (you seem to think that they are different things)

Here are the definitions of the 7 modes. I'll include the definition as intervals in relation to the root and as tone and semi-tone steps (like in your examples). I'll also include an example with C as root.

    R = root, M = major, m = minor, T = tone, S = semi-tone

Lydian:

    R  M2 M3 A4 P5 M6 M7 P8
    C  D  E  F# G  A  B  C
      T  T  T  S  T  T  S

Ionian:

    R  M2 M3 P4 P5 M6 M7 P8
    C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C
      T  T  S  T  T  T  S

Mixolydian:

    R  M2 M3 P4 P5 M6 m7 P8
    C  D  E  F  G  A  Bb C
      T  T  S  T  T  S  T

Dorian:

    R  M2 m3 P4 P5 M6 m7 P8
    C  D  Eb F  G  A  Bb C 
      T  S  T  T  T  S  T

Aeolian:

    R  M2 m3 P4 P5 m6 m7 P8
    C  D  Eb F  G  Ab Bb C
      T  S  T  T  S  T  T

Phrygian:

    R  m2 m3 P4 P5 m6 m7 P8
    C  Db Eb F  G  Ab Bb C
      S  T  T  T  S  T  T

Locrian:

    R  m2 m3 P4 d5 m6 m7 P8
    C  Db Eb F  Gb Ab Bb C
      S  T  T  S  T  T  T

So, if a scale has the form: R m2 m3 P4 P5 m6 m7 P8 (which can be also represented as S T T T S T T), it is the Phrygian mode.

For example: the scale D E F# G A B C D has the form R M2 M3 P4 P5 M6 m7 P8 (which can also be represented as T T S T T S T). This matches the description of the Mixolydian mode, so that scale (mode) is D Mixolydian.

As you can see, we don't need to know the relationship between the modes to define them.

For instance, the Phrygian mode of the minor scale is the major mode

That's incorrect. The Phrygian mode and the major scale have two different constructs, they are two different modes. We now know that each mode has a very specific definition, a very distinct construct.

This is your example:

T ST T T ST T T
     T T ST T T T ST

The upper scale is the minor scale (also known as Aeolian mode), and the lower scale is the major scale (Ionian mode). In your example the Phrygian mode would be found (and derived) from the 5th degree of the upper scale.

T ST T T ST T T             <- minor (Aeolian)
     T T ST T T T ST        <- major (Ionian)
         ST T T T ST T T    <- Phrygian

However, because these two scales are one of the same, they have the same modes. However, the 'Dorian' mode of each scale is different, so is the Phrygian mode, and so on. Thus we could say we have 14 modes, but only 7 are unique. So what is the official status quo on this?

Using the construction formulas of this answer, we can derive 7 modes only. The modes that you derived from the minor and major scales are exactly the same. Those 7 modes can be derived from any other mode. They all contain each other (but again, that's not how they are defined).

You are confusing degree with mode. That's why you think the Dorian mode is different, because while every mode contains the other modes, the position of the modes within a mode changes. The Dorian mode is not changing, it is just somewhere else, in other position:

    C D E F G A B C      <- C Ionian
      D E F G A B C D    <- D Dorian

In this case we found the Dorian mode if we start the scale in the second degree of the Ionian mode (remember, Ionian mode and major scale are the exact same thing).

    C D Eb F G Ab Bb C          <- C Aeolian
           F G Ab Bb C D Eb F   <- F Dorian

In this case we found the Dorian mode if we start the scale in the fourth degree of the Aeolian mode (remember, Aeolian mode and minor scale are the exact same thing).

To those scales which are unique, would the modes that are then formed be given the same titles as the modes of the major/minor scale?

We know that we can derive the 7 modes from one mode, depending on which degree we start the scale in. We now know that all those 7 modes are unique, and have a very specific definition in their construction, in their formulas. We now know that major scale and Ionian mode are synonyms, and that minor scale and Aeolian mode are synonyms too.

If I may ask another but related question - I hear there are many, many modes out there, but how many are actually unique?

All of them are unique. You might find synonyms (as we found with minor = Aeolian and major = Ionian), but the mode is defined by its construction, the name is only a reference to that construction.

1

It's difficult to add to the excellent answers already, but another way to see the modes is in a circular fashion. Can't do it here, but if the 7 notes (Like Dom and JCPedroza, I'll be in C),are written around a circle, the modes in note names will be easily read off as you go round.Keep going clockwise, and each letter name will give the next mode, in order - C Ionian, D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian, A Aeolian and B Locrian. The notes for each are the other letter names. For the other 11 keys, write the notes in similar fashion round a cirle, so Eb would be Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C and D. From that F Dorian will be the sequence of notes starting on F.

1

I know its been a while, but I'd like to answer this using a different approach, although the current answers are technically remarkably well constructed.

I know that their defined in relation to their scale.

That is not entirely true. There are two ways to view modes, depending on how you want to use them. I will avoid the pattern approach because I think its more important to understand what Modes are supposed to do and how to use them before attempting to nail down a definition. I assume you know what all the Major Scales are and how to derive them. I also assume you know what a key signature is distinct from a root note.

For reference purposes in the examples, the 12 Major Scales are listed below.

A Major:    A   B   C♯  D   E   F♯  G♯
B♭Major:    B♭  C   D   E♭  F   G   A 
B Major:    B   C♯  D♯  E   F♯  G♯  A♯
C Major:    C   D   E   F   G   A   B 
D♭Major:    D♭  E♭  F   G♭  A♭  B♭  C 
D Major:    D   E   F♯  G   A   B   C♯
E♭Major:    E♭  F   G   A♭  B♭  C   D 
E Major:    E   F♯  G♯  A   B   C♯  D♯
F Major:    F   G   A   B♭  C   D   E 
F♯Major:    F♯  G♯  A♯  B   C♯  D♯  F 
G Major:    G   A   B   C   D   E   F♯
A♭Major:    A♭  B♭  C   D♭  E♭  F   G 

Given a Major Scale key sigature, you may want to -

1) change the root note (key signature), but keep the notes of the orignal scale.

2) keep the root note (key signature), but change one or more notes in the scale.

In this example we will use the C Major Scale and the Dorian mode.

The notes in the C Major scale are: C D E F G A B
The Modes are, for each note position:

Ionion Dorian Phrygian Lydian Mixolydian Aeolean Locrian

In case 1) above, we change the root note from C to D, so the D Dorian mode is: D E F G A B C

All the C Major scale Modes are:

C     Ionian: C D E F G A B
D     Dorian: D E F G A B C
E   Phrygian: E F G A B C D
F     Lydian: F G A B C D E
G Mixolydian: G A B C D E F
A    Aeolean: A B C D E F G
B    Locrian: B C D E F G A

As shown above, you can keep the C Major scale, but change its root. Changing the root does not change the scale, so D Dorian is not the D Major scale (D E F# G A B C#), but the D rooted C Major scale. Only the Ionian Mode is identical to the Major Scale because it is the scale's first position which defines its key, so D Ionian Mode is the D Major scale.

There are 12 Dorian Modes, one for each Major scale, but only one D Dorian Mode. The Mode notes are defined by the Major Scale of that note in that scale's position. So D Dorian Mode is the Major Scale with D in the 2nd position, which is the C Major scale.

A Similar method applies to all other modes. There are 12 Phrygian Modes, only one is D Phrygian and that is Bb(or A#) Major with D in the 3rd position (B♭ C D E♭ F G A). Also C Dorian is the same Bb Major scale, but with C root, not D. So C Dorian and D Phrygian are Modes of the Bb Major Scale that root it in C (2nd) and D (3rd), in the same way D Dorian and E Phrygian are Modes of the C Major scale and root it in D (2nd) and E (3rd).

In case 2) above, we keep the root note C and find another major scale with C in the Dorian, or 2nd position. This is Bb (or A#) Major, and that scale, starting from C, is: C D Eb F G A Bb

The C Modes are C Ionian (C Major), C Dorian (Bb Major), C Phrygian (Ab/B# Major), C Lydian (G Major), C Mixolydian (F Major), C Aleolian (A Minor), and C Locrian (Db/C# Major).

It is also possible to change up to six notes of the C Major scale. Whether accidently, or intended, each note can be found in all seven positions and only in seven of the 12 Major Scales. Thus, the C note can be found in seven scales at a different position. So, we don't actually change any notes, we find a major scale that has our key and the changed notes. The Bb Major scale has C in the second position with the E and B notes changed to Eb and Bb. Thus, C Dorian is equivelant to the C Major scale with a flattened E and B, but is actually the Bb Major scale with a D root.

Below is a list of all the C Modes (i.e. all Major scales rooted in C), in lowered pitch and increasing note change order, with the actual Major scale in (Brackets):

(G M)    Lydian: C  D  E  F# G  A  B  [  ] 0
(C M)    Ionian: C  D  E  F  G  A  B  [F ] 1
(F M)Mixolydian: C  D  E  F  G  A  Bb [Bb] 2
(BbM)    Dorian: C  D  Eb F  G  A  Bb [Eb] 3
(EbM)   Aeolian: C  D  Eb F  G  Ab Bb [Ab] 4
(AbM)  Phrygian: C  Db E  F  G  Ab Bb [Db] 5
(DbM)   Locrian: C  Db Eb F  Gb Ab Ab [Eb] 6

So, the C Lydian Mode is actually the G Major scale with C in the 4th position and can be used to change the key from G to C in G Major, or, for the C Major scale, used to change F to F#. Although the actual C Lydian Mode is specifically the notes given as listed above, its meaning depends on what changes it makes to your scale. And this, I suspect, is what creates the confusion.

C Lydian is G Major (with C root), but is associated with the C Major scale because it has the same key. So while C Lydian is not derived from C Major it is frequently used with it because the two scales are so similar. In contrast, C Locrian is derived from Db/C# Major scale and only has 2 notes (C and F) in the C Major scale and yet is still associated with it because it has the same key.

It is the way in which the major scales are reordered that the Modes establish the association between scales and enables composers, improvs, and Jazz performers to switch between scales, playing all the 12 notes and yet sounding like a seven note octave with subtle and not so subtle pitch changes, tweeking a mood the scale sets with one or more Modes.

If I may ask another but related question - I hear there are many, many modes out there, but how many are actually unique?

The Modes are generated from the scale, so you will be able to derive all modes from any pattern distinct from the Major/Minor by following the same formulas applied to the Major pattern. For example, the pentatonic scale (five note scale), will likewise have 4 key changes, and 4 note changes, which will be the pentatonic Modes. However, I don't think they have official names, so you can make them up, using the naming convention used for the Major scale. So, just as you can have many unique patterns, the modes will be similarly all unique.

  • I am not following you here; you say "I also assume you know what a key signature is distinct from a root note." Then you say "change the root note (key signature), but keep the notes of the original scale." You can't have it both ways. Changing the key signature means changing the notes of the scale. If you ascribe a key signature to D Dorian, it would be C Major since these two note collections share the same notes (but different "root notes"). I usually favor using a key signature of D Minor for something in D Dorian, and then write the accidentals. – ex nihilo Jan 28 at 23:54
  • I wasn't clear on that, which is why you got confused. We're not changing the notes, only the order. You said it better and used root in the same way I intended. C Major is the obvious signature, but I suppose any D scale would be okay. – Peter Gostelow Jan 29 at 14:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.