With the basic modes like phrygian, Lydian etc, the modes with the same notes as C major ( so no flats or sharps) how do they sound different from a major or minor scale.( this is like E phrygian).

  • 1
    Have you tried listening to them?
    – Matt L.
    Jun 22, 2015 at 7:25

5 Answers 5


Each mode has a different sound. They have some specific notes that add the color in each of them.

  • Ionian mode is like the major scale
  • Dorian mode is like the natural minor scale, with a major sixth.
  • Phrygian mode is like the natural minor scale, with b2.
  • Lydian mode is like the major scale, with #4.
  • Myxolydian mode is like the major scale, with b7.
  • Aeloian mode is like the natural minor scale.
  • Locrian mode is like the natural minor scale, with b2 and b5.

So, if you listen to them, you'll see that each one sounds different than the other; also, it will sound different from the major and minor scales (except for Ionian and Aeolian).

If you want to listen to the difference, play a natural minor scale and then play a Dorian or Phrygian or Locrian mode. You'll see that there is something different.

The same experiment you can use for the major scale (Ionian). First play a major scale scale and then play a Lydian or Myxolydian mode.


You can rank modes in order of most sharpened to most flattened (or brightest to darkest or most major to most minor). This create a series that follows the circle of fourths. ie:

Mode Name -> Difference from Major Scale

F Lydian -> 4th is sharpened

C Ionian -> nothing sharpened or flattened; this is the major scale

G Mixolydian -> flat 7

D Dorian -> flat 7 and 3

A Aeolian -> flat 7, 3 and 6 ; this is the natural minor scale

E Phrygian - flat 7, 3, 6 and 2

B Locrian -> flat 7, 3, 6, 2 and 5

As you can see each mode varies from the preceding one by adding one flat (or removing one sharp) in the order 4th 7th 3rd 6th 2nd 5th.

This way of looking at the modes creates a kind of tonal ranking which can help you to understand the way the modes sound relative to each other.


The reason a mode sounds different is simple: which note is targeted as the base. which means which note is emphasized more than others. really it's a combination of the base note and the fifth above it. emphasizing these two notes more than the others give a different sort of tonality than a home base of "C and G".


Different unterlying harmonies, tonal focus, chord sequences and cadenze. You seem to have no problem with A minor having the same notes as C major and still sounding different, so how is that different from other modes?


As in Matt L's comment, listening to pieces in different modes will help clarify them. For example, out of the 7, Ionian is the main (major) one used in so many pieces now. It centres around note 1, and 'feels right'. Aeolian, our go to minor, obviously uses the same notes, but centres around note 6. Often, to make it work better with its centre, the v chord is changed into a V. This gives a more definitive leading note.

Dorian (centred around note 2) sounds minor, as it has a b3. The big difference between this and Aeolian is that the effective iv that is associated with minor keys is now a IV - major , not minor.

Mixolydian sounds major, with its major 3, but it has no leading note as such - there's a b7 instead which gives it a blues feel, particularly on the '1' chord.

Phrygian sounds maybe Spanish, with the second note of that mode being oddly a semitone up from the root, not found in the 'normal' Western sounds.

Locrian sounds weird to many, as it gives an unstable feel to a piece, it being difficult to make a convincing way back to 'home'.

That just leaves Lydian !

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