The accepted answer to what a mode is and how they work is posted here: What is the difference between a dominant scale VS a mode? This is what I thought the correct answer was. Basically that the "modes" of a given scale on a certain key are exactly the same notes played in a different order. What gives it the different tonality is the note your brain focus on, or where the melody feels at rest. This is usually given by the starting note. So C-Dorian contains all the 7 notes without accidentals, just like C-Ionian(Major) does but it focuses on the SECOND note of the major scale:D. This becomes more obvious with C Aeolian, which is the same notes of the C-Ionian scale but starting on the 6th degree:A. Which is why this is known as the Relative Minor of C: Am.

It is assumed that Aeolian is the same as Relative Minor. They're relative because they share the same notes but their tonal center is different (C vs A).

Then there are Parallel scales, where the tonal center is the same but they have different notes. Like in the case of C and Cm-(Eb).

The problem I have is that both the comment section of that accepted answer and this site, which seemed trustable seems to contradict that: http://jguitar.com/scale?root=C&scale=Dorian&fret=0&labels=letter&notes=sharps

How do I reconcile relative and parallel scales with the modes?

How do I reconcile the modes of a key being described as not having the same notes sometimes and then having the same notes?

Thank You!

  • Could you clarify what exactly about the jGuitar link contradicts this info? I'm not quite following.
    – user28
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 20:55
  • C Dorian uses notes from Bb major, not D. Think you've calculated the wrong direction! Also, C Aeolian comes from Eb major. The Aeolian of C is A minor.
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 0:15

3 Answers 3


If I am reading you question correctly it seems there might be a misunderstanding. C dorian is not the notes of C major starting on the second scale degree, that is D dorian.

The notes for C dorian would be based off the scale B flat major, starting on the second scale degree which is C (starting on the second degree of the scale is why it is Dorian, seems you get that but wanted to be clear).

Notes in C dorian would be

C - D - E flat - F - G - A - B flat

Which is what that site you linked to had (It used sharps in place of the flats but that can be hard to program sometimes).

Let me explain a little more.

Dorian is based on the second note of the scale. So, if you want C Dorian then you need to figure out which scale has C as its second note and that is the key signature you use. That scale in this example is B flat. B flat - C - D - E flat - F - G - A.

Lets say you instead wanted C phrygian. Phrygian is based on the third note in the scale. So, C phrygian would use the scale with C as its third note. The scale is A flat major. So, C phrygian would be C - D flat - E flat - F - G - A flat - B flat.

So, to answer your question below, not the same key for C Ionian and C dorian.

  • No, not the same key Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 20:39
  • So what you're saying is that to move between modes on any given scale. Let's say between C Ionian and C Dorian the steps are as follows: 1.-Keep the SAME root note. 2.-Move the DEGREE of the scale up, so WWHWWWH then becomes: WHWWWHW and the first step still starts froM C, that renders what you said: C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb. So let's say I want C Myxolidian, the intervals are WWHWWHW so that renders: C, D, E, F, G, A, Bb, C. I confirmed with the site. Thanks. I'll update those questions as well!
    – eco
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 21:02
  • Mixolydian is based off of the 5th scale degree, C is the fifth scale degree of F major, which has the key signature you wrote above so yes I think you got it. I personally find it easier to think of it in the terms I used above which is what scale to use, but if you have the pattern of half and whole steps memorized and want to use that it should work too, I think something is missing if you do not understand the context of the key signature you are in though. Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 21:06
  • Thanks for reinforcing what I typed here, that's an easier way to look at it:music.stackexchange.com/questions/12032/…
    – eco
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 23:36

(1) The modes are not just „the same notes played in a different order“- they are the same finger shapes transposed to different positions- big difference is the new relationship between the intervals to each other and to the Modal Chord Sequence and Finalis being used.

(2) The modes have no tonal center or tonality, they only tend to be maj. or minor and the particular modal tone (i.e. C note or CMaj. chord) is called a finalis or home / reference tone or chord as opposed to being called a tonic tone or chord. No matter what mode you are talking about, they are all ambiguous in this regard. It’s not the brain that does the „focusing“ or that determines a modes characteristics, it is a very exact and direct musical device. The backing chords called a „Modal Sequence Motif“ also play a significant role in determining what Mode is being implied and the appropriate mode that would be suitable.

(3) C-Dorian in simple terms would 1st of all be most closely related to C (Natural) minor (parent scale) and not C Major, as dorian is a mode that tends towards minor. So in this case with a minor scale structure there would most definitely be accidentals (3 flat notes= 3 / 6 / 7). All you would have to do to make this dorian is to take the 6th degree which normally would be flat or minor in a normal (natural) minor scale and raise it 1 half step up, back to it’s major position (leaving you with 2 flats) and you have C-Dorian in it’s primary structure.

There are 3 ways to look at the C Maj. Modes: (A) as Modal Scales with a "parent" maj. or minor scale consisting of 1 altered interval- with the exceptions of Ionian, Aeolian (same interval structure as parent scale, but only up to the 1st octave) and Locrian which is neither major or minor but tends toward the 1/2 diminished scale (due to all the 1/2 tones) and has all of it’s intervals altered, except the 1 and the 4. (B) As the transposition of the C Maj. scale, the finger shapes stay the same BUT the relationship of the intervals to the backing „Modal Seq. Motif“ changes (C) This I would not recommend: As a scale structure that uses notes borrowed from both related and unrelated keys (not to be confused with the relative key, as there are a total 4 different related key signatures: relative, parallel, subdominant and dominant ) + all corresponding maj. keys / scales based on the number of flats or sharps (circle of 5th’s) used by that particular mode (i.e. C-Dorian contains 2 flat notes and could be considered to be a Bb Maj.) with C as the finalis instead of Bb.

As far as „reconciling“ relative and parallel scales with modes: C-Ionian is also the relative mode to A-Aeolian and C-Aeolian mode can be considered to be the parallel mode to C-Ionian but this is as far as it goes with the the first 7 C Maj. Modes. The function of „relative“ and „parallel“ keys do not play a relevant role in modal function as they do in Maj./minor functional harmony.

„How do I reconcile the modes of a key being described as not having the same notes sometimes and then having the same notes“?

As mentioned before, modes do not have keys. Your "reconciliation" problem may be due to the confusion that all the 1st 7 CMaj. modes (for Guit.) are based on the standard 5 C Maj. scale patterns. The modes based on these 5 positions do share all the same notes that are arranged and starting on the corresponding modal tone BUT this is where the simplicity ends. In order to play any particular mode using all five patterns you then must transpose them and you can then use the finger shapes that either preceeds or follows the transposed finger pattern to be able to play that mode with the intervals being automatically adjusted. This means you have to know your C Maj. scale inside, outside, forwards and backwards to use these modes easily and quickly. Some modes will use their respective related dominant and subdominant keys for the corresponding major key signature and they will in this way be related to that particular mode and share most of the same notes. The other corresponding key type will only be related in terms of how many sharps or flats it contains in relationship to that particular mode.

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Confusion here! Firstly, don't mix the modes of a key, name-wise. There's C Ionian, and the Ionian of C. That's where it stays. Moving on to Dorian, though, there's D Dorian, and the Dorian of D. Tripping up time! D Dorian has the notes the same as C major, whereas the Dorian of D has the notes of D major (centred on E). The two terms are not interchangeable, but do confuse. I know some folks call it by the wrong name, just as some think the key of E major can use Ab minor as one of its chords, but that messes most of us up.

Reconciliation between parallel keys? They don't need it!! Just use them. Trying to fit modes from those as well into the skewed equation you present will end in tears.

  • E major has the following accidentals,F, C, G, D interpreted as sharps on the right side of the Circle of Fifths. The major key chords are IMaj, IImin, IIImin, IVMaj, VMaj, VImin, VIIDim, VIIIMaj(Octave). In E that'll be E maj, F#min/Gbmin, G#/Ab min? More so, if you build the chords in thirds following the key of E Major with its diatonic intervals starting on G#/Ab you would have: Ab, B, Eb. The distances there are minor third from Ab to B and Major third from B to Eb, that by definition is a minor chord. What are you trying to say about Ab minor not being on the key of E major? Enharmonics?
    – eco
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 0:06
  • Enharmonics are nthe problem here. That site has inaccurate information. It quotes C Dorian with A# and D#. That's plain wrong. C Dorian has the parent key of Bb, which contains Bb and Eb. Look at any piece in the key of Bb and you'll never see the key sig. of A# and D#! Also, you have a skewed view on intervals. They are based on letter names first. That's how they work. So your Ab to B is actually an augmented second, while your B to Eb is a diminished fourth, neither of which appear in a minor chord. You're right that the definition of a minor chord is a minor third stacked under a...
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 6:37
  • ...major third, well, nearly - it's a minor third with a P5 as well. So, G#-B (min3) and B-D# (maj3), or more properly, G#-B (m3) and G#-D# (P5). That's all accepted theory. Never seen Abm written in any music correctly presented!
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 6:42
  • @einarc - If you downvoted because you thought my information was incorrect, it was done for a wrong reason. Hope the theory is clearer now. That's not the first guitar site with bad information. Guitarists do use flats as well. Just seems so many 'experts' on the 'net haven't found out yet... There's also the simple 'rule' that states each scale has only one note of each letter name. That site uses A and A#, but no B note. That should ring alarm bells!
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 6:44
  • Hello Tim, If I remember correctly I did down vote your original post because it was too confusing and I couldn't tell whether it was either correct or correct, when I read at first. My bad for not asking for clarification instead I size. I did reply yesterday because I was finally able to understand what you were trying to say. Therefore I have to ask, what do you mean intervals are based on letter names first?
    – eco
    Commented Jul 22, 2017 at 22:57

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