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I'd like for someone to explain the 7 modes derived from the C major scale.

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3 Answers 3

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The seven modes are named thus: If you start with C, they are spelled as follows:

Ionian (1), or the Major scale: C D E F G A B C

Dorian (2), D E F G A B C D

Phrygian (3) E F G A B C D E

Lydian (4) F G A B C D E F

Mixolydian (5) G A B C D E F G (which is the most common mode for rock and roll)

Aeolian (6), or the Natural Minor scale: A B C D E F G A

Locrian (7) B C D E F G A B

A thorough explanation of how they are all used can be found in the Wikipedia entry entitled "Mode (music)".

My music theory teacher in college always drew the distinction between key and mode. His point was that there is not, properly speaking such a thing as a C major key or a C minor key. He said that key refers to the central pitch, or the root note, only. From the root note, or key, you build a scale or mode. So he would refer to what we call the C major key as "the key of C in the Ionian mode" and what we refer to as the C minor key as "the key of C in the Aeolian mode."

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  • So, my next question. What's the difference between a mode and a scale?
    – BBking
    Commented Oct 2, 2012 at 10:13
  • music.stackexchange.com/q/5382/1678
    – Luke_0
    Commented Oct 2, 2012 at 17:10
  • It's worth noting, as the Wikipedia article Wheat mentioned does, that there are modes beyond the seven formed by starting at different points in C major. Some of these come from folk or cultural traditions (e.g. Hava Nagila is in a mode called Freygish) while others are more theoretical (e.g. the Bohlen-Pierce scale). OK, perhaps it wasn't worth noting the theoretical ones ;-)
    – dumbledad
    Commented Oct 2, 2012 at 18:02
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Modes from the C major scale

modes from the c major scale

Intervals (in order of the scale):

Ionian     1  2  3  4  5  6  7
Dorian     1  2 ♭3  4  5  6 ♭7
Phrygian   1 ♭2 ♭3  4  5  6 ♭7
Lydian     1  2  3 ♯4  5  6  7
Mixolydian 1  2  3  4  5  6 ♭7
Aeolian    1  2 ♭3  4  5 ♭6 ♭7
Locrian    1 ♭2 ♭3  4 ♭5 ♭6 ♭7

Intervals (in order of accidentals)

Lydian     1  2  3 ♯4  5  6  7
Ionian     1  2  3  4  5  6  7
Mixolydian 1  2  3  4  5  6 ♭7
Dorian     1  2 ♭3  4  5  6 ♭7
Aeolian    1  2 ♭3  4  5 ♭6 ♭7
Phrygian   1 ♭2 ♭3  4  5  6 ♭7
Locrian    1 ♭2 ♭3  4 ♭5 ♭6 ♭7

Halfsteps = ^

Ionian     1 2 3^4 5 6 7^8
Dorian     1 2^3 4 5 6^7 8
Phrygian   1^2 3 4 5^6 7 8
Lydian     1 2 3 4^5 6 7^8
Mixolydian 1 2 3^4 5 6^7 8
Aeolian    1 2^3 4 5^6 7 8
Locrian    1^2 3 4^5 6 7 8
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  • Does that mean Aolian is the relative minor scale?
    – BBking
    Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 12:39
  • @BBking; Yes, the aeolian-mode is the relative minor to the ionian-mode; so in the Key of C: A (aeolian or natural minor) is the realive minor to c (ionian) major. For further reading take a look at the Wikipedia page about relive minor.
    – nath
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 16:52
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This is a false explanation. The modes DO NOT all contain the exact same notes. Why use the first part when you have the step formula right below it, showing the intervals?!? It is just confusing. Modes of C ALL START on C but move up the step order of the major scale. W W H W W W H is the first mode or C Major. Second mode starts on C and goes W H W W W H W. Then 3 is H W W W H W W. and on. Forget they all contain CDEFGAB.They do not. Its NOT what modes are. The only thing a mode is is a different scale from C or w/e Key you want. It does not start on the next NOTE D and then uses the same steps as C Major.That is nonsense. It is all about the ascending step formula and not the notes that determines the mode.

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    I think you need to go back and revise how the modes are named, the modes of C major are not all the modes that start on C, they are the set of modes that contain the same notes as the C major scale, hence D Dorian is a mode of C major. C Dorian is a mode of Bb major etc. The format you suggest is incorrect, and doesn’t make historical or practical sense though it is a common misconception I’ve came across over the years!
    – OwenM
    Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 8:26
  • Your correct that if you wanted to name C Ionian, C Dorian, C phyrigian etc then what you say above is true but those modes have no real relation to each other in terms of the key (which is from where we derive the modes) and they are not the modes of C major, and it’s not useful or relevant to group them in this way. The modes of C are the 7 arrangements you get from starting the C major scale from its 7 different root notes. You only think of parrallel modes like you have described as a harmonic / composition technique to slide around keys or add interest to a piece.
    – OwenM
    Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 8:32
  • I agree that forming all the modes starting on C (parallel modes) better demonstrates the modes than starting at different points of the C major scale (relative modes), but that doesn't make the second nonsense, and "modes of C" is usually said to refer to the second.
    – Edward
    Commented Nov 25, 2023 at 0:07

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