I've heard that there are 7 different scales based on the major scale, like the minor scale, which is made by shifting the major scale pattern 6 to the right. What are the names of the other scales made by shifting the whole step pattern?


1 Answer 1


You mean the "modes" of the major scale.

Starting on the first note of the major scale the mode names are...

  • Ionian
  • Dorian
  • Phrygian
  • Lydian
  • Mixolydian
  • Aeolian
  • Locrian

With a scale of C major we can say something like the second mode of C major scale is the D Dorian mode.

As you described, you can get the modes of a major scale by permutating through it by moving up by steps. But another way to create modes is by adding sharps and flats to either a major or minor scale.

If you start with a C major scale and then add a flat on the ^7 tone to lower it, you will have the C Mixolydian mode. So, here is the list of modes again, with notes about those alterations.

  • Ionian (same as major scale)
  • Dorian (natural minor with a raised ^6 tone)
  • Phrygian (natural minor with a lowered ^2 tone)
  • Lydian (major with a raised ^4 tone)
  • Mixolydian (major with a lowered ^7 tone)
  • Aeolian (same as natural minor)
  • Locrian (natural minor with lowered ^2 and ^5 tones)

Whether you permutate the major scale or lower/raise tones you will see that the sequence of whole steps and half steps is the same for each mode. In other words the whole/half step sequence is the same for the D Dorian mode of the C major scale and the C Dorian mode.

As a side comment...

It's true when you move up 6 or down 3 from the first note of the major scale (the tonic) you go the relative minor, or the natural minor scale, but keep in mind there are three inflections of the minor scale...

  • natural minor
  • harmonic minor (where the ^7 tone is raised a half step)
  • melodic minor (where the ^6 and ^7 tones are raised by half step)
  • 1
    Or it could be said the melodic minor is the parallel major with a lowered third...But melodic has two incarnations - the classical, where ascending is different from descending, and jazz melodic, where it's the same up and down.
    – Tim
    Nov 30, 2018 at 20:04
  • @Tim, I was tempted to answer that way: melodic minor is major with a lowered third. If figured that is the jazz conception (esp. because jazz uses modes of mel. minor.) But, I really dislike the 'classical' textbook asc/desc distinction with melodic minor. It simply isn't true. Direction doesn't make the distinction, but the prevailing harmony. If the harmony is dominant and the scale descends, raised ^6 and ^7 may be used. I think I'll post my own question re. the historic origin of the textbook description. I don't know what it is. Nov 30, 2018 at 20:16
  • Unfortunately, the exam boards seem to have a different concept from ours! Harmonic is from the harmony angle, melodic is from the way the tune itself meanders, and fills that 3 semitone gap without the jarring the harmonic minor would produce.
    – Tim
    Nov 30, 2018 at 20:23
  • So says the teaching. Anyway, I posted a new question music.stackexchange.com/questions/77060 Nov 30, 2018 at 22:04

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