Western music (to me at least) is best captured in the major scale. And Phrygian, which is the 3rd mode of the major scale can be used to get a more Eastern sound (for example Jefferson Airplane/White Rabbit). Phrygian dominant (where phrygian's 3rd note is raised, also formed by taking the fifth mode of harmonic minor) is esp important as it is exactly Maqam Hijaz, the main maqam (scale) in arabic music, used in songs like Miserlou. Phrygian Dominant is also called the Freygish scale aka Ahava Rabbah, used in Hava Nagila.

So I was wondering why is Eastern music a mode of Western music. How did this happen? Is it a coincidence? It seems too perfect to be a coincidence.

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    You could just as easily ask why is western music a mode of eastern music. – PiedPiper Nov 2 '19 at 21:25
  • @PiedPiper I just meant that phrygian is a mode of the major scale. – user34288 Nov 3 '19 at 2:48
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    This is such a good question, why the no comment downvotes? The voting habits of this SE make no sense. – user1079425 Nov 3 '19 at 4:48
  • The habits don't make no sense. It's just that this SE hasn't had as many questions as others, to make it obvious what's on topic. – Camille Goudeseune Nov 3 '19 at 6:01
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    It is rather Eurocentric to ask why Eastern music is a mode of Western music. Which Eastern music? Thinking you can use the Phrygian mode and 'get a more Eastern sound' is a little disrespectful to cultures whose tunings are more sophisticated than the 12ET (twelve notes; equal temperament) system we use. The subject of tunings is an enormous one, and it's sad that the loss of regional tunings may have been hastened by our fad for 'World Music'. – Old Brixtonian Nov 3 '19 at 11:30

It's a statistical coincidence. In cultures with twelve or fewer pitches per octave, there are only so many modes or maqamat or scales or ragas or pitch class sets or whatever.

In this case, the maqamat and the European medieval modes are both old enough, and roughly contemporaneous (7th or 8th century), to make it historically dubious that an instance of one was derived from an instance of the other.


Some Eastern scales (by no means all of them - you can paint a horse to look like a cow, but not to look like a pigeon) can be approximated by scales formed from the 12 notes in an octave of Western music.

The resemblance is about as accurate as Peter Sellers' 'Goodness Gracious Me' is an accurate depiction of a high-class Indian doctor. You can tell what it's trying to be...


The early music of the Christian church has been strongly influenced by the modes of the Greek but also by the Byzantinian, mozzarabic and oriental music. The 2 modes: Ionian and Aeolian (major and minor scale) have been developed from those modes.

The aeolian mode had to be adapted to what we call harmonic and melodic minor. Why these 2 modes are the leading modes in western music? It could have been as well the dorian, mixolydian and phrygian, and then the others (ionian and aelian) would be the ones you’ll had to wonder.

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