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I discovered that if I play a major scale, i.e. Ionian mode, then move through the modes with the same root note in the following order:

  • Ionian
  • Mixolydian
  • Dorian
  • Aolian
  • Phrygian
  • Locrian

At this point I'd next play the Lydian scale, but starting a semitone lower than the Ionian I started with earlier.

Then I'd finish on the Ionian scale starting a semitone lower than my original scale. I've sort of drifted downwards by a semitone. I've attached the snap showing what I'd play if I started in C major. But applying the same sequence of modes again means I drift down a semitone each time I reach the next Lydian scale.

I really like that each subsequent scale in the sequence of modes has one more flat than its predecessor.

Question is - what's the name of this progression?

Mode cycle notated

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    Why does C Lydian suddenly have to be Cb Lydian?
    – Tim
    Apr 1, 2020 at 20:13
  • Each subsequent line differs from its predecessor in just one pitch. e.g. C Ionian to C Mixolydian - just the B changes to Bb. Later on, C Lochrian changes to Cb Lydian by changing C to Cb. All the other pitches stay the same. Apr 2, 2020 at 9:55
  • 4
    For completeness, maybe you should start with lydian!
    – awe lotta
    Apr 2, 2020 at 16:56
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    @awelotta Yes for consistency you're absolutely right. When I was framing this question I did consider starting with Lydian but I wanted to start with the most familiar scale possible so people start on a firm footing and only then go somewhere unfamiliar. Rather than starting with Lydian. Apr 3, 2020 at 11:35
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    Notice how you are adding a flat every time ^^ you arranged modes in a circle of 5ths/4ths order, and when you complete the full turn, you end up one semitone higher / lower from the starting note, based on the direction you took.
    – moonwave99
    Apr 5, 2020 at 23:20

4 Answers 4

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You have discovered they way I practice scales. If you are playing C mixolydian after playing C maj you are in the Key of F maj. C Dorian is Bb Maj, etc. You are changing key up a 4th each time you change modes like this, and as you discovered the pattern comes back to Ionian but a half step up from where you started. Keep going until you've covered the neck! I usually start on G.

I would not call this a progression but a sequence of key changes, following the circle of 4ths. This is a great way to play through keys on the guitar as it teaches you to stay in place through the change rather than jumping up half the length of the neck.

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  • Would you recommend playing melodic/natural minor when you get to Aeolian?
    – awe lotta
    Apr 2, 2020 at 16:57
  • Not in this context. When I play through the modes like this I am going through the circle of 4th and I an really in the Major Key. When I play G aeolian I am in Bb Major and want to hear it that way.
    – user50691
    Apr 2, 2020 at 18:54
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I also find this conceptual arrangement of the diatonic modes useful and came to search SE (and the wider web) for an established name for it. I have found none.

The name I have decided to use for myself is the Circle of Modes, since it has a similarity to the Circle of Fifths. As you say, it highlights the relatedness of modes that only differ from each other by the alteration of one scale degree.

Not surprisingly, I prefer to visualize the modes around a circle or 7-pointed star with the "sharper" ones going clockwise. It doesn't actually change anything about the relationships between modes, but it can make some things more apparent than they would be in other visual or textual depictions.

There are many interesting properties that are highlighted by the arrangement, for example: Consider the chord quality of tonic triad of each mode: You have the oddball Locrian with its diminished tonic triad, the "Majors" all lined up going counterclockwise from it (Lydian, Major, and Mixolydian), and the "minors" clockwise from it (Phrygian, Aeolian, and Dorian).

After some thought, I standardized this with Dorian at the top, because if you start with the Dorian for any given tonic, you can reach any of the other modes for that tonic by the shortest distance (without altering the tonic itself). Dorian is also special in other ways, e.g. as the only symmetrical diatonic mode.

Circle of Modes

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  • This is LIMDAPL too, I think. Dec 24, 2023 at 14:40
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I just discovered (Thanks to @JohnDoe in a comment he added to the question below) that the sequence of modes I discovered on my own has the acronym LIMDAPL and is An Actual Musical Thing. You can search for LIMDAPL here in MP&T or google more widely.

https://music.stackexchange.com/a/82646/9426

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In one sense, you have discovered "tonality" in the wide sense. Taking fifths or fourths gives a symmetric circle of fifths. Replacing a single by a diminished fifth yields a system for which note has a unique relation to all other notes.

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