What is a mode?

You might have noticed that C major and A natural minor scale sharing the same keys. The difference is only noticeable because the referenced root key is different. This is also known as  modes. Major and minor are probably the most popular modes, but there is more to it. Of course C major and C minor are two different modes of the same root key, where C major and A minor are two different modes with different root keys, but they share the same notes in the scale.

C major scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B
A natural minor scale: A, B, C, D, E, F, G


So, the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, G could be a major scale if C is defined as root key. However, if the root key would be defined as A, the scale would be called a “A natural minor scale”. So same keys, but different root notes resolves to different modes.

How many modes are there? Well in modern western European Music the scale has seven notes, each note could be defined as root key. This leads to seven available modes:

  1. Ionian (major scale)
  2. Dorian
  3. Phrygian
  4. Lydian
  5. Mixolydian
  6. Aeolian (natural minor scale)
  7. Locrian (or also called Hypophrygian)

If you look at the scale pattern in half and whole notes, you see that the scale is actually shifting to the left for each next mode. So again, only seven modes possible with seven notes in the scale:

  1. Ionian (major)
  2. Dorian
  3. Phrygian
  4. Lydian
  5. Mixolydian
  6. Aeolian (natural minor)
  7. Locrian

If all the modes share the same notes, one could easily come to the conclusion that all modes sounds similar. But the tonic reference is really making the difference here.

Besides the happy Ionian sound and the sad Aeolian sound that are quite popular, there are 4 more modes to discover. Each mode has a typical characterising sound that you should use in your repertoire to make your music more interesting.

There is a great Youtube Video from Rick Beato where he plays some examples on the piano to explain the characteristic of each mode. Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HJ5mBb9Pgo

This short introduction is not covering all aspects of modes. If you want to learn more about modes, I would recommend reading the wikipedia site and check out more Youtube videos from Rick Beato.

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