The Modes of the Major Scale

Now that we have taken a look at the major scale, lets take a look at the different modes associated within the scale. Modes employ the exact same step relationship as the major scale; we are simply changing which note we start on, or rather which note we are focusing our arrangement around.

There are 7 modes derived from C major. Each of these modes contains the same notes as C major. For example, if you start on “A”, you play the exact same notes as the C major scale, only now the order of notes is A B C D E F G A. Each mode uses the same scale, but starts on a different note or focuses around a particular note. The 7 modes are:

1: C Ionian. The notes for C Ionian are: C D E F G A B C

2: D Dorian. The notes for D Dorian are: D E F G A B C D

3: E Phrygian. The notes for E Phrygian are: E F G A B C D E

4: F Lydian. The notes for F Lydian are: F G A B C D E F.

5: G Mixolydian. The notes for G Mixolydian are: G A B C D E F G.

6: A Aeolian. The notes for A Aeolian are: A B C D E F G A.

7: B Locrian. The notes for B Locrian are: B C D E F G A B.

One of the reasons why modes are a hard concept to grasp at first is because they don’t actually deviate very much from one another since they are constructed from the same notes.  What I mean by this is that C major (or C Ionian), D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian, A Aeolian, and B Locrian ALL have the same exact notes: C D E F G A B C.  The only difference between modes is what note is being tonicized, or what note the musicians are bringing out.  If we are gravitating to E consistently, we are creating a strong modal sound in E Phrygian.  The notes we are playing are not different from those found in C major, but because E is the tonal center, we can’t really say we are in C.

Modes can be a great way to help you approach a song in a different way by using the major scale to its full potential. Take some time to experiment with this concept by playing the C major scale normally, then alternating between starting notes in order to get a feel for how this small change can make a big difference in the sound of the scale.