Thursday, July 14, 2011

Music Modes

In this lesson, we will be learning about music modes. What are music modes, you are probably wondering and why are they important in music?

Well, music modes is a concept that involves scale and melody type and are used in many types of music from sacred music to jazz to rock. Composers use it to add "flavor" to their compositions. It is formed by naming a different note as the root (1st) instead of the original root of the scale. Thus, in a way, modes can be defined as displaced major scales. A mode is distinguished by the pattern of tones and semitones, not by the actual pitches used.

Let's show an example using the C major scale. Do you remember how to play the C major scale? To recap your memory, the C major scale is built out of the white keys of the piano starting from C and going in the sequence of W-W-H-W-W-W-H (W = whole note, H = half note). In this scale, the 7th note is the leading note leading to the root note.

Now why don't we try to play this scale from a different key like starting from the D note instead of the C? Do you notice something different about it? Play it again and listen carefully to it. I'm sure you have noticed it but are probably wondering what the differences are.

Well, the C major scale has changed to a mode that is actually a sequence of notes creating a certain impression. This specific mode is called the Dorian mode or in this example called the D Dorian mode.

This Dorian mode creates the impression and mood that is completely different to the major scale.
The second thing is that this scale has a minor third so it sounds mellow unlike the major scale.
And thirdly, the seventh note of the scale is a whole tone beneath the root note, which means that it can't function as a leading tone any longer.

Below is a list of the types of modes in music and how they are constructed.

Types of Modal Scales

Ionian - Also known as the major scale; follows the pattern W-W-H-W-W-W-H. It consists of C (the tonic), D (a major 2nd above the tonic), E (a major 3rd above the tonic), F (a perfect 4th), G (a perfect 5th), A (a major 6th), B (a major 7th), and the upper-octave C to complete the scale.

Dorian - Constructed from the second note of a major scale; follows the pattern W-H-W-W-W-H-W. It consists of D (the tonic), E (a major 2nd), F (a minor 3), G (a perfect 4th), A (a perfect 5th), B (a major 6th), C, (a minor 7th), and the upper-ocatave D.

Phrygian - Constructed from the third note of a major scale; follows the pattern H-W-W-W-H-W-W. t consists of E (the tonic), F (a minor 2nd), G (a minor 3rd), A (a perfect 4th), B (a perfect 5th), C (a minor 6th), D (a minor 7th), and the upper-octave E.

Lydian - Constructed from the fourth note of a major scale; follows the pattern W-W-W-H-W-W-H. It consists of F (the tonic), G (a major 2nd), A (a major 3rd), B (an augmented 4th), C (a perfect 5th), D (a major 6th), E (a major 7th), and the upper-octave F.

Mixolydian - Also known as "mixo," is constructed from the fifth note of a major scale and follows the pattern W-W-H-W-W-H-W. It consists of G (the tonic), A (a major 2nd), B (a major 3rd), C (a perfect 4th), D (a perfect 5th), E (a major 6th), F (a minor 7th), and the upper-octave G.

Aeolian - Also known as the natural minor scale, is constructed from the sixth note of a major scale and follows the pattern W-H-W-W-H-W-W. It consists of an A (the tonic), B (a major 2nd), C (a minor 3rd), D (a perfect 4), E (a perfect 5th), F (a minor 6th), G (a minor 7th), and the upper octave, A.

Locrian - Constructed from the seventh note of a major scale; follows the pattern H-W-W-H-W-W-W. It consists of B (the tonic), C (a minor 2nd), D (a minor 3rd), E (a perfect 4th), F (a diminished 5th), G (a minor 6th), A (a minor 7th), and the upper-octave B.

 The image below shows some examples of the 7 modes listed above.

Each mode has a very distinct sound. The Ionian, Lydian and the Myxolidian modes have a major third that gives them a major character while the Dorian, Phrygian, Aeolian and Locrian modes have a minor third giving them a mellow character. For example, the Phrygian mode sounds melancholy and reflects the music of Spain. The Lydian mode sounds happy and is often used in jazz and rock music. The Mixolydian mode evokes a bluesy sound and can often be heard in jazz, blues and rock music. The Locrian mode, on the other hand, has a very strange sound but is rarely used.

That ends the lesson for today. Below is a quiz that you can try. See if you can determine the mode of the pieces of music shown below. Good Luck!

Identify the mode of each of the following excerpts:
i) Mode: __________________

ii) Mode: __________________

iii) Mode: __________________

iv) Mode: __________________

      v) Mode: _________________

Name the mode that is formed by writing a major scale in the following manner:

i) starting on the first note: _______________.

ii) starting on the second note: _______________.

iii) starting on the third note: _______________.

iv) starting on the fourth note: _______________.

v) starting on the fifth note: _______________.

vi) starting on the sixth note: _______________.

vii) starting on the seventh note: _______________.


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