How to Make Music Modes from Major Scales

Music modes are a highly sought after topic among people wanting to learn music theory. Most people don't even know exactly what a mode is. They seem intimidated by it all because it sounds like a complex system of codes that only the music theory elite can decipher. Well guess what: you can be one of those elite because I'm going to show you how easy they are to decipher.

Most everybody is familiar with the concept of modes, they just don't know it. Let's say you have a blender. If it's like most blenders, it has several buttons on it. These buttons control which mode the blender is in. When you have it in one mode, it performs one way, and when you have it in another mode, it performs in another way. Either way though, it still does the same basic thing: it blends. A clothes dryer has several modes, but they all dry your clothes in one way or another. Music modes are just scales. They are scales that perform in different ways, but just as a blender is basically something that blends, a mode is basically a scale. (Obviously there is more to it than this or we would just call them scales.) 

I'm now offering Private Lessons in Fiddle (violin), Guitar, Mandolin, Bass, and General Music Theory! Click here to find out more.

So what is a mode?

A mode is like a scale in a different position. Let's take a C scale. When we play it starting on C, it's just like any other major scale. However, when we play it starting on it's second scale degree, D, it is in a D mode. It is essentially still a C scale at heart, but it's in a D mode; specifically a D Dorian mode. When we play that C scale starting on an F note, we call it an F Lydian mode. These names come from the scale degree that the mode starts on. So when you start on a second, its a Dorian mode. when you start on a fourth, its a Lydian mode. Here's a list of the names depending on what scale degree they start on.

R - Ionian (Yes, it actually has a name.)
2 - Dorian
3 - Phrygian (pronounced fri-jee-uhn)
4 - Lydian
5 - Mixolydian
6 - Aeolian (pronounced ee-o-lee-uhn)
7 - Locrian

so...

C Ionian C D E F G A B C
D Dorian D E F G A B C D
E Phrygian E F G A B C D E
F Lydian F G A B C D E F
G Mixolydian G A B C D E F G
A Aeolian A B C D E F G A
B Locrian B C D E F G A B

So let's say you wanted to find an E Dorian mode. How would you do that? First we can find what scale degree a dorian mode starts on: it's the second. From there you ask, "What major scale has E as the second?" It's D. So take a D major scale:

D major D E F# G A B C# D

start on E

E Dorian E F# G A B C# D E

and Voila! There it is.

So what about an F# Aeolian mode? First, what is Aeolian? It's the 6th mode. So what major scale has F# as the sixth? It's A. So take an A scale:

A major A B C# D E F# G# A

start on F#

F# Aeolian F# G# A B C# D E F#

and there you have it.

How to use these?

This way we can relate modes back to a major scale (Ionian mode) that we are already familiar with. While this is an easy way to understand modes to begin with, eventually, you will need to learn to relate these modes back to their parallel roots and learn the actual farmulas for them. This is covered in a more advanced article . The more you use these, the easier they get. A good way to practice these for now is to pick a key and run through all of the modes in their progressive keys:

Ex: G Major

G Ionian
A Dorian
B Phrygian
C Lydian
D Mixolydian
E Aeolian
F# Locrian

So have fun exploring these music modes and keep practicing!


Return from Intro to Music Modes to Intermediate 
Return from Intro to Music Modes to Homepage