Understanding Modes

Hello and welcome to my tutorial on the Seven modes. You’ve probably heard this once or twice depending on what kind of music you’ve played, but today I thought I’d talk about what a “mode” actually is. In short, a mode is nothing more than taking a scale and picking a different center chord called the “Tonic.” A good example of this would be the C Major and A Minor scale. Have you noticed that they are exactly the same scale except C major starts on C and A minor starts on A minor(obviously)?  What this means is that we can start a scale on any note and make that the tonic or home chord of the music. For instance, we could start a C major scale on E. Knowing that the third chord in C major is Em this Em chord is now the tonic which is the center of our scale or music with the same notes of the previous C major scale.  This would give us a whole new flavor which is minor but has other qualities that make it different from the minor we’re used to. We can do this with any note on our instrument or your voice if you sing.

For simplicity, we will use C major as the key although modes obviously can be played in any key.

The notes of the C major scale are:    C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C   So we can start the scale on any of these notes.

The seven modes are :

Ionian (another name for major) : C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C  , C major is the Tonic chord.
Dorian : D – E – F – G – A – B – C – D  , D minor is the Tonic chord.
Phrygian : E – F – G – A – B – C – D – E  , E minor is the Tonic chord.
Lydian : F – G – A – B – C – D – E – F ,  F Major is the Tonic chord.
Mixolydian: G – A – B – C – D – E – F – C , G Major is the Tonic chord.
Aeolian (another name for Minor):  A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A , A Minor is the Tonic chord.
Locrian:  B – C – D – E – F – G – A – B  ,  B Diminished is the Tonic chord

Yes, I know that seems like alot to remember but just keep reading. 🙂

So basically if you study his chart, you’ll notice that there are 3 modes with a major chord as the tonic, 3 modes with a minor chord as the tonic and 1 mode where a diminished chord is the tonic.  This isn’t super important to know but if you keep it in mind, remembering the modes won’t be as difficult.

Although seven modes may seem like alot to learn, ionian and aeolian are major and minor so you already have two of them down. I’m going to go through the remaining five with you so that should hopefully make them easier to grasp.

Onto the Dorian mode –>


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