- This article is about modes as used in music. For other meanings of mode, see Mode.
The early music of Greek antiquity referred to scales in the context of scalar modes. The modes are named after cities that preferred a given mode in times past. The Greek philosopher Plato felt that playing music in a particular mode would incline one towards specific behavior associated with that mode, and suggested that soldiers should listen to music in dorian or phrygian modes to help make them stronger, but avoid music in lydian or ionian modes, for fear of being softened.
The Greek modes were:
There is a common misconception that the Church modes of medieval European music were directly descended from this notion of modality. In fact, the church modes originated in the 10th century. Authors from that period misinterpreted a text by Boethius, a scholar from the 6th century who had translated the Greek musical theory into Latin. In the 16th century, the Swiss theorist Henricus Glareanus published Dodekachordon, in which he solidified the concept of the church modes, and added four additional modes: the Aeolian, Hypoaeolian, Ionian, and Hypoionian. Thus, the names of the modes used today do not actually reflect those used by the Greeks. However, the use and conception of modes or modality today is also different from their use and conception in Early music. Jim Samson (1977, p.148) describes: "Clearly any comparison of medieval and modern modality would recognize that the latter takes place against a background of some three centuries of harmonic tonality, permitting, and in the nineteenth century requiring, a dialogue between modal and diatonic prodedure."
Early music made heavy use of the Church modes. A mode indicated a primary pitch or final and the organization of pitches in relation to the final, and suggested range, melodic formulas associated with different modes, location and importance of cadences, and affect (ie, emotional affect). As Liane Curtis (1998) explains, "Modes should not be equated with scales: principles of melodic organization, placement of cadences, and emotional affect are essential parts of modal content," in Medieval and Renaissance music.
- the relation of modal formulas to the comprehensive system of tonal relationships embodied in the diatonic scale;
- the partitioning of the octave into a modal framework; and
- the function of the modal final as a relational center."
The oldest medieval treatise regarding modes is Musica disciplina by Aurelian of Réôme while Hermannus Contractus was the first to define modes as partitionings of the octave (ibid, p.192-191).
However, the modes were later organized due to their relationship to the interval pattern of the major scale. The modern conception of modal scales describes a system where each mode is the usual diatonic scale, but with a different starting note. Modes came back into favour some time later in the development of jazz (modal jazz) and more contemporary 20th century music. Much folk music is also composed or best analysed in terms of modes. For example, in Irish traditional music the ionian, dorian, aeolian and mixolydian modes occur (in roughly decreasing order of frequency); the phrygian mode is an important part of the flamenco sound.
Some works by Beethoven contain modal inflections, and Chopin, Berlioz, and Liszt made extensive use of modes. They influenced nineteenth century Russian music, Mussorgsky and Borodin influenced Claude Debussy, Leos Janacek, and other twentieth century nationalists. Zoltán Kodály, Holst, Manuel de Falla use modal elements as modifications of a diatonic background, while Debussy and Bela Bartok modality replaces diatonic tonality. (Samson 1977)
While all tonal music may be described as modal, music that is labeled modal most often has less diatonic functionality and changes key less often.
The eight Church modes, or Gregorian modes, can be divided into four pairs, where each pair shares the "final note" or tonic. Most chants in a particular mode will begin on the mode's final note, and all are expected to end on that note. The pair also shares the central five notes of the scale. If the "scale" is completed by adding the three upper notes, the mode is termed "authentic", while if the scale is completed by adding the three lower notes, the mode is called "plagal" (serious).
The pairs are organized so that the modes sharing a final note are numbered together, with the odd numbers used for the authentic modes and the even numbers for the plagal modes.
In addition, each mode has a "dominant" or "cofinal", to which the melody returns relatively frequently. For psalm tones, the dominant is the reciting tone. This is a fifth above the final for authentic tones, and a third above for plagal tones. However, if the dominant is si (B), it is usually raised to do (C). In mode V, the melody very often ends on the dominant rather than the final.
Only one accidental is permitted in classical Gregorian chant -- si (B) may be lowered by a half-step. This usually (but not always) occurs in modes V and VI, and is optional in other modes.
|Final||re (D)||re (D)||mi (E)||mi (E)||fa (F)||fa (F)||sol (G)||sol (G)|
|Dominant||la (A)||fa (F)||si-do (B-C)||la (A)||do (C)||la (A)||re (D)||do (C)|
Given the confusion between ancient, Early, and modern terminology, "today it is more consistent and practical to use the traditional designation of the modes with numbers one to eight," (Curtis 1998) using Roman numeral (I-VIII), rather than using the pseudo-Greek naming system.
- f = final (Curtis, 1998)
Use of the modes
It is important to realize that the "theory" of the Gregorian modes postdates the composition of the early Gregorian chant repetoire. Primitive chants do not appear to have been composed with the desire to fit them into a particular mode. As a result, for these chants, the application of a mode number can be only approximate. Later chants, however, were written with a conscious eye on the eight modes.
Interpretation of the modes
Various interpretations of the "character" imparted by the different modes have been suggested. Three such interpretations, from Guido D'Arezzo (995-1050), Adam of Fulda (1445-1505), and Juan de Espinoza Medrano (1632-1688), follow:
|I||serious||any feeling||happy, taming the passions||Veni sancte spiritus (listen)|
|II||sad||sad||serious and tearful||Iesu dulcis amor meus (listen)|
|III||mystic||vehement||inciting anger||Kyrie, fons bonitatis (listen)|
|IV||harmonious||tender||inciting delights, tempering fierceness||Conditor alme siderum (listen)|
|V||happy||happy||happy||Salve Regina (listen)|
|VI||devout||pious||tearful and pious||Ubi caritas (listen)|
|VII||angelical||of youth||uniting pleasure and sadness||Introibo (listen)|
|VIII||perfect||of knowledge||very happy||Ad cenam agni providi (listen)|
The major and minor modes
Three of the modes are major, while four of them are minor. One of the minor modes is considered theoretical rather than practical. A mode is said to be minor if the 3rd scale degree is flattened.
- The Lydian mode has a raised fourth, which creates a iv diminished, vii minor, and a II major chord. The theme song from the TV show The Simpsons is written in the Lydian mode.
- The Ionian mode has a V7 chord, and is the only mode where the V7 occurs naturally. Most common songs, including such simple classics as "Happy Birthday" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," are in the Ionian mode.
- The Mixolydian mode has a flat 7th degree; this creates a I7, a v minor, and a VII major chord. There is also a iii dim chord, but it is not used extensively in modal compositions. The Beatles song "Norwegian Wood" and the ABBA Song "The Visitors" are in mixolydian mode.
- The Dorian mode has a characteristic raised sixth, which produces a major IV chord and a minor II chord. "What shall we do with the drunken sailor" is in the Dorian mode.
- The Aeolian mode has a flat six and seven; its characteristic chords are the minor iv and v chords. There is a subtle distinction between an Aeolian modal composition and a composition in a minor key, because the sixth and seventh degrees in a minor key can be altered to create major IV and V chords. (example...)
- The Phrygian mode has a characteristic lowered second, which creates its characteristic bII major and v diminished chords. This mode is quite common in flamenco music and is often referred to as the "Spanish" mode. The Jimmy Somerville song "So Cold The Night" is in phrygian mode. The second movement of Brahms's Fourth Symphony famously opens in the phyrigian mode.
- The Locrian mode has a flat second and fifth scale degree and has a diminished i chord. It is highly unstable, and its diminished i chord makes establishing tonality in the mode nearly impossible. The few pieces written in this mode usually used an altered i minor chord to establish the tonal center, and then used the minor iii and major V chord to establish the modality. The locrian mode is so unstable that the bII chord cannot be used as it will quickly and inevitably establish itself as the I chord of a major key. The iv minor chord in second inversion with the tonic doubled is a good I chord for Locrian because it is the exact reverse of a major chord.
Learning the modes
You may work with the modes in a couple of ways.
If you're an instrumentalist, you may find the following approach useful to understanding the modal scales.
- The Ionian mode is identical to the major scale of tonal music.
- The Aeolian mode is identical to the natural minor scale of tonal music. Compared to Ionian, its 3rd, 6th, and 7th notes have been flattened.
- Lydian is identical to Ionian, except that the 4th note in the scale is sharpened.
- Mixolydian is identical to Ionian, exception that the 7th note in the scale is flattened.
- Dorian is identical to Aeolian, except its 6th scale degree is sharpened.
- Phrygian is identical to Aeolian, except its 2nd scale degree is lowered.
- Locrian, the theoretical mode, is identical to Aeolian, except its 2nd and 5th scale degrees are flattened. Because its 5th scale degree is flattened, this mode sounds very unstable, and isn't generally used for melodies.
Using this technique, one may apply a simple bit of mathematics towards converting from one mode to another. First, one should memorize the number of flats and sharps for all Ionian scales (e.g. F ionian has 1 flat). One should also memorize how to notate the flats and sharps on a musical bar. Then, one should memorize this chart:
- Lydian: +1
- Ionian: 0
- Mixolydian: -1
- Dorian: -2
- Aeolian: -3
- Phrygian: -4
- Locrian: -5
If you think of flats as negative numbers and sharps as positive numbers, you may use simple mathematics to convert between modes. For example, having memorized that the C major/ionian scale has zero sharps or flats, and wanting to know what notes C phrygian should change, you would add 0 to phrygian's -4 to get -4.. meaning four flats. So C phrygian has four flats, (B, E, A, and D).
Or, for a slightly more complicated example, try figuring out F locrian:
F major/ionian has 1 flat, so it's -1. Locrian has a -5, so -1 + -5 is -6. Therefore, F locrian has six flats (B, E, A, D, G, and C).
If you work with keyboard instruments, you may find the following technique more useful in working with modes.
If you're familiar with your major scales, each modal scale may be thought of as starting at a different scale degree from the major scale.
Thus, you may memorize which scale degree to start at for each mode.
- Lydian: IV
- Ionian: I
- Mixolydian: V
- Dorian: II
- Aeolian: VI
- Phrygian: III
- Locrian: VII
The patterns of tones (T) and semitones (s) are as follows:
TTTsTTs Lydian TTsTTTs Ionian (modern major) TTsTTsT Mixolydian TsTTTsT Dorian TsTTsTT Aeolian (modern minor) sTTTsTT Phrygian sTTsTTT Locrian
Note the shifts of alternate semitones from row to row.
Each of these modes has a unique scale without any sharps or flats. They are as follows:
Lydian F Ionian C major Mixolydian G Dorian D Aeolian A minor Phrygian E Locrian B
- Judd, Cristle Collins (ed.) (1998). Tonal Structures of Early Music. New York: Garland Publishing. ISBN 0815323883
- Liane Curtis. "Mode".
- Dahlhaus, Carl. Gjerdingen, Robert O. trans. (1990). Studies in the Origin of Harmonic Tonality. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691091358.
- New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
- Grout, Donald and Palisca, Claude. A History of Western Music. ISBN 0393975274