What is the difference between a "mode" and a "scale?
What is the difference between a "mode" and a "scale?
Scales are modes. With major and minor scales, a Google search will find the Greek names.
Scales are like modes in that they specify a pattern of intervals between notes. Modes differ from scales because they include concepts like tenor - or melodic centre - and final - which in the plagal modes is not the same as the start note of the mode. So modes include scales but also cover melodic patterns and possible cadences.
Lengthy discussion on this can be found here:
Modes are scales that start on a different note.
I actually remember watching this many moons ago.
Scales used to be modes, too, back in the days.
"Modes are scales that start on a different note."
That’s the most perfectly succinct answer I’ve ever seen!
//"Modes are scales that start on a different note."//
I like that too 🙂
Expanding on that, I like this description :
• The Ionian mode is a major scale started from the first note ("the" major scale)
• The Dorian mode is a major scale started from the second note
• The Phrygian mode is a major scale started from the third note
• The Lydian mode is a major scale started from the fourth note
• The Mixolydian mode is a major scale started from the fifth note
• The Aeolian mode is a major scale started from the sixth note
• The Locrian mode is a major scale started from the seventh note
From that you can work out exactly which notes constitutes each scale / mode, if you ever felt the need to.
No , of those modes only the Ionian mode is ‘a major scale’ though Lydian and Mixolydian do have a major third from their scale root.
I see what you are getting at but to describe the modes as all being ‘a major scale’ is not correct. It will confuse people who don’t know about this stuff. I think it would be better phrased thus:
The Dorian mode is a scale started from the second note of a major scale
The Phrygian mode is a scale started from the third note of a major scale
Modes are indeed scales which start on a different note. Jim’s description is quite right. He has listed the seven modes of the major scale with the names associated with them. They all use the same seven notes as the major scale. Jazz musicians will talk about modes of the melodic minor scale, too - its seventh mode is particularly awesome. (NB In jazz, the term ‘melodic minor’ refers only to its ascending form.)
Scales that have fewer modes than notes are referred to as ‘modes of limited transposition’ if you want to go down that rabbit hole. Examples include whole tone scales - only one mode, because no matter which note you start on you get the same pattern - and octatonic scales.
//I see what you are getting at but to describe the modes as all being ‘a major scale’ is not correct//
I agree. Thanks for pointing that out.
I went back to the source, and it used C major as "the major scale", and defined the modes from that. I shouldn’t have used the word "major" in every line.
This little error happens too when people quote the text from (eg) the Mel Bay "Theory and Harmony Wall Chart", without showing the chart of the Ionian scale (which [on the chart] is in C major).
@tdrury: ‘He has listed the seven modes of the major scale with the names associated with them’
Yes he did, but as he has rightly conceded, to refer them all as major was incorrect: despite the fact they are derived FROM the major scale , the modal scales themselves (bar Mixolydian and Lydian) are minor in nature, ( you understand when identifying scales, that major/minor usually refers to the size of the interval from root to third degree yes?)
This is inprecise but pragmatic and practical for our purposes. As I’m sure you know the seventh and second degrees can be major or minor too, but these degrees of the scale are generally not used by musicians in a shorthand way to define a scale.
How many times have you heard someone in a session call ‘A minor’ when we all know they really mean A Dorian or A Aeolian? ) Not only this, the Ionian derived modes don’t hold to the t t s t t t s pattern of the classical Major Scale. This is why A mix is not the same as A maj for example, though both share a major 3rd
@ Jim, no worries I knew what you were getting at !
This is a semantics argument. Regardless of Jim’s concession, his original description was spot on, and his meaning perfectly clear. You could, if you wanted, say that he should have said ‘dorian mode uses the notes of the major scale but starts on the second degree’ but that’s pretty pedantic even for me, and I teach this stuff at university level for a living 🙂 The main thing is that dorian, mixolydian, etc. are indeed modes of the major scale. You are right that you wouldn’t call Dorian mode a major scale, but if you want to be technical, regardless of your common-sense and oft-used ‘is-the-third-major-or-minor’ guideline, you wouldn’t refer to it as a minor scale either. In the most precise sense ‘major’ and ‘minor’ refer to ‘tonality’ which is a distinct system from that of the modes.
For the record, I, too, find it easier to say E minor, A minor, etc. in a session setting, or when explaining things to guitarists who require explanation (i.e. ‘in an e minor tune, you’ll mostly be using E minor and D major chords’ rather than trying to explain the concept of modes).
Anyone got a grasp of classical modal harmony like to explain a few basics to me ?
The music we play ( when its modal) seems to have its own chord preferences which are far far away from classical harmony I have learnt.
Say if we were playing in E dorian ( Re- Fa- La triad would be the tonic i guess) what would be the strongest modal triad you would go to to create a dominant functioning ‘away’ kind of chord, A lot of the time in this music for an example like this people might choose Doh Me Soh as a kind of’ functioning as a Dominant type chord’ yet it is not built on the fifth degree of the scale.
I find it confusing as my ears tell me its the strongest change but it goes against what I have kearnt about V-1 being the strongest change and strongest bass movement available. To me Doh- Mi -Soh to Ray- Fah- Lah is stronger then La- Doh- Mi to Ray-Fah- La
BTW I learnt tonic sol-Fah using ‘movable Doh’ as opposed to Fixed Doh in case I’ve confused anyone.
Can anyone who knows about this enlighten me please, I have been wondering about this recently
E minor. In classical music, your i chord is E minor, do-me-sol (E-G-B) and your V chord is B major, sol-ti-re (B-D#-F#). You’ll notice first thing that D# does not occur in the E natural-minor scale, which goes E-F#-G-A-B-C-D-E. But composers of tonal music wanted to keep the pull that is created by the half step, so they put the D# in (or left it in from E major, depending on how you want to look at it. The V chord is the same in major and in minor for whatever key you’re in.) In our diddley Irish music, they don’t generally use D#. With rare exceptions, the tunes use the eight notes easily playable on a whistle - D E F# G A B C C# - you get D major and G major and the modes you can make out of them. Including E dorian, in which as you know are many many Irish tunes. Without the D#, the "dominant" function chord will usually end up being D major - D-F#-A - bVII.
TL;DR Classical music = i-V-i, like E minor - B major - E minor; Irish music (and lots of other folk music too) = i-bVII-i, like E minor - D major - E minor. Play the two progressions one after another to hear the difference clearly.
There is no difference ( apart from the word), The Major scale, for example, is also the Ionian mode.
you’ve written "The Dorian mode is a major scale started from the second note" I know what you mean but it is a bit misleading. It could be construed to mean the Dorian mode is a major scale. As you know. it isn’t. It’s a minor mode. There are other differences too which mean it’s better not to think of them in those terms.
Oh I see having read further down, you have already had that discussion 🙂 I would delete this but I can’t.
Exactly. You’re quite correct.
@khasab - we can just call it the dorans mode instead 🙂
@ Jim Dorans The birth of a new mode ! 🙂
I don’t like (find useful) the sequence enumerated on the major scale from note 1, 2, 3 etc (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian.) It’s true enough in the theoretical sense, and modes are almost always explained that way, but it doesn’t make emotional, practical or instructional sense.
First of all, the only modes we ever work within Irish music are Major, Mixolydian, Dorian and Minor, so we might as well drop all talk of the others. Wouldn’t it be big news if someone came up with a Phrygian or Locrian tune?!
The pattern that makes sense to me, is: Going up a fifth (within the same scale or key-signature), moves you from Major toward Minor in an emotional sense: Mixolydian is major-ish, and Dorian is minor-ish.
Fifths are interesting; Musicians think in fifths a lot:
- Guitarists accompany with chords a fifth up and a fifth down (in major key).
- The two easy key signatures on Whistle & Flute are a five notes apart, add or drop one sharp.
- Fiddle strings are tuned a fifth from each other.
- Don’t know about box or banjo.
- When you change key signature, it is comfortable to move up or down a fifth.
I don’t know why this would be, but isn’t it interesting that by far the largest percentage of tunes in the Irish tradition are Major or Dorian. Probably 85% or more?
I think Hexatonic tunes are more common than Mix or Minor. Has anyone done a histogram from the ABCs in the database? That question has been researched quite nicely wrt Scottish Scales and Modes here: http://www.campin.me.uk/Music/Modes/
No Dorian Gray mode? For him it may have been more of a mood though.
I’ll take a fifth of whatever’s on sale.
Modes are taught the way they are taught because it is what they are, and what they are is the answer to the original question that’s mostly been ignored on this thread: modes are scales that start on different notes. There are many scales, and it’s only because the major scale is most common (in Western music) that its modes have particular names. Modes of melodic minor, pentatonic, and other scales are also possible.
The Dorian mode is described as being the notes of the major scale but starting and ending on the second note because that is what it is. I appreciate, and enjoy actually, the circle-of-fifths major to natural minor progression of modes you’ve described, but I disagree with the notion that describing modes as what they are doesn’t make sense.
There’s a difference between explaining theory and making the information immediately accessible when playing.
"The Dorian mode is described as being the notes of the major scale but starting and ending on the second note …" is accurate but for me, when playing, it is far easier to think of flattening the 7th for Mixolydian and flattening the 3rd and 7th for Dorian. (relative to the major).
"when playing, it is far easier to think of flattening the 7th for Mixolydian" Same here. But being mindful of those who will jump in and ask what is so special about the scale that is having its notes flattened I try to think, for example, of the 7th being either a tone or semitone below the octave.
I think that approach is due to me having a little musical world that is an octave and a sixth on whistle and about that on voice.
And that also, for me, makes what The Pianist posted way up the thread relevant. For example D major and G major are very different because one almost always goes down a fourth below the home note and the other either doesn’t or never goes as far as an octave above it. Plagal, authentic etc.
Great observation about D major and G major David50. Exactly like how those old church modes used to work. "There is nothing new under the sun."
I still want to know why there are no G Lydian tunes.
I personally think of modes as "themes". If you play the different modes consecutively, you’ll hear that it changes the theme. The overall feeling of the sound. If you think about what happens when a tonic(the first note of a scale) is shifted, you’ll notice that this shifting changes the balance of tension. Major modes resolve at their tonic, while minor modes unresolve at their tonic. Note, this also applies to the motifs and cadences.
I think it’s complicated to compare modes to scales. In my opinion, they are two different applications of the same process; That process being, ordering notes. So, I guess you could say that modes are one way to order notes and scales are another way to order notes. Maybe it’s an "all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares" kind of thing? Because when I think about it, all modes are scales, but I’m not sure if all scales are modes. There is one scale where you can flat the 6th scale degree. An example would be flatting the A in the key of C Major. This isn’t a mode because there is no single key where A is the only flat(or G is the only sharp). If anyone is willing to shed some light on that, please do share.
Jerone, the word “mode” is used in English-speaking Western music theory to mean the idea of making a new set of notes by starting an existing scale on a note other than the first one. There seems to be some confusion regarding this fact on this thread, but it is nevertheless so.
More info, Jerone. You’ve described the harmonic major scale, as it’s called in jazz. It is not a mode of the major scale; you’re right. But it has seven modes of its own, as does the melodic minor scale - one for each note of the scale. The second mode of the C harmonic major scale, for example, would go D E F G Ab B C D.
Thanks tdrury. It’s been a while since I’ve taken a music theory class so I forget those alternative scales. Harmonic major is very familiar to me though because we also use it a lot in New Age music, much in the way we use Mixolydian with that smooth flattened 7th scale degree.
tdrury, are you implying the 2nd mode of the C harmonic major scale could be named something like the D dorian harmonic scale?
Jerone: Chords raised on your ‘C harmonic major’ mode are fascinating!
Cmaj7, Dm7b5, Em7, Fm (maj7), G7, Abmaj7 (aug5), Bdim
Yhaal House, what name do you use for the second mode of the C harmonic major scale?
I have never heard of names for modes of scales other than the major/natural minor. You could call it that if you wanted. I wouldn’t mind.
Then I don’t understand what you meant, tdrury, when you said, "There are many scales, and it’s only because the major scale is most common (in Western music) that its modes have particular names."
I’m not sure why my reply confused you. I said you could call it that if you wanted to but that’s not its name and nobody will know what you mean.
I understand that no one will know what that name means. I was asking you for clarification about your earlier comment, "The second mode of the C harmonic major scale, for example, would go D E F G Ab B C D."
Sorry if my question was obscure.
On the linked page Jon D Cook lists all possible scales/ modes.
He has what we are calling the ‘dorian harmonic scale’ (C, D, Eb, F , Gb, A, Bb, they are all rooted on C) listed as no. 870! (out of 1946 possibles) but it is not named.
No worries. I love obscure questions. Those would be the notes of the second mode of the c harmonic major scale, but it doesn’t have a name, that I know of.
If anybody still cares, the fifth mode of the pentatonic scale is called minor pentatonic and the seventh mode of the melodic minor scale is called the altered scale and several other things besides. Two examples of modes of scales other than major that have names.
This is good too!!
Thank you, tdrury.
Crosspost with Yhaal House. Gotta check out that link.
Thanks, Yhaal House! I missed your 1st response. Rooted in C the scale/mode would be C D Eb F Gb A B c
This is all very interesting, thanks to tdrury for the earlier info on modal harmony.
Sure thing. (un?)Fortunately, that is a topic I never tire of.
Yhaal House, you were right I was wrong. Sorry I was playing too much diddley at the time and could not grasp the concept of a scale/mode w/ C D Eb F Gb A Bb c. But that’s what it is. And I have a name for it; thanks to various sources. Significantly though Rick Beato’s UTube about the harmonic major scale.
He goes through it’s modes, naming each one. easy-peasy.
It is a fact that by starting an existing scale on a note other than the first one does a mode make. Though it’s only one model for understanding modes. It is a useful application of the theory of modes, relative keys, modulation, harmony, etc. But I also appreciate that each mode has an individual theme, as Jerone puts it. The theory model is a stepping stone, because each element of music connects to relative and parallel concepts. But a single mode is also it’s own voice, it’s own expression. Thanks, Jerone.
Ben, I love talking about themes. The day I was taught about intervals was the day I learned how to improvise, and ultimately, how to compose and arrange music. It’s been a hell of a lot of fun since. Playing in the different modes show you how different intervals and chords interact with each other. Some modes soften the overall sound, while others intensify it.
"The music we play ( when its modal) seems to have its own chord preferences which are far away from classical harmony I have learnt."
Yes as people have pointed out a vast number of tunes in Irish, Scottish, Appalachian, etc traditions are based on the 1>b7>1 progressions where 1 is the tonic and b7 is the dominant. (A>G>A, E >D >E, or G>F>G, or whatever key.)
The tonic chord can be minor or Major depending on the scale, the dominant is always Major.
What I find most interesting is the large body of Scottish tunes in Lydian mode (a Major scale but with a raised 4th) where the usual progression is 1>2>1, 1 being the tonic and 2 being the dominant, both the 1 and 2 chords being Major. In Highland Scottish music these tunes are usually in G, the chords going G Major > A Major > G Major.
BTW a constant and annoying error I hear from people being theoretically proper but practically improper is calling the Hijaz mode the "harmonic minor" mode. Error because the tonic chord is Major, the 3rd is a Major 3rd; calling a Major mode a minor mode is just silly. (The Hijaz mode has a Major 3rd but a minor 2nd.)
Just terminology. It’s easy to use the "home scale" (say, our major/Ionian, or the harmonic minor) as your base. Of course the thirds will change along the way.
BTW, I’ve always seen the Hijaz as the fifth mode of harmonic minor (e.g. the notes from A harmonic minor, but from E). Easier for me to think that way. Of course it’s not THE harminic minor mode, just one of them.
Whilst discussing altered modes, this is the Kesh in whole tone scale/ mode and in 7/8.
Yhaal House, your setting of The Kesh in 7/8 whole tone is nothing short of pandemonium. Well done sir.
Your Drowsy Maggie has its demonic moments as well. Sounds a bit like our slow session on some nights.
I think the basic difference is that modes use scooters, and like The Who.
Yes craziest setting of drowsy Maggie I ever heard , especially the chords. Like
I went looking for the Kesh. You’ve moved/removed it. What I did find tho’ was Sgt. Pepper’s. WOW.
Now I I’ve somehow got to explain to the missus why I am over twenty minutes late to our appointment!
Yep, no Kesh when I looked!
S’funny, Joe heard my Kesh but now it appears to have vamoosed!!
Maybe Soundcloud employ a team of Trad Police.
I will try to post again in some way!
that Drowsy Maggie has to be amongst the strangest things I ever heard - is that the same scale that’s used in Balkan/Klezmer music?
Our group used to play The Butterfly in 5/4, over the Take Five vamp. It works, the changes are the same.
About 7/8, heck yeh, I used to play in a Balkan band so it comes as second nature to shift Irish tunes into Balkan meters. (Or pop tunes or whatever.)
The strangest thing was when a tune popped into my head- I heard it as a Highland pipe tune- but when I went to write it down it took me a couple minutes to realise that it was in the meter
which AFAIK doesn’t exist in Bulgarian music, though it’s on all fours with the general Bulgarian metric system of additive rhythms.
Too bad you can’t march to it very well….
A limping army could march to it!
That setting of the keah was painfull , but i liked it 🙂 in its own unique demented way.
The word "mode" has several meanings. It originally meant "mood" and described the early church music scales. It has also come (from math) to mean any rotation of any scale, as in "the fifth mode of the harmonic minor scale". When used in folk music, including ITM, it means a particular pattern of whole and half steps. While the rotation method works to describe the set of notes in a particular scale, it is much better musically to think in terms of the relationships of the notes to the tonic. In other words, it is much better musically to compare to the PARALLEL major or minor scale. As in "G mixolydian is like the G major scale with a lowered 7th", or "D dorian is like D minor with a raised 6th".