What Are Modes In Music? – Major Scale Modes Explained

Major scale modes is a concept that I have wanted to do a video on for a long time. Explaining exactly what modes are in music and how they are built is something that so many of my past students have found to be a stumbling block so in this video I’ve broken the issue down into small steps and I tackle the key issues you need to understand.

What is a mode? A mode is basically a scale that is built out of all the same notes that make up another scale. So when we talk about “modes of the C major scale” for example, we are just talking about all the scales that can be made by using the notes from the C major scale. These notes are C D E F G A B and C.

To create a mode of the C major scale all we have to do is choose one of these notes (let’s say F) and cycle round this group of notes in alphabetical order starting at F until we go full circle, and come back to F. This would give us F G A B C D E F which creates a new scale that we would call a mode.

There are seven different pitches in the C major scale and this means we can create seven different modes. One starting from each note. You’ll notice that each of these modes has its own distinct sound and to help us further identify these sounds we give each mode a name.

The first mode (which starts from C in our case) is the Ionian mode. This is exactly the same as a major scale. The second is the Dorian mode, third is Phyrgian mode, then Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian (natural minor scale) and finally the Locrian mode.

Building modes is possible with any major scale and it’s a great practice exercises which you can use to work on your theory and your understanding of the bass neck at the same time.

To work out the modes of any major scale you must;

First, work out the notes of the major scale you want to extract the notes from.

Then, simply move through one complete cycle of those notes starting at each individual scale note. Make sure you finish on the same note you start on and always move in alphabetical order.

Finally label each mode with its correct name. The mode starting on the first scale note is Ionian mode, the mode on the second note is Dorian, the Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and finally Locrian is the seventh mode.

If you have any questions about modes then please feel free to write them in the comments below. As I mentioned in the video tutorial there’s so much more material to cover on this subject so if there’s anything else you’d like to see then just let me know!

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