Music Learning Workshop
Home: Music Theory: Scales: Scale Modes

"Scale Modes"
7 Inversions Just to Get Another Sound

scale-c-gospel-smlThe modes seem to be one of the hardest things to comperend by the music students. 

They really are just inversions of the major scale which start on the next note in the scale and play all the same notes.

What happens is that the intervals change form major to minor all over the place. This seems to the most confusing part of learning the modes.

Modes date back to the ancient Greeks where four of the modes were forumlated. This is where the names came from that identify them. 

Later the medieval church expanded the modes and were called church modes. Modes were used before scales and the major and minor scales were actually based on two of the scale modes, Ionian and Aeolian.

We will take a loot at those as we work through the modes.


Learn -7 Crucial Steps to Mastering a Song Quickly

Learn More

Describing Scale Modes in Their Simplist Pattern

The absolute quickest way to see the modes is through the visual look at this keyboard.


Consider the first scale C major. C to C. That is the first mode. All the white notes are played between the two Cs. Each would be given a number 1 through 8 for the notes.

The Intervals and Notes for 1st mode
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 1
C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C

Each successive mode is played on the next note in the scale. The next mode would be played 2 to 2. As you can see we use the same notes but simply start on the 2nd note. This is known as the Dorian Scale.

The mode Intervals and Notes
2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 1 - 2
D - E - F - G - A - B - C - D

and the actual interval for the steps
1 - 2 - m3- 4 - 5 - 6 - m7- 8

Each mode is constructed in this pattern of starting on the next note of the major scale.

Now there are two ways to look at this first example.

1.  it is the C major scale played 2 to 2
2.  it is the D Major scale modifing two notes the m3 and m7

Each mode can be thought of as playing a major scale and starting on the note that defines the mode. Each constrution of a new scale mode will modify the intervals with minor or augmentd notes.  

Using the method of identifying scales as playing a major scale starting on a new note is one way to identify a mode and play. So if you are playing Bb Dorian it is the Bb scale with a Bb and Eb starting on C played: C - D - Eb - F - G - A - Bb - C

Giving Names to the Scale Modes

Use the numbering of the modes as 6 alterations from the tonic or 1st mode. Each can be given a name based on the note that starts that alteration. We can identify the interval modifications at the same time.

Label Note to Note and  Name of Mode
Using the C Major Scale

Played from  Name Interval
1 - 1  (C) Ionian None - all Mjr
2 - 2  (D) Dorian b3 - b7
3 - 3  (E) Phrygian b2 - b3 - b6 - b7
4 - 4  (F) Lydian #4
5 - 5  (G) Mixolydian b7 (dom 7)
6 - 6  (A) Aeolian b3 - b6 - b7
(natural minor)
7 - 7  (B) Locrian b2 - b3 - b5 - b6 - b7

Now we need to see the Scale Modes in practice with the notes on a staff.

C Ionian  -- Major Scale w/o alterations; major scale 1-1


Dorian -- flat 3 and 7;  major scale 2 -2; 


Phrygian -- flat 2, 3, 6, and 7;  major scale 3 -3; 


Lydian -- augmented or raised 4;  major scale 4 -4;


Mixolydian -- flat 7;  major scale 5 -5  (dominate 7)


Aeolian (A Natural Minor) -- flat 3, 6, and 7;  major scale 6 -6


Locrian -- flat 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7;  major scale 7 -7


This is the math of the modes. Each mode can define it's own feel, color, or mood. Each could become a I in a harmonic system and thus define its own harmonic system. That's advanced stuff. Which could be explored at another time.

Listen to the modes from brightest to darkest to get the idea of the mood.

Play each scale in the following order to hear the differences:

Played from  Name Interval
G mjr  4 - 4  C Lydian #4
C mjr  1 - 1 C Ionian None - all Mjr
F mjr  5 - 5 C Mixolydian b7 (dom 7)
Bb mjr  2 - 2 C Dorian b3 - b7
Eb mjr 6 -6 C Aeolian b3 - b6 - b7
Ab mjr 3 - 3 C Phrygian b2 - b3 - b6 - b7
Db mjr 7 - 7 C Locrian b2 - b3 - b5 - b6 - b7

You can play these if you know your major scales down cold. If not you may have to write them out. Just remember that each one starts on C.

Scale modes are used extensive to improvize in jazz solos. knowning which mode applies to which chord type is where that comes into play. That is an advanced concept that we will explore in a future workbook.

Learning Resources

Scales Workshop

Learning scales is intimidating for the beginning student.

Don't let them get the best of you.

This Getting It Down Cold Key and Scale Workshop easily leads you through the process step by step.

Learn More...

Music Workshops Music Workshops

Lessons in Scales:

 prev next

Subscribe to Blog:
My Yahoo! RSS button
My MSN RSS button

Comments, Feedback:

Blog Guest Post?

Recomended Methods/Courses

Individual Lessons
by Music Theory Workshop

Music Mastery
MegaLearning System

by Donna Cercone

Improvise for Real
by David Reed

Materials of Music
by Robert Reno

Guitar & Bass

ABC Learn Guitar
by Kathy Unruh

Superior Guitar Online
by JamPlay

Teach Me Bass Guitar
by Roy Vogt

Ear Training

Hear and Play Courses
Hear and Play Back Pocket Band

Song Writing

Write Songs That Sell
Superior Songwriting!

Music Licensing

A to Z Music Licensing eBook

Sheet Music

Classical Sheet Music Downloads  

Jamey Aebersold at Sheet Music Plus. Get these popular jazz books and play alongs now! 

Notation Software

Notation Composer
Best Midi Import
and Notation Package
Download Trial