Musical mode

Musical mode
Modern Dorian mode on C About this sound Play .

In the theory of Western music since the ninth century, mode (from Latin modus, "measure, standard, manner, way") (Powers 2001, Introduction)[not in citation given] generally refers to a type of scale. This usage, still the most common in recent years, reflects a tradition dating to the middle ages, itself inspired by the theory of ancient Greek music. The word encompasses several additional meanings, however. Authors from the ninth century until the early eighteenth century sometimes employ the Latin modus for interval. In the theory of late-medieval mensural polyphony, modus is a rhythmic relationship between long and short values or a pattern made from them (Powers 2001, Introduction). Since the end of the eighteenth century, the term "mode" has also applied—in ethnomusicological contexts—to pitch structures in non-European musical cultures, sometimes with doubtful compatibility (Powers 2001, §V,1). Regarding the concept of mode as applied to pitch relationships generally, Harold S. Powers describes a continuum between abstract scale and specific tune, with "most of the area between ... being in the domain of mode" (Powers 2001, §I,3).


Modes and scales

A "scale" is an ordered series of intervals that, with the key or tonic (first tone), defines that scale's intervals, or steps. However, in the modern sense, "mode" is usually used in the sense of "scale," applied only to the seven specific diatonic scales (using only the seven tones of the scale without chromatic alterations. The use of more than one mode makes music polymodal, as with polymodal chromaticism. Modern musicological practice has extended the concept of mode to earlier musical systems, such as those of Ancient Greek music and Jewish cantillation, as well as to non-Western musics (Powers 2001, §I, 3; Winnington-Ingram 1936, 2–3).


Early Greek treatises on music do not use the term "mode" (which comes from Latin), but do describe three interrelated concepts that are related to the later, medieval idea of "mode": (1) scales (or "systems"), (2) tonos—pl. tonoi—(the more usual term used in medieval theory for what later came to be called "mode"), and (3) harmonia (harmony)—pl. harmoniai—this third term subsuming the corresponding tonoi but not necessarily the converse (Mathiesen 2001a, 6(iii)(e);Thomas J. Mathiesen, "Greece, §I: Ancient").

Greek scales

Greek Dorian octave species in the enharmonic genus, showing the two component tetrachords
Greek Dorian octave species in the chromatic genus
Greek Dorian octave species in the diatonic genus

The Greek scales in the Aristoxenian tradition were (Barbera 1984, 240; Mathiesen 2001a, 6(iii)(d)):

  • Mixolydian: hypate hypaton–paramese (b–b′)
  • Lydian: parhypate hypaton–trite diezeugmenon (c′–c″)
  • Phrygian: lichanos hypaton–paranete diezeugmenon (d′–d″)
  • Dorian: hypate meson–nete diezeugmenon (e′–e″)
  • Hypolydian: parhypate meson–trite hyperbolaion (f′–f″)
  • Hypophrygian: lichanos meson–paranete hyperbolaion (g′–g″)
  • Common, Locrian, or Hypodorian: mese–nete hyperbolaion or proslambnomenos–mese (a′–a″ or a–a′)

These names are derived from Ancient Greek subgroups (Dorians), one small region in central Greece (Locris), and certain neighboring (non-Greek) peoples from Asia Minor (Lydia, Phrygia). The association of these ethnic names with the octave species appears to precede Aristoxenos, who criticized their application to the tonoi by the earlier theorists whom he called the Harmonicists (Mathiesen 2001a, 6(iii)(d)).

Depending on the positioning (spacing) of the interposed tones in the tetrachords, three genera of the seven octave species can be recognized. The diatonic genus (composed of tones and semitones), the chromatic genus (semitones and a minor third), and the enharmonic genus (with a major third and two quarter tones or dieses) (Cleonides 1965, 35–36). The framing interval of the perfect fourth is fixed, while the two internal pitches are movable. Within the basic forms, the intervals of the chromatic and diatonic genera were varied further by three and two "shades" (chroai), respectively (Cleonides 1965, 39–40; Mathiesen 2001a, 6(iii)(c)).


The term tonos (pl. tonoi) was used in four senses: "as note, interval, region of the voice, and pitch. We use it of the region of the voice whenever we speak of Dorian, or Phrygian, or Lydian, or any of the other tones" (Cleonides 1965, 44). Cleonides attributes thirteen tonoi to Aristoxenos, which represent a progressive transposition of the entire system (or scale) by semitone over the range of an octave between the Hypodorian and the Hypermixolydian (Mathiesen 2001a, 6(iii)(e)). Aristoxenos's transpositional tonoi, according to Cleonides (1965, 44), were named analogously to the octave species, supplemented with new terms to raise the number of degrees from seven to thirteen. However, according to the interpretation of at least two modern authorities, in these transpositional tonoi the Hypodorian is the lowest, and the Mixolydian next-to-highest—the reverse of the case of the octave species (Mathiesen 2001a, 6(iii)(e); Solomon 1984, 244–45), with nominal base pitches as follows (descending order):

  • f: Hypermixolydian (or Hyperphrygian)
  • e: High Mixolydian or Hyperiastian
  • e♭: Low Mixolydian or Hyperdorian
  • d: Lydian
  • c♯: Low Lydian or Aeolian
  • c: Phrygian
  • B: Low Phrygian or Iastian
  • B♭: Dorian
  • A: Hypolydian
  • G♯: Low Hypolydian or Hypoaelion
  • G: Hypophrygian
  • F♯: Low Hypophrygian or Hypoiastian
  • F: Hypodorian

Ptolemy, in his Harmonics, ii.3–11, construed the tonoi differently, presenting all seven octave species within a fixed octave, through chromatic inflection of the scale degrees (comparable to the modern conception of building all seven modal scales on a single tonic). In Ptolemy's system, therefore there are only seven tonoi (Mathiesen 2001a, 6(iii)(e); Mathiesen 2001c). Pythagoras also construed the intervals arithmetically ( if somewhat more rigorously, initially allowing for 1:1 = Unison, 2:1 = Octave, 3:2 = Fifth, 4:3 = Fourth and 5:4 = Major Third within the octave). These tonoi and corresponding harmoniai correspond with the intervals of the familiar modern major and minor scales. See Pythagorean tuning and Pythagorean interval.


In music theory the Greek word harmonia can signify the enharmonic genus of tetrachord, the seven octave species, or a style of music associated with one of the ethnic types or the tonoi named by them (Mathiesen 2001b).

Particularly in the earliest surviving writings, harmonia is regarded not as a scale, but as the epitome of the stylised singing of a particular district or people or occupation (Winnington-Ingram 1936, 3). When the late 6th-century poet Lasus of Hermione referred to the Aeolian harmonia, for example, he was more likely thinking of a melodic style characteristic of Greeks speaking the Aeolic dialect than of a scale pattern (Anderson and Mathiesen 2001). By the late fifth century BC these regional types are being described in terms of differences in what is called harmonia—a word with several senses, but here referring to the pattern of intervals between the notes sounded by the strings of a lyra or a kithara. However, there is no reason to suppose that, at this time, these tuning patterns stood in any straightforward and organised relations to one another. It was only around the year 400 that attempts were made by a group of theorists known as the harmonicists to bring these harmoniai into a single system, and to express them as orderly transformations of a single structure. Eratocles was the most prominent of the harmonicists, though his ideas are known only at second hand, through Aristoxenus, from whom we learn they represented the harmoniai as cyclic reorderings of a given series of intervals within the octave, producing seven octave species. We also learn that Eratocles confined his descriptions to the enharmonic genus (Baker 1984–89, 2:14–15).

In the Republic, Plato uses the term inclusively to encompass a particular type of scale, range and register, characteristic rhythmic pattern, textual subject, etc. (Mathiesen 2001a, 6(iii)(e)). He held that playing music in a particular harmonia would incline one towards specific behaviors associated with it, and suggested that soldiers should listen to music in Dorian or Phrygian harmoniai to help make them stronger, but avoid music in Lydian, Mixolydian or Ionian harmoniai, for fear of being softened. Plato believed that a change in the musical modes of the state would cause a wide-scale social revolution (Plato, Rep. III.10-III.12 = 398C-403C)

The philosophical writings of Plato and Aristotle (c. 350 BC) include sections that describe the effect of different harmoniai on mood and character formation. For example, Aristotle in the Politics (viii:1340a:40–1340b:5):

But melodies themselves do contain imitations of character. This is perfectly clear, for the harmoniai have quite distinct natures from one another, so that those who hear them are differently affected and do not respond in the same way to each. To some, such as the one called Mixolydian, they respond with more grief and anxiety, to others, such as the relaxed harmoniai, with more mellowness of mind, and to one another with a special degree of moderation and firmness, Dorian being apparently the only one of the harmoniai to have this effect, while Phrygian creates ecstatic excitement. These points have been well expressed by those who have thought deeply about this kind of education; for they cull the evidence for what they say from the facts themselves. (Barker 1984–89, 1:175–76)

Aristotle continues by describing the effects of rhythm, and concludes about the combined effect of rhythm and harmonia (viii:1340b:10–13):

From all this it is clear that music is capable of creating a particular quality of character [ἦθος] in the soul, and if it can do that, it is plain that it should be made use of, and that the young should be educated in it. (Barker 1984–89, 1:176)

The word ethos (ἦθος) in this context means "moral character", and Greek ethos theory concerns the ways in which music can convey, foster, and even generate ethical states (Anderson and Mathiesen 2001).


Some treatises also describe "melic" composition, "the employment of the materials subject to harmonic practice with due regard to the requirements of each of the subjects under consideration" (Cleonides 1965, 35)—which, together with the scales, tonoi, and harmoniai resemble elements found in medieval modal theory (Mathiesen 2001a, 6(iii)). According to Aristides Quintilianus (On Music, i.12), melic composition is subdivided into three classes: dithyrambic, nomic, and tragic. These parallel his three classes of rhythmic composition: systaltic, diastaltic and hesychastic. Each of these broad classes of melic composition may contain various subclasses, such as erotic, comic and panegyric, and any composition might be elevating (diastaltic), depressing (systaltic), or soothing (hesychastic) (Mathiesen 2001a, 4).

According to Mathiesen, music as a performing art was called melos, which in its perfect form (teleion melos) comprised not only the melody and the text (including its elements of rhythm and diction) but also stylized dance movement. Melic and rhythmic composition (respectively, melopoiïa and rhuthmopoiïa) were the processes of selecting and applying the various components of melos and rhythm to create a complete work.

Aristides Quintilianus: And we might fairly speak of perfect melos, for it is necessary that melody, rhythm and diction be considered so that the perfection of the song may be produced: in the case of melody; a simple sound, in the case of rhythm, a motion of sound, and in the case of diction, the meter. The things contingent to perfect melos are motion-both of sound and body-and also chronoi and the rhythms based on these. (Mathiesen 1999,[page needed])

Western Church

Tonaries, which are lists of chant titles grouped by mode, appear in western sources around the turn of the 9th century. The influence of developments in Byzantium, from Jerusalem and Damascus, for instance the works of Saints John of Damascus (d. 749) and Cosmas of Maiouma (Nikodēmos ’Agioreitēs 1836, 1:32–33) (Barton 2009), are still not fully understood. The eight-fold division of the Latin modal system, in a four-by-two matrix, was certainly of Eastern provenance, originating probably in Syria or even in Jerusalem, and was transmitted from Byzantine sources to Carolingian practice and theory during the 8th century. However, the earlier Greek model for the Carolingian system was probably ordered like the later Byzantine oktōēchos, that is, with the four principal (authentic) modes first, then the four plagals, whereas the Latin modes were always grouped the other way, with the authentics and plagals paired (Powers 2001, §II.1(ii)).

The 6th century scholar Boethius had translated Greek music theory treatises by Nicomachus and Ptolemy into Latin (Powers 2001). Later authors created confusion by applying mode as described by Boethius to explain plainchant modes, which were a wholly different system (Palisca 1984, 222). In his De institutione musica, book 4 chapter 15, Boethius, like his Hellenistic sources, twice used the term harmonia to describe what would likely correspond to the later notion of "mode", but also used the word "modus"—probably translating the Greek word τρόπος (tropos), which he also rendered as Latin tropus—in connection with the system of transpositions required to produce seven diatonic octave species (Bower 1984, 253, 260–61), so the term was simply a means of describing transposition and had nothing to do with the church modes (Powers 2001, §II.1(i)).

Later, 9th-century theorists applied Boethius’s terms tropus and modus (along with "tonus") to the system of church modes. The treatise De Musica (or De harmonica institutione) of Hucbald synthesized the three previously disparate strands of modal theory: chant theory, the Byzantine oktōēchos and Boethius's account of Hellenistic theory (Powers 2001,§II.2). The later 9th-century treatise known as the Alia musica imposed the seven species of the octave described by Boethius onto the eight church modes (Powers 2001, §II.2(ii)). Thus, the names of the modes used today do not actually reflect those used by the Greeks.

The introit Jubilate Deo, from which Jubilate Sunday gets its name, is in Mode 8.

The eight church modes, or Gregorian modes, can be divided into four pairs, where each pair shares the "final" note and the four notes above the final, but have different ambituses, or ranges. If the "scale" is completed by adding three higher notes, the mode is termed authentic, if the scale is completed by adding three lower notes, it is called plagal (from Greek πλάγιος, "oblique, sideways"). Otherwise explained: if the melody moves mostly above the final, with an occasional cadence to the sub-final, the mode is authentic. Plagal modes shift range and also explore the fourth below the final as well as the fifth above. In both cases, the strict ambitus of the mode is one octave. A melody that remains confined to the mode's ambitus is called "perfect"; if it falls short of it, "imperfect"; if it exceeds it, "superfluous"; and a melody that combines the ambituses of both the plagal and authentic is said to be in a "mixed mode" (Rockstro 1880, 343).

Although the earlier (Greek) model for the Carolingian system was probably ordered like the Byzantine oktōēchos, with the four authentic modes first, followed by the four plagals, the earliest extant sources for the Latin system are organized in four pairs of authentic and plagal modes sharing the same final: protus authentic/plagal, deuterus authentic/plagal, tritus authentic/plagal, and tetrardus authentic/plagal (Powers 2001 §II, 1 (ii)).

Each mode has, in addition to its final, a "reciting tone", sometimes called the "dominant" (Apel 1969, 166; Smith 1989, 14). It is also sometimes called the "tenor", from Latin tenere "to hold", meaning the tone around which the melody principally centres (Fallows 2001). The reciting tones of all authentic modes began a fifth above the final, with those of the plagal modes a third above. However, the reciting tones of modes 3, 4, and 8 rose one step during the tenth and eleventh centuries with 3 and 8 moving from B to C (half step) and that of 4 moving from G to A (whole step) (Hoppin 1978, 67).

After the reciting tone, every mode is distinguished by scale degrees called "mediant" and "participant". The mediant is named from its position between the final and reciting tone. In the authentic modes it is the third of the scale, unless that note should happen to be B, in which case C substitutes for it. In the plagal modes, its position is somewhat irregular. The participant is an auxiliary note, generally adjacent to the mediant in authentic modes and, in the plagal forms, coincident with the reciting tone of the corresponding authentic mode (some modes have a second participant) (Rockstro 1880, 342).

Only one accidental is used commonly in Gregorian chant—B may be lowered by a half-step to B. This usually (but not always) occurs in modes V and VI, as well as in the upper tetrachord of IV, and is optional in other modes except III, VII and VIII (Powers 2001, §II.3.i(b), Ex. 5).

Name Dorian Hypodorian Phrygian Hypophrygian Lydian Hypolydian Mixolydian Hypomixolydian
Final (note) D D E E F F G G
Final (solfege) re re mi mi fa fa sol sol
Dominant (note) A F B-C G-A C A D B-C
Dominant (solfege) la fa si-do sol-la do la re si-do

In 1547, the Swiss theorist Henricus Glareanus published the Dodecachordon, in which he solidified the concept of the church modes, and added four additional modes: the Aeolian (mode 9), Hypoaeolian (mode 10), Ionian (mode 11), and Hypoionian (mode 12). A little later in the century, the Italian Gioseffo Zarlino at first adopted Glarean's system in 1558, but later (1571 and 1573) revised the numbering and naming conventions in a manner he deemed more logical, resulting in the widespread promulgation of two conflicting systems. Zarlino's system reassigned the six pairs of authentic–plagal mode numbers to finals in the order of the natural hexachord, C D E F G A, and transferred the Greek names as well, so that modes 1 through 8 now became C-authentic to F-plagal, and were now called by the names Dorian to Hypomixolydian. The pair of G modes were numbered 9 and 10 and were named Ionian and Hypoionian, while the pair of A modes retained both the numbers and names (11, Aeolian, and 12 Hypoaeolian) of Glarean's system (Powers 2001 §III.4(ii)(a) & §III.5(i)).

In the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, some chant reformers (notably the editors of the Mechlin, Pustet-Ratisbon (Regensburg), and Rheims-Cambrai Office-Books, collectively referred to as the Cecilian movement) renumbered the modes once again, this time retaining the original eight mode numbers and Glareanus's modes 9 and 10, but assigning numbers 11 and 12 to the modes on the final B, which they named Locrian and Hypolocrian (even while rejecting their use in chant). The Ionian and Hypoionian modes (on C) become in this system modes 13 and 14 (Rockstro 1880, 342).

Given the confusion between ancient, medieval, and modern terminology, "today it is more consistent and practical to use the traditional designation of the modes with numbers one to eight" (Curtis 1997), using Roman numeral (I-VIII), rather than using the pseudo-Greek naming system. Contemporary terms, also used by scholars, are simply the Greek ordinals ("first", "second", etc.), usually transliterated into the Latin alphabet: protus (πρῶτος), deuterus (δεύτερος), tritus (τρίτος), and tetrardus (τέταρτος), in practice used as: protus authentus / plagalis.

The eight musical modes. f indicates "final" (Curtis 1997).


A mode indicated a primary pitch (a final); the organization of pitches in relation to the final; suggested range; melodic formulas associated with different modes; location and importance of cadences; and affect (i.e., emotional effect/character). Liane Curtis writes that "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 (Curtis 1997 in Knighton 1997).

Carl Dahlhaus (1990, 192) lists "three factors that form the respective starting points for the modal theories of Aurelian of Réôme, Hermannus Contractus, and Guido of Arezzo:

  • 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 (dating from around 850) while Hermannus Contractus was the first to define modes as partitionings of the octave (Dahlhaus 1990, 192–91). However, the earliest Western source using the system of eight modes is the Tonary of St Riquier, dated between about 795 and 800 (Powers 2001, §II 1(ii)).

Various interpretations of the "character" imparted by the different modes have been suggested. Three such interpretations, from Guido of Arezzo (995–1050), Adam of Fulda (1445–1505), and Juan de Espinoza Medrano (1632–1688), follow:

Name Mode D'Arezzo Fulda Espinoza Example chant
Dorian I serious any feeling happy, taming the passions Veni sancte spiritus (listen)
Hypodorian II sad sad serious and tearful Iesu dulcis amor meus (listen)
Phrygian III mystic vehement inciting anger Kyrie, fons bonitatis (listen)
Hypophrygian IV harmonious tender inciting delights, tempering fierceness Conditor alme siderum (listen)
Lydian V happy happy happy Salve Regina (listen)
Hypolydian VI devout pious tearful and pious Ubi caritas (listen)
Mixolydian VII angelical of youth uniting pleasure and sadness Introibo (listen)
Hypomixolydian VIII perfect of knowledge very happy Ad cenam agni providi (listen)


Although many of the names of modes in modern music theory are the same as names used by the ancient Greeks, they do not represent the same sequences of intervals found in the octave species on which the harmoniai were based. In the modern western conception, a mode encompasses the same set of diatonic intervals as the major scale. However, a different "tonic" (central tone) is used, resulting in a different sequence of whole and half steps above it.

By definition, all major scales use the same interval sequence T-T-s-T-T-T-s, where "s" means a semitone and "T" means a whole tone (two semitones). From the modal point of view, this interval sequence is called the Ionian or Major mode. It is one of the seven modern modes—seven because only seven diatonic notes can be used as the tonic. Taking any major scale, a new scale is obtained by taking a different degree of the major scale as the tonic. Depending on the degree chosen, this new scale is in one of the other six modes, as follows:

Mode Tonic relative
to major scale
Interval sequence
Ionian I C T-T-s-T-T-T-s
Dorian II D T-s-T-T-T-s-T
Phrygian III E s-T-T-T-s-T-T
Lydian IV F T-T-T-s-T-T-s
Mixolydian V G T-T-s-T-T-s-T
Aeolian VI A T-s-T-T-s-T-T
Locrian VII B s-T-T-s-T-T-T

where "white note" indicates the starting note for an (upwards) scale of eight white notes on the piano that provides an example of the mode.

Pitch constellations of the modern musical modes

Modern modal scales on the natural notes

This is a simple list of all of the scales (modes) in a key signature with no sharps or flats.

Ionian (I)

Ionian mode on C. About this sound Play

Ionian may arbitrarily be designated the first mode. It is identical to the modern major scale, and begins on C. It consists of C (the tonic), D (a major 2nd above the tonic), E (a major 3rd above the tonic), F (a perfect 4th), G (a perfect 5th), A (a major 6th), B (a major 7th), and the upper-octave C to complete the scale.

  • Tonic triad: C
  • Tonic seventh chord: CM7
  • Dominant triad (in modern tonal thinking, the next-most important chord root after the tonic): G
  • Seventh chord on the dominant: G7 (a "dominant 7th" chord type, so-called because of its position in this—and only this—modal scale)

Dorian (II)

Dorian mode on D. About this sound Play

Dorian is then the second mode, beginning on D. It consists of D (the tonic), E (a major 2nd), F (a minor 3), G (a perfect 4th), A (a perfect 5th), B (a major 6th), C, (a minor 7th), and the upper-octave D.

A modern natural-minor scale is the same as the Aeolian mode (below), with minor 3rd, 6th, and 7th. The major 6th differentiates this scale from the natural-minor scale.

  • Tonic triad: Dm
  • Tonic seventh chord: Dm7
  • Dominant triad: Am
  • Seventh chord on the dominant: Am7 (a "minor seventh" chord type). By contrast, the "dominant seventh" type in this mode is found on scale-degree 4.

Phrygian (III)

Phrygian mode on E. About this sound Play

Phrygian is the third mode, starting in E. It consists of E (the tonic), F (a minor 2nd), G (a minor 3rd), A (a perfect 4th), B (a perfect 5th), C (a minor 6th), D (a minor 7th), and the upper-octave E.

As mentioned above, the modern minor scale has a minor 3rd, 6th, and 7th. The minor 2nd in addition here makes the scale Phrygian, not Aeolian (natural minor).

  • Tonic triad: Em
  • Tonic seventh chord: Em7
  • Dominant triad: Bdim
  • Seventh chord on the dominant: B75 (or Bø), a "dominant-seventh-flat-five" or "half-diminished seventh" chord type. By contrast, the "dominant seventh" type in this mode is found on scale-degree 3.

Lydian (IV)

Lydian mode on F. About this sound Play

Lydian is the fourth mode, starting on F. It consists of F (the tonic), G (a major 2nd), A (a major 3rd), B (an augmented 4th), C (a perfect 5th), D (a major 6th), E (a major 7th), and the upper-octave F.

The single tone that differentiates this scale from the major (Ionian), is its fourth degree, which its an augmented 4th above the tonic.

  • Tonic triad: FM
  • Tonic seventh chord: FM7
  • Dominant triad: CM
  • Seventh chord on the dominant: CM7, a "major-seventh" chord type. By contrast, the "dominant seventh" type in this mode is found on scale-degree 2.

Mixolydian (V)

Mixolydian mode on G. About this sound Play

Mixolydian is the fifth mode, beginning on G. It consists of G (the tonic), A (a major 2nd), B (a major 3rd), C (a perfect 4th), D (a perfect 5th), E (a major 6th), F (a minor 7th), and the upper-octave G.

  • Tonic triad: GM
  • Tonic seventh chord: G7 (the "dominant-seventh" chord type in this mode is the seventh chord built on the tonic degree)
  • Dominant triad: Dm
  • Seventh chord on the dominant: Dm7, a "minor-seventh" chord type.

Aeolian (VI)

Aeolian mode on A. About this sound Play

Aeolian is the sixth mode, beginning on A. It is also called the "natural minor scale". It consists of an A (the tonic), B (a major 2nd), C (a minor 3rd), D (a perfect 4), E (a perfect 5th), F (a minor 6th), G (a minor 7th), and the upper octave, A.

  • Tonic triad: Am
  • Tonic seventh chord: Am7
  • Dominant triad: Em
  • Seventh chord on the dominant: Em7, a "minor-seventh" chord type. By contrast, the "dominant seventh" type in this mode is found on scale-degree 7.

Locrian (VII)

Locrian mode on B. About this sound Play

Locrian is the seventh and final mode, and begins on B. It consists of B (the tonic), C (a minor 2nd), D (a minor 3rd), E (a perfect 4th), F (a diminished 5th), G (a minor 6th), A (a minor 7th), and the upper-octave B.

The distinctive degree here is the diminished 5th. This makes the tonic triad diminished, so this mode is the only one in which the chords built on the tonic and dominant scale degrees have their roots separated by a diminished, rather than perfect, fifth. Similarly the tonic seventh chord is half-diminished.

  • Tonic triad: Bdim or B°
  • Tonic seventh chord: Bm75 or Bø
  • Dominant triad: FM
  • Seventh chord on the dominant: FM7, a major-seventh chord type. By contrast, the "dominant seventh" type in this mode is found on scale-degree 6.

The modes can be arranged in the following sequence, which follows the circle of fifths. In this sequence, each mode has one more lowered interval above the tonic than the one preceding it. Thus taking Lydian as reference, Ionian (major) has a lowered fourth; Mixolydian, a lowered fourth and seventh; Dorian, a lowered fourth, seventh, and third; Aeolian (Natural Minor), a lowered fourth, seventh, third, and sixth; Phrygian, a lowered fourth, seventh, third, sixth, and second; and Locrian, a lowered fourth, seventh, third, sixth, second, and fifth. Put another way, the augmented fourth of the Lydian scale has been reduced to a perfect fourth in Ionian, the major seventh in Ionian, to a minor seventh in Mixolydian, etc.

Mode White
Intervals in the modal scales
prime second third fourth fifth sixth seventh octave
Lydian F perfect major major augmented perfect major major perfect
Ionian C perfect
Mixolydian G minor
Dorian D minor
Aeolian A minor
Phrygian E minor
Locrian B diminished

The first three modes are sometimes called major, the next three minor, and the last one diminished (Locrian), according to the quality of their tonic triads.

The Locrian mode is traditionally considered theoretical rather than practical because the triad built on the seventh scale degree is diminished. Diminished triads are not consonant and therefore do not lend themselves to cadential endings. A diminished chord cannot be tonicized according to traditional phrasing practice.

Major modes

The Ionian mode (About this sound listen ) corresponds to the major scale. Scales in the Lydian mode (About this sound listen ) are major scales with the fourth degree raised a semitone. The Mixolydian mode (About this sound listen ) corresponds to the major scale with the seventh degree lowered a semitone.

Minor modes

The Aeolian mode (About this sound listen ) is identical to the natural minor scale. The Dorian mode (About this sound listen ) corresponds to the natural minor scale with the sixth degree raised a semitone. The Phrygian mode (About this sound listen ) corresponds to the natural minor scale with the second degree lowered a semitone.

Diminished mode

The Locrian (About this sound listen ) is neither a major nor a minor mode because, although its third scale degree is minor, the fifth degree is diminished instead of perfect. For this reason it is sometimes called a "diminished" scale, though in jazz theory this term is also applied to the octatonic scale. This interval is enharmonically equivalent to the augmented fourth found between scale-degrees 1 and 4 in the Lydian mode and is also referred to as the tritone.


Use and conception of modes or modality today is different from that in early music. As Jim Samson explains, "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 procedure" (Samson 1977, 148). Indeed, when 19th-century composers revived the modes, they rendered them more strictly than Renaissance composers had, to make their qualities distinct from the prevailing major-minor system. Renaissance composers routinely sharped leading tones at cadences and lowered the fourth in the Lydian mode (Carver 2005, 74 n4).

The Ionian (or Iastian) mode is another name for the major scale used in much Western music. The Aeolian forms the base of the most common Western minor scale; in modern practice the Aeolian mode is differentiated from the minor by using only the seven notes of the Aeolian scale. By contrast, minor mode compositions of the common practice period frequently raise the seventh scale degree by a semitone to strengthen the cadences, and in conjunction also raise the sixth scale degree by a semitone to avoid the awkward interval of an augmented second. This is particularly true of vocal music (Jones 1974, 29).

Traditional folk music provides countless examples of modal melodies. For example, Irish traditional music makes extensive usage not only of the major mode, but also the Mixolydian, Dorian, and Aeolian modes (Cooper 1995, 9-20).

Zoltán Kodály, Gustav Holst, Manuel de Falla use modal elements as modifications of a diatonic background, while in the music of Debussy and Béla Bartók modality replaces diatonic tonality (Samson 1977,[page needed])

Other types

While the term "mode" is still most commonly understood to refer to Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, or Locrian scales, in modern music theory the word is sometimes applied to scales other than the diatonic. This is seen, for example, in "melodic minor" scale harmony, which is based on the seven rotations of the ascending melodic minor scale, yielding some interesting scales as shown below. The "chord" row lists chords that can be built from the given mode.

Name Melodic minor Dorian 2 Lydian augmented Lydian dominant Mixolydian 6 or "Hindu" half-diminished (or) Locrian Natural 2nd altered (or) diminished whole-tone (or) Super Locrian
Chord C-minmaj7 D-9 Emaj5 F711 G713 Aø (or) A-75 B7alt
Name Harmonic minor Locrian Natural 6th Ionian 5 Ukrainian minor Phrygian major 3rd Lydian 2 Super Locrian diminished
Chord C-minmaj7 E-maj75 F-7 G7 A-maj7 (or) A-minmaj7 B-Dim7
Name Double harmonic scale Lydian 2 6 Phrygian 4 7 Hungarian gypsy scale Locrian Nat6 3 Harmonic Major 5 2 Locrian 3 7
Chord Cmaj7 Dbmaj7 Edim7nat5 F-maj7 G7flat5 Abmaj7#5 Bdim7flat3

The number of possible modes for any intervallic set is dictated by the pattern of intervals in the scale. For scales built of a pattern of intervals that only repeats at the octave (like the diatonic set), the number of modes is equal to the number of notes in the scale. Scales with a recurring interval pattern smaller than an octave, however, have only as many modes as notes within that subdivision: e.g., the diminished scale, which is built of alternating whole and half steps, has only two distinct modes, since all odd-numbered modes are equivalent to the first (starting with a whole step) and all even-numbered modes are equivalent to the second (starting with a half step). The chromatic and whole-tone scales, each containing only steps of uniform size, have only a single mode each, as any rotation of the sequence results in the same sequence. Another general definition excludes these equal-division scales, and defines modal scales as subsets of them: "If we leave out certain steps of a[n equal-step] scale we get a modal construction" (Karlheinz Stockhausen, in Cott 1973, 101). In "Messiaen's narrow sense, a mode is any scale made up from the 'chromatic total,' the twelve tones of the tempered system" (Vieru 1985, 63).

Analogues in different musical traditions

See also


Further reading

  • Fellerer, Karl Gustav. 1982. "Kirchenmusikalische Reformbestrebungen um 1800". Analecta Musicologica: Veröffentlichungen der Musikgeschichtlichen Abteilung des Deutschen Historischen Instituts in Rom 21:393–408.
  • Grout, Donald, Claude Palisca, and J. Peter Burkholder (2006). A History of Western Music. New York: W. W. Norton. 7th edition. ISBN 0-393-97991-1.
  • Judd, Cristle (ed) (1998). Tonal Structures in Early Music: Criticism and Analysis of Early Music, 1st ed. New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8153-2388-3.
  • Levine, Mark (1989). The Jazz Piano Book. Petaluma, CA: Sher Music Co. ISBN 0-9614701-5-1.
  • Lonnendonker, Hans. 1980. "Deutsch-französische Beziehungen in Choralfragen. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des gregorianischen Chorals in der zweiten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts". In Ut mens concordet voci: Festschrift Eugène Cardine zum 75. Geburtstag, edited by Johannes Berchmans Göschl, 280–95. St. Ottilien: EOS-Verlag. ISBN 3-88096-100-X
  • McAlpine, Fiona (2004). "Beginnings and Endings: Defining the Mode in a Medieval Chant". Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 45, nos. 1 & 2 (17th International Congress of the International Musicological Society IMS Study Group Cantus Planus): 165–77.
  • Meeùs, Nicolas (1997). "Mode et système. Conceptions ancienne et moderne de la modalité". Musurgia 4, no. 3:67–80.
  • Meeùs, Nicolas (2000). "Fonctions modales et qualités systémiques". Musicae Scientiae, Forum de discussion 1:55–63.
  • Meier, Bernhard (1988). The Modes of Classical Vocal Polyphony: Described According to the Sources, translated from the German by Ellen S. Beebe, with revisions by the author. New York: Broude Brothers. ISBN 978-0-8450-7025-3
  • Miller, Ron (1996). Modal Jazz Composition and Harmony, Vol. 1. Rottenburg, Germany: Advance Music. OCLC 43460635
  • Pfaff, Maurus. 1974. "Die Regensburger Kirchenmusikschule und der cantus gregorianus im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert". Gloria Deo-pax hominibus. Festschrift zum hundertjährigen Bestehen der Kirchenmusikschule Regensburg, Schriftenreihe des Allgemeinen Cäcilien-Verbandes für die Länder der Deutschen Sprache 9, edited by Franz Fleckenstein, 221–52. Bonn: Allgemeiner Cäcilien-Verband, 1974.
  • Powers, Harold (1998). "From Psalmody to Tonality". In Tonal Structures in Early Music, edited by Cristle Collins Judd, 275–340. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities 1998; Criticism and Analysis of Early Music 1. New York: Garland Publishing. ISBN 0-8153-2388-3.
  • Ruff, Anthony, and Raphael Molitor (2008). "Beyond Medici: The Struggle for Progress in Chant". Sacred Music 135, no. 2 (Summer): 26–44.
  • Scharnagl, August (1994). "Carl Proske (1794-1861)". In Musica divina: Ausstellung zum 400. Todesjahr von Giovanni Pierluigi Palestrina und Orlando di Lasso und zum 200. Geburtsjahr von Carl Proske. Ausstellung in der Bischöflichen Zentralbibliothek Regensburg, 4. November 1994 bis 3. Februar 1995, Bischöfliches Zentralarchiv und Bischöfliche Zentralbibliothek Regensburg: Kataloge und Schriften, no. 11, edited by Paul Mai, 12-52. Regensburg: Schnell und Steiner, 1994.
  • Schnorr, Klemens (2004). "El cambio de la edición oficial del canto gregoriano de la editorial Pustet/Ratisbona a la de Solesmes en la época del Motu proprio". In El Motu proprio de San Pío X y la Música (1903–2003). Barcelona, 2003, edited by Mariano Lambea, introduction by María Rosario Álvarez Martínez and José Sierra Pérez. Revista de musicología 27, no. 1 (June) 197–209.
  • Street, Donald (1976). "The Modes of Limited Transposition". The Musical Times 117, no. 1604 (October): 819–23.
  • Vieru, Anatol (1992). "Generating Modal Sequences (A Remote Approach to Minimal Music)". Perspectives of New Music 30, no. 2 (Summer): 178–200.
  • Vincent, John (1974). The Diatonic Modes in Modern Music, revised edition. Hollywood: Curlew Music. OCLC 249898056
  • Wiering, Frans (1998). "Internal and External Views of the Modes". In Tonal Structures in Early Music, edited by Cristle Collins Judd, 87–107. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities 1998; Criticism and Analysis of Early Music 1. New York: Garland Publishing. ISBN 0-8153-2388-3.

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