What are Modes in Music?

Jerry A. Greene
Jerry A. Greene

Question: What are the different modes in musical scales?

Answer: There are 7 different modes that we have in music:

1. Ionian
2. Dorian
3. Phrygian
4. Lydian
5. Mixolydian
6. Aolian
7. Locrian

Each of them have a different feel and are easy to construct, or figure out. First of all, “Ionian” is what we now term the “major scale”. The Aolian, built off of the 6th degree of the scale, is what we call the “natural minor scale”.

So if the song is showing a C Major key signature (no sharps, or flats), and the music is centering on a C, you could call it C Ionian. If the music was centering around an A, you could call it A Aolian.

By now, you may already be able to figure out how you would figure out the rest of them. If you have the C major key signature (again, no sharps, or flats), but the music seems to be centered around a D, then you are in D Dorian. Centering around an E, E Phrygian and so on…

If you want to try to figure out how to play in a mode, using a different key, you just have to look at it from another point of view. Let’s say that you want to play A Dorian. Well Dorian implies that you are starting off the 2nd degree of the major scale, so what is A the second degree of? G major! Therefore, if you use the G major scale (1 Sharp (F#)) and center the music around the A, you are getting a sound of A Dorian.

I hope this helps!

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