Each week at least one of the blogs will be a GCSE music revision topic. Although each board has its own requirements I’m focussing on the broad strokes that feature in most of them.
The previous blog was the circle of fifths. In this blog we’ll look at modes.
Modes - It’s All Greek To Me!
As you will know most music uses notes from a major or minor scale - and we covered these in the first two blogs in this revision series. There are some unusual scales you need to learn and we’re going to start with modes.
Musical modes originated in ancient Greece and so they all have Greek names. In its simplest description a mode is a variation on a scale. Change at least one of the notes in a major scale and you have yourself a mode. Before we had key signatures we had modes.
There are seven modes. In order they are, Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. +I’ll explain how each mode is formed but I’ll also go into detail about the tone and semitone steps (intervals) each one uses so you can identify them. We’ll use the C major scale as the foundation.
This mode is the major scale. We covered the intervals of how to form this here, but for the sake of revision it’s T T S T T T S (T=Tone, S=Semitone).
Dorian (great for folk music but also used in “Billie Jean” (Michael Jackson))
This mode goes from D to D. Move the first interval and put it in last position. In other words the Dorian Mode interval sequence is T S T T T S T
Phrygian (great for flamenco)
This mode goes from E to E. Move the first interval and put it in last position. In other words the Phrygian Mode interval sequence is S T T T S T T
Lydian (a slightly unsettling sound. “The Simpsons” TV Theme)
This mode goes from F to F. Move the first interval and put it in last position. In other words the Lydian Mode interval sequence is T T T S T T S
Mixolydian (a major scale but with a flattened 7th - “Star Trek” TV Theme, Beatles “Norwegian Wood”
This mode goes from G to G. Move the first interval and put it in last position. In other words the Mixolydian Mode interval sequence is T T S T T S T
Aeolian (the natural minor scale - REM “Losing My Religion”)
This mode goes from A to A. Move the first interval and put it in last position. In other words the Aeolian Mode interval is sequence T S T T S T T
Locrian (Rachmaninov Prelude in B minor)
This mode goes from B to B. Move the first interval and put it in last position. In other words the Locrian Mode interval sequence is S T T S T T T
Of course, not all modes will be conveniently based around the C major scale. This is why it’s good to remember the Tone Semitone sequence. If you can, remember Ionian is the first one and follows the major scale intervals we already know. From there in each subsequent mode the first interval moves to the end (see picture). Another possible starting point to go from is the Aeolian as this is the natural minor scale.
A handy mnemonic to help you remember the order is:
I Don’t Play Loud Music After Lunch.
There are two “L” words so you can use the “D” of “Loud to remind you it’s Lydian and “C” in “Lunch” for “Locrian”.
Next time we'll look at some of the other scales you could come across in music.