Modes are early forms of scales which were invented by the ancient Greeks before the major scale had been established.

They are still used today to add slightly different tonal qualities to a piece of music, in preference to the constant use of the major scale. However, modes contain all the same notes of the major scale. Let’s explain:

If we took the A major scale:

Notes of the A Major Scale


and we started this scale on the 2nd note (B) rather than on the 1st note (A), without changing any notes, we would arrive at a different step pattern:

Step Pattern for B Dorian Mode


This scale is called the DORIAN mode in the key of A, or B Dorian.

Generally, if we took a major scale in any key and started a scale from each note in that scale, we would come up with all the modes. There are seven modes in all, one for each note of the major scale:

  • The IONIAN mode starts on the first note of a major scale, and as such has the same step pattern as the major scale. It is the same scale as the major scale.
  • The DORIAN mode starts on the second note of a major scale, and has the step pattern shown above. It is a minor scale since it contains a minor 3rd.
  • The PHYRGIAN mode starts on the third note of a major scale and has the step pattern: semitone-tone-tone-tone-semitone-tone-tone. It is a minor scale.
  • The LYDIAN mode starts on the fourth note of a major scale and has the step pattern: tone-tone-tone-semitone-tone-tone-semitone. It is a major scale.
  • The MIXOLYDIAN mode starts on the fifth (dominant) note of a major scale, and is identical to the major scale, but it has a flat (dominant) 7th noteIt is a major scale.
  • The AEOLIAN mode starts on the sixth note of a major scale, and has the same step pattern as the natural minor scale, since the 6th note is the relative minor.
  • The LOCRIAN mode starts on the seventh note of a major scale; the step pattern is: semitone-tone-tone-semitone-tone-tone-tone. This is a diminished scale, and is not used extensively.

In effect this gives us five new scales, not seven, since the Ionian and Aeolian are the same as the major and natural minor scales respectively.

Remember that all modes contain the same notes as the major scale from which they are derived, so in effect we are still playing within the major scale, but are just starting on a different note.