Advanced Music Theory tutorials
10. Modal scales
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So scales have like those popup windows I get in certain websites?

  1. Topics of discussion
  2. Modal scales explained

1. Topics of discussion

In this tutorial, we are going to discuss modal scales. So, let's have some fun.

2. Modal scales explained

Did you ever wonder what kind of scale we obtain by playing the notes from the C major scale, but starting from the second note? Or from the third note? I mean, the notes are the same ones from the C major scale, but it's not exactly a C major scale. But if we play the notes of the C major scale, starting from D, we don't exactly have a D minor scale either. So, what's going on?

Well, the answer is simple. We have just uncovered the concept of modal scales or modes. Each major scale has a total of 7 different modal scales that are formed on each note of said major scale. And the names of these modal scales are:

  • ionian - the modal scale formed on the root note of the major scale; as you may have guessed it, the ionian modal scale is the same as the major scale
  • dorian - the modal scale formed on the second note of the major scale
  • phrygian - the modal scale formed on the third note of the major scale
  • lydian - the modal scale formed on the fourth note of the major scale
  • mixolydian - the modal scale formed on the fifth note of the major scale
  • aeolian- the modal scale formed on the sixth note of the major scale; this is the relative minor scale to the major scale
  • locrian - the modal scale formed on the seventh note of the major scale

By formed on, I of course am referring to playing the notes of the major scales starting with that particular note. Here are all the modal scales for the C major scale:


And here they are played back:

Of course, we can have a formula for each of these modal scales, which is relative to the major scale of the root note of each modal scale. Let's look at an example. The D major scale consists of the D E F♯ G A B C♯ and D notes. And the D Dorian scale consists of the D E F G A B C and D notes. And as you can see, the 3rd and 7th notes are flatted in the Dorian scale. As a result, the Dorian scale formula, relative to the major scale is the following:

1 2 ♭3 4 5 6 ♭7

The same rules can be applied to all other modal scales as well. Here are the formulas for all 7 modal scales:

  • ionian - 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
  • dorian - 1 2 ♭3 4 5 6 ♭7
  • phrygian - 1 ♭2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7
  • lydian - 1 2 3 ♯4 5 6 7
  • mixolydian - 1 2 3 4 5 6 ♭7
  • aeolian - 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7
  • locrian - 1 ♭2 ♭3 4 ♭5 ♭6 ♭7

And that about covers it for this tutorial. In the next one we are going to talk about linked notes. See you then.

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