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Music Theory:

Comparing Modes

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It could be useful to visually compare modes divided in major and minor species.

If we lay them down side by side on single strings, we can see the movement of the notes that transforms them from one to the other. Starting from Ionian (the ‘Major’ scale) in the middle, we can rise the fourth degree to go to Lydian or we can lower the seventh to get Mixolydian.




We can also notice how all three modes start with the same configuration, three notes separated by one fret or, as I call them, 1 - 3 - 5 blocks, shape units that you can use on a single string.



We should also notice the whole tone interval between the seventh degree and octave in the Mixolydian scale and how it differs from the other two major modes. Considering the different string blocks 1 - 3 - 4 and 1 - 2 - 4 can also help us remember scale shapes as we will see in the next section.





In the minor modes camp, we can start from Aeolian (it’s the Major scale relative minor) and see the movements that produce the other three modes. Raising the sixth degree to a Major sixth will give us the Dorian mode while lowering the second degree is going to yield a Phrygian scale. We also see how the Locrian mode is obtained by lowering the fifth degree of the Phrigian scale and how we need two moves to get there if we start from Aeolian.



Obviously, all minor modes will start with a string block that spans 4 frets but with two different configurations: 1 - 3 - 4 and 1 - 2 - 4. It’s also very interesting to note the 1 - 3 - 4 and 1 - 2 - 4 blocks pair at the fifth degree of Dorian and Aeolian as it will be handy when we study those scale shapes.




We got a similar situation starting at the fourth degree of Phrigian and Locrian and this comes as no surprise seeing that it’s the same sequence of intervals from different starting points. Can you spot the same shape in the Major modes diagram? How many times?

Are there more in the minor modes?

We can put together the two diagrams and see how modes flow one into the other, changing just one note at a time, from Lydian to Locrian. You can look for shapes, patterns, movements, anything that can help you memorize and understand them.

See how the columns show the movement of the single scale degrees and how this affects the sound.



Some say (and I would agree) that the order of the modes in this table reflects their character, their mood, a gradient of emotion with Lydian being the brightest and lightest and Locrian being the darker and more dissonant. It’s interesting to see that all the movements go from high to low, we always lower a note by a half tone making intervals minor or diminished (with the exception of the fourth) and this seems to make the sound progressively darker.

What do you think? In the next section we’ll learn a few real scale shapes so you can play them and judge with your ears

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