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What are modes?

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Question: What are modes?
Answer: Modes are used in many types of music; from sacred music to jazz to rock. Composers use it to add "flavor" to their compositions in order to avoid predictability. It is formed by naming a different note as the root (1st) instead of the original root of the scale. Thus, in a way, modes can be defined as displaced major scales.

Types of Modal Scales

  • Ionian - Also known as the major scale; follows the pattern W-W-H-W-W-W-H.

  • Dorian - Constructed from the second note of a major scale; follows the pattern W-H-W-W-W-H-W.

  • Phrygian - Constructed from the third note of a major scale; follows the pattern H-W-W-W-H-W-W.

  • Lydian - Constructed from the fourth note of a major scale; follows the pattern W-W-W-H-W-W-H.

  • Mixolydian - Also known as "mixo," is constructed from the fifth note of a major scale and follows the pattern W-W-H-W-W-H-W.

  • Aeolian - Also known as the natural minor scale, is constructed from the sixth note of a major scale and follows the pattern W-H-W-W-H-W-W.

  • Locrian - Constructed from the seventh note of a major scale; follows the pattern H-W-W-H-W-W-W.

    Each mode has a very distinct sound; for example, the Phrygian mode sounds melancholy and reflects the music of Spain. The Lydian mode sounds happy and is often used in jazz and rock music. The Mixolydian mode evokes a bluesy sound and can often be heard in jazz, blues and rock music. The Locrian mode, on the other hand, has a very strange sound but is rarely used.

    Note: W = whole step, H = half step
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