What are the Seven Modes of Music?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

We have the ancient Greeks to thank for the modern seven modes of music, although some of their original modes have been replaced over time. Greek musicians may have been the first to understand the intimate relationship of mathematics and music theory, leading to what we understand as the major and minor scales. A traditional scale may be divided into 8 notes, but the intervals between those notes are not always equal. The Greeks developed scales which began and ended on each note of the original major scale (Ionian) we still hear today. The Greeks named the different scales after cities which reflected the mood of the seven modes of music. Modern music theorists now call these modes Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian.

The seven modes of music can be traced back to ancient Greece.
The seven modes of music can be traced back to ancient Greece.

Understanding the seven modes of music requires a basic understanding of intervals and musical notation. We can define a musical scale with 8 letters (A-G), so that a "C" scale becomes C D E F G A B C with no flattened or raised notes. But another way to look at this scale is through intervals. This is the musical theory behind the familiar Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do exercises in choir or early band practice. Each of those syllables represents an interval in a major (Ionian) scale. These intervals are not evenly spaced, thus giving each one a specific relationship to each other. "Do" sounds very finished and solid, for instance. "Ti", by comparison, sounds very unfinished and unresolved. It is called a leading tone, which means it wants to lead the melody back to the final note "Do". It's the relationship between these intervals which give the modes their musical interest.

The mode of music used for a piece can be determined by looking at the musical notation on the sheet.
The mode of music used for a piece can be determined by looking at the musical notation on the sheet.

In the Ionian mode, the intervals are divided into a very familiar pattern of whole and half steps. Most of us would instantly recognize the Ionian mode when played on a piano. The rest of the seven modes of music retain this familiar pattern, but start on different notes. Here's a quick breakdown on each mode and their relationship to the original Ionian intervals:

It's common for modern guitarists to use the Phrygian mode of music.
It's common for modern guitarists to use the Phrygian mode of music.

Ionian Mode (W-W-H-W-W-W-H) In this definition, W stands for 'Whole Step' and H stands for 'Half Step'. The Ionian mode defines the familiar major scale pattern we hear as do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do. The half step between Ti and Do gives the scale some tension and release. The majority of popular songs are written in the Ionian mode.

Jazz musicians often use the Lydian Mode of music.
Jazz musicians often use the Lydian Mode of music.

Dorian Mode (W-H-W-W-W-H-W) Dorian mode is most commonly heard in Celtic music and early American folk songs derived from Irish melodies. Songs written in Dorian mode sound a little melancholy because the final note (re) doesn't quite resolve itself. The song may be over, but the singer is still unsettled.

Phrygian Mode (H-W-W-W-H-W-W) Modern composers and guitarists commonly use Phrygian mode because it works well with the Ionian. Guitarists use modal music to create interesting solo lines which can be played against melodies in other modes. Composers often find the Phrygian mode to be as useful as the traditional minor (Aeolian) scale, but without the inherent sadness.

Lydian Mode (W-W-W-H-W-W-H) Lydian mode is the complete opposite of the Ionian, so it feels as solid as a major scale but the intervals are surprising and unexpected. This is a popular mode among jazz musicians who enjoy using a mixture of major and minor chord progression in inventive ways.

Mixolydian Mode (W-W-H-W-W-H-W) Mixolydian is similar to Lydian in the sense of a major scale feel with minor intervals. Mixolydian mode is another popular scale for solo musicians looking for a counterpoint to the Ionian key of the song.

Aeolian Mode (W-H-W-W-H-W-W) Aeolian mode is still in vogue today, although we tend to refer to it as the minor key. The intervals of Aeolian mode create the same feel as many modern blues songs. Songs composed in Aeolian mode have a strong sense of sadness. The final note of an Aeolian scale feels resolved in a completely different sense than the Ionian. If the Dorian mode reflects melancholy, the Aeolian reflects despair.

Locrian Mode (H-W-W-H-W-W-W) Locrian mode is considered to be so unstable and unsatisfying that most composers consider it unworkable. There are few songs written in the Locrian mode, which has lead some music experts to label it a 'theoretical' mode. It exists because all seven notes of the Ionian scale could form modes in a mathematical sense, but the relationship between intervals in the Locrian mode is simply not that interesting musically.

To remember the seven modes of music, many musicians use the following memory aid: "I Do F(ph)ollow Lonely Men And Laugh."

Aeolian mode has an inherent sadness that makes it a favorite of people who are depressed or feeling contemplative.
Aeolian mode has an inherent sadness that makes it a favorite of people who are depressed or feeling contemplative.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


Well yes, conchobhair. A mode is a scale but it is based on a scale played in different keys. The previous post by anon 6743 says it well. If you start at C in CM and play up to C you have one mode. If you start at D in CM and play up to D you have the next mode -- and so on.


TO anon149947: Do this and you will hear the differences. Play a 2-chord background and play the dorian mode over it. Do the same for the 3-chord, 4-chord, etc. Once you hear the difference, observe what the interval changes are between notes that make a significant difference in the sound. e.g., dorian is pretty much a melodic minor sound whereas the phrygian mode (3rd) has a flat-2. the flat-2 is very interesting with the flat-3 which is now a whole step from the 2. Good luck - Gary Mahan


Can anyone tell me please, what feel or flavor the different modes are used for?

For example what modes might Latin, or Jazz, or Classical typically use?

Thanks a lot.


@shikuto: In the long list of all your keys and scales some of them are wrong, probably due to the amount you had to type but e dorian for example consists of - E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D.


Yes, anon, D Dorian is all the White Keys. I bring this up because I have just finished composing a Sonata/Fugue in D Dorian.


Theoretically speaking, if you know all the major scales on the guitar and you know all the modes, then you'd be a very good musician correct?

On a side note, what is Avenged Sevenfold doing scale wise? How are they getting that dark sound?


Sorry - I screwed up!

Dorian is indeed +2 flats or -2 sharps,

but it's not C D Eb F G Ab Bb -

it's C D Eb F G A Bb - yes?

Please tell me if I messed anything else up, or if I still don't understand how to play the desired mode in any key through my transposition aids.

- #71 - again!


Here's a circle of 5ths way to get there.

To play in the desired mode, do this to the key:

Dorian +2 flats or -2 sharps

Phrygian +4 flats or -4 sharps

Lydian +1 sharp or -1 flat

Mixolydian +1 flat or -1 sharp

Aeolian (minor) +4 flats or -4 sharps

Locrian +5 flats or -5 sharps

Anon 111735 (#70): Yes, exactly!

...by anon116742 (#71)

PS: I came here to figure this out - thanks!


I found what I was looking for in (#33) by anon34004:

an easy way to transpose and arrive at the proper mode.

Here's the chart I made for myself:


MAJOR - Ionian - C D E F G A B

Dorian IN C - down a major second (Bb) - C D Eb F G Ab Bb

Phrygian IN C - down a major third (Ab) - C Db Eb F G Ab Bb

Lydian IN C - down a perfect fourth (G) - C D E F# G A B

Mixolydian IN C - down a perfect fifth (F) - C D E F G A Bb

Aeolian (natural minor) - down a major sixth (Eb) - C Db Eb F G Ab Bb C

Locrian - down a major seventh (Db) - C Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb

other scales in C:

Harmonic Minor - C Db Eb F G Ab B C

Melodic Minor - C Db Eb F G A B C up, natural minor down

Pentatonic Major - C D E G A

Pentatonic Minor - C Eb F G Bb

6 note Hexatonic - C D F G Ab B

anon10452 (#11) has an excellent visualization using the clock, with a big exception: the tonic and octave are at 12:00, not 1:00. (That threw me for awhile.)


So if i am playing in D Dorian, does that mean that i am playing on the white keys?


I came here because I saw that traffic from this post was coming to my website, and being as I didn't write this article, I wondered how my site was associated with it. Answer is that we are in the ads on this page. Mystery solved there.

To address the idea of Modes is to take on a sticky and often misunderstood subject. There are as many opinions as there are people, as well as applications, some arguably are incorrect.

The first thing I'd suggest is that it doesn't hurt to understand the basis for modes, but most of us want to understand for the simple reason of using them. Towards that end I suggest that you understand a very critical point. A scale is made of a specific series of whole steps and half steps. The place at which these happen, defines its character.

For example, a Major scale will always and only have half steps at degrees 3 and 4 and 7 and 8. That is the defining structure of a Major scale. No other scale has that.

Modes have them at different degrees, not the Major (Excluding Ionian of course).

The modes over chords espoused in this topic, does work, but as a lot of Jazz players will tell you, they've never used that approach. Jimmy Bruno is a noted example, and so is Joe Pass.

Furthermore, Modes over chords doesn't mean you are playing modally; it simply means you are changing key centers every chord, which works but there are other ways to go about it.

To educate simply, I will say that the Mode has everything to do with the chords they are played against. A Lydian chord, which is unarguably and truly brings out the Lydian feel is a Major7#11 type. What makes a melody Modal is its tonal center against a chord or background. What I mean by this, is whatever note it seems to want to resolve to. If you played Lydian over a static A note, like a droning bass that plays nothing but A, you'd get a feel for its Lydian-ness because the tonal center is, and can only feel centered on A.

If you added other chords, you might feel that the melody wants to pull to a different chord. Many people think they are playing Modally because they are playing A Lydian scale patterns over an E in I IV V and really, because the chord progression is clearly E major, that whole "mode" is functioning as nothing more than E Major.

Modes are the scales and the chords they are played against, in terms of application.

Because of their tendency to pull strongly to a Major key, when being used, you have to be careful. Modal music is not key based, but rather tonal based. It functions to resolve to the note it started with. Listen to Miles Davis' "So what" and it goes through Dorian in several key centers, and yet never fully feels resolved. This is why many modal progressions are simply two-chord vamps. It's very possible to use many chords for modal composition but it requires a theory background in chord composition and scale analysis such as what we teach at the Academy in some of our advanced classes.

I hope this helps some of you as to the confusing nature of Modes and their applications.


Excellent point anon101410. To be more specific, you need to ask if the key is C or A flat. i.e. for the key of C, EFGABCD is correct, however, as you see it, C D'Flat E Flat F G Flat B Flat is correct for the key of A flat. The Phrygian Mode is always the third mode of the key. - Gary M.


It seems that some of the confusion that is arising here has to do with terminology.

It seems that some think that "C Phrygian" (for instance) means: E F G A B C D

whereas others, myself included, believe "C Phrygian" refers to

C D'Flat E Flat F G Flat B Flat


So, based on the last two comments, I take it we have totally covered the mode definition and now we're on to whatever this is? - Gary M.


who cares? When you talk to people, do you really care about if it's called grammar or conjugation? Just express yourself people. just do it. Stop thinking like guitar geeks.


I hate it when I ask someone (especially guitarists) to improvise in a certain mode and they just figure out the related Dorian mode and they play their cookie-cutter licks in that mode. Ugh! Don't they know that the two sound different? Lazy jerks!


I read through the majority of these posts.

First up, yes, the modes can be subdivided into a key starting on each degree. However, you can also superimpose them on other chords. In other words, borrow from another scale/key in order to spice up your current sound.

Basically, on minor chords, lets say Am (and it's a vi chord in C major). you can use the A dorian scale to flavor it. Your major chords like I and Iv, can both use a Lydian floating on top of it. Your Mixolydian, being a V chord, can have as many alterations as the chromatic scale allows. In other words, you can play a mixolydian over it, or a diminished, or a locrian, etc. Depends on the sound you are looking for.

This is used to flavor your chords and with enough conviction, you can make anything work.

As an example, I have a song up that uses A aeolian, Ionian and Dorian, and the thing is, it flows so well that you'll miss it borrowed from another key if you not listening for it.

Another demo I did for a guy was using an Ionian vamp (C - F/C - G/C) and i used C ionian mixed with C dorian. There are lots of clashes, but it's rock and it gives it attitude. All the tritones present in that mishmash are incredible, but it works. It's all about how confident you are in your own playing and the ideas you want to pull off.

Experimentation is key for finding different sounds to add to your musical palette.

Anyway, keep well. Hope this helps you. --Peter


You are correct. "A" is the 6 of the "key of C" and the sixth is minor. so are the 2,3,7 5b. In other words, the second, third, seven 5b are the minor modes and the first, fourth, and fifth are the major modes. Why? because the third note is either two whole steps from the root (or tonic note)= major or 1.5 steps from the root = minor. It is the third that gives major / minor quality.


Uhm, regarding post #56, A minor also uses all white keys on piano.


for anon84460, re writing in modes:

1) first off you have a misunderstanding by calling the Aeolian Mode a key. It is commonly referred to a Minor Key, however, technically there is no such thing as a minor key. The key is always the Ionian mode - period.

2) As for writing a song in a particular mode, you can mix and match any of the corresponding chords in the key any way you like. you can even change keys if you want within the song. The Major chords are 1,4,5. the minor chords are 2,3,6,7. Hope this helps. - gmahan


I don't get it; you can write a song in a major key (Ionian) or in a minor key (Aeolian), so why not the rest of the modes?


For the Piano person: 1) The key of C is the only key with no sharps or flats. i.e. the notes in the key of C are: C-D-E-F-G-A-B. Please note that on a Piano, All of the "white key" notes correspond to the key of C -- period.

Since all seven modes are based on the notes in the key, of course you can play all seven modes by only using the white keys!

However, this will not be possible when you change the key to any other key. - gmahan


All modes are scales but not all scales are modes.


I Don't Particularly Like Maximum Alcohol Limits.


I Don't Particularly Like Modes A Lot -- that's how I remember.


another way to remember the modes:

If Dora Plays Like Me All's Lost









Here's one more follow-up to my last comment about "playing all 7 modes on just the white keys." (Yes, you can!)

A song that's played on all white keys, AND that emphasizes "C" and "G" (and "F" ... I, V, IV ...) will "sound like" C Major. Mode #1.

Play a melody that starts with "E" and emphasizes "B" and "A" (again, as I, V, IV ...) and, "say, hey, it doesn't sound like all-white-keys anymore." You can hear, feel, that the notes are "pulling" differently against one another. That's Mode #3.

I "kept the notes easy to visualize," by moving the starting position which allowed me to keep the notes the same ("all white keys"). I also kept it simple by avoiding Latin words.

You can do it the other way: you can work out what a shifted-by-one, "WHWWWHW" pattern looks like starting with "C" (it won't be all-white-keys anymore). You can even give it a Latin name: "Dorian Mode."

But first, make it easy and just fool around with those "all white keys" starting at (and emphasizing) different starting notes. You are, indeed, playing in all seven "modes" when you do just that. And you can easily see why it works.

It's not the notes: it's the intervals between them.


Once again we come full circle to the original question, "what's the difference between scales and modes?". You make your own decision. For me, I like simplicity.

(1) the only difference I find between a scale and a mode is that a mode will only contain the notes of the key. As soon as you add or alter a note, you are no longer in a mode! therefore, you must be in a scale!

(2) There is no definition of a mode that will not fit a scale also! (prove me wrong).

(3) Some people insist that there is a difference between a mode and a scale and they caused me a lot of confusion I must say. Until I finally knew my modes and scales and could ask direct questions re what exactly is the difference. Their answer is blabber-talk, just reiterating the same old tech stuff that's true but doesn't help one understand. The main point of theory is to give us a language to help define an art form.

Ask a player, why did you do this in that particular measure? and he says, "I don't know, it just seemed to work." He's telling the truth. It was artistic creation.


Another good memory-jog: "In Dark Places Love Making Always Lasts."

No, a "mode" is not a "scale." It's a pattern of -intervals- (gaps) between notes; not of the notes themselves.

But, you're close! If you play "all white keys," but start and end, not on "C" but on (say) "D," you have just played the 2nd (Dorian) mode. Start and end on "E" and play all white keys and you have just played the third mode and so on.

Notice how the *interval spacing* changes: the pattern "WWHWWWH" (white-keys starting with "C") shifted one space to the left ("WHWWWHW") when you started with "D", and shifted again ("HWWWHWW") when you started with "E" and so-on.

That's what "modes" are. Patterns of intervals. Of "gaps."


correction to my chord example: it was changed when posted? the progression is:

If your progression goes dmin-fmaj-gmaj-cmaj-emin-d min that does not alter the fact that you are in the key of "c" and all of the notes are in the major scale.


Response to anon54988.

You have a pretty good grasp, however a couple of misunderstandings i will clear up for you. I hope you take this with the sincerity in which it is intended and let it expand your views.

1) Theory applies to all instruments, guitar included.

Your examples:

1) key of "c" and relating to "a" aeolian mode and "d" dorian mode.

- "A" is the 6 in the key of "c". The 6 is the aeolian mode of the key. Also, "d" is the 2 in the key of "c" the 2 is the dorian mode.

- My point is you are in the key of "c" - period.

2) Your statement re basing a song on a mode rather than the major scale. You're close.

- The major scale is the key - period.

- Song's are written in a key. (The key can change but usually doesn't or only does briefly).

- The key consists of 7 notes and 7 corresponding chords. Within the key, the 1,4,5 are major chords and the 2,3,6,7 are minor chords. (Technically, the 7 is 3b 5b, but we rarely use the 5b).

- A song is a progression of chords within the key but any progression is acceptable - period. If your progression goes dm-fm-gm-cm-em-dm that does not alter the fact that you are in the key of "c" and all of the notes are in the major scale.

3) Tonic versus tonality

- you used the correct term "tonic note". It means the root of your chord.

- Tonality?, Well now you are talking about chord theory, steps in a scale, etc. In general, tones or sounds are what make music well, music. This is where the rules end. Don't forget there is the chromatic scale and also chromatic chords.

- So generally speaking, you can play anything over anything and as long as you like the way it sounds (hopefully others do also), it works! - Period.

Fyi - since you like the 4# note (me too, it's a pretty standard sound), try a-g#-f-e in your aeolian mode. This is based on "when soloing, you can step in and out of the key for the sounds you want". We all do this.

Hope this helps.


Does anyone know how to tell from a song what mode it was written in?


1) you don't write a song in a mode. You write it in a key. So the first thing is to figure out the key.

2) The key is the major scale which is the ionian mode.

3) Now we talk about chord theory rather than modes because "a song" is chordal in its arrangement and is based on the 7 modes and corresponding chords of the key. (They may change keys on you but that's rare).

- There are 7 modes and 7 corresponding chords. The 1,4,5 are major chords. The 2,3,6,7 are minor chords. (Technically the 7 is diminished as in 3b 5b, but we usually just play it as minor, 3b).

4) Once you find the key you know what all of the chords are within that key and there you go, just follow the pattern or arrangement.

- Caution, don't be fooled by passing tones. Passing tones are dynamic as in c#/d, b-c-d etc. They are simply put in between a starting chord and ending chord to add flavor. The starting and ending chords will be in the key.

Note: if you don't know what I'm talking about, get yourself a good chord book and learn chord theory.


Does anyone know how to tell from a song what mode it was written in? I've barely been able to figure out any of this mode stuff and all I can find is things to tell me how to write it. Not how to figure out what mode the song is.


I have found the easiest way to learn the modes is to play them over and over in every key and just let the sounds of them sink in. Try not to be too intellectual about it. At first you may have to check the intervals to see if they're correct, but pretty soon you'll grasp the sound of each one, and then playing them becomes natural and automatic.


I come at this from a guitar perspective, so that colors this a bit: a lot of the advice above is bad. Modes have to do with tonality, and in particular, tonic notes.

If you're playing in the key of C, for instance, and you have a measure of the A minor chord, try playing A Aeolian lines, because while the notes of A Aeolian are in the key of C, the natural "tonic" or tonality of A Aeolian draws back to the A in the A minor chord. And when the measures turn to the D minor chord (still playing in the key of C) try playing Dorian lines.

Alternately, an entire song can be based off of a mode rather than the major scale. So a song in D Dorian would have chords like C major and F major in it, which the key of D major generally won't (since D major has a sharp C and sharp F). It is this change of tonic that gives the song a distinctive feel (like, for instance, Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead or Alive, whose chord progression is in D Dorian, not D major).

So modes can open up new worlds for soloing and improvisation (so you're not just playing D major scales over your D major song), but can also alter the way you look at building chord progressions. It makes experimenting with new and rare intervals (I absolutely love that sharp fourth in Lydian!) and give you new melodic ideas.


And, to add on to what I posted earlier, there is a difference between the (for example) F Lydian and the Lydian in the Key of F, so don't get those two phrases mixed up. An "F Lydian" is F G A B C D E F, making it in the Key of C, but a Lydian in the Key of F is

Bb C D E F G A Bb, making it a Bb Lydian.

This works for each of the other modes as well.

Cheers, Shikuto


For anyone who is still confused about the difference between the Key and the Mode, here is my explanation.

There are seven modes for every key that you play, thus technically there are 105 modes. (15 keys times 7 modes per key)

Say you are in the Key of C (C D E F G A B C)

and you play the Ionian mode in the key of C. That is C D E F G A B C.

Then you play the Lydian in the Key of C.

That would be F G A B C D E F.

Then you switch to the key of Bb (Bb C D Eb F G A Bb) and play the Ionian in the key of Bb.

That would be Bb C D Eb F G A Bb.

Then you play the Phrygian(Phygian) in the key of Bb.

That would be D Eb F G A Bb C D.

Basically, you take a key, and assuming you think of it in the Ionian at first, making the 1 of that key be the same as the name of the key (The 1 of Bb is Bb and the 1 of G is G, etc. in Ionian).

Then you take the 1 of that key as Ionian, the 2 as the Dorian, the 3 as the Phrygian, the 4 as Lydian, the 5th as Mixolydian, the 6th as Aeolian, the 7th as Locrain, and the 8th(1st) as the Ionian, you can use modes and understand how they work.

Here is a list of the modes in the different Major keys (This was a pain in the gludeus maximus.)

Key of C -

Ionian - C D E F G A B C

Dorian - D E F G A B C D

Phrygian - E F G A B C D E

Lydian - F G A B C D E F

Mixolydian - G A B C D E F G

Aeolian - A B C D E F G A

Locrain - B C D E F G A B

Key of F -

Ionian - F G A Bb C D E F

Dorian - G A Bb C D E F G

Phrygian - A Bb C D E F G A

Lydian - Bb C D E F G A Bb

Mixolydian - C D E F G A Bb C

Aeolian - D E F G A Bb C D

Locrain - E F G A Bb C D E

Key of Bb -

Ionian - Bb C D Eb F G A Bb

Dorian - C D Eb F G A Bb C

Phrygian - D Eb F G A Bb C D

Lydian - Eb F G A Bb C D Eb

Mixolydian - F G A Bb C D Eb F

Aeolian - G A Bb C D Eb F G

Locrain - A Bb C D Eb F G A

Key of Eb

Ionian - Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb

Dorian - F G Ab Bb C D Eb F

Phrygian - G Ab Bb C D Eb F G

Lydian - Ab Bb C D Eb F G Ab

Mixolydian - Bb C D Eb F G Ab Bb

Aeolian - C D Eb F G Ab Bb C

Locrain - D Eb F G Ab Bb C D

Key of Ab -

Ionian - Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab

Dorian - Bb C Db Eb F G Ab Bb

Phrygian - C Db Eb F G Ab Bb C

Lydian - Db Eb F G Ab Bb C Db

Mixolydian - Eb F G Ab Bb C Db Eb

Aeolian - F G Ab Bb C Db Eb F

Locrain - G Ab Bb C Db Eb F G

Key of Db -

Ionian - Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db

Dorian - Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db Eb

Phrygian - F Gb Ab Bb C Db Eb F

Lydian - Gb Ab Bb C Db Eb F Gb

Mixolydian - Ab Bb C Db Eb F Gb Ab

Aeolian - Bb C Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb

Locrain - C Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C

Key of Gb -

Ionian - Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F Gb

Dorian - Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F Gb Ab

Phrygian - Bb Cb Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb

Lydian - Cb Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb Cb

Mixolydian - Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb Cb Db

Aeolian - Eb F Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb

Locrain - F Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb Fb

Key of Cb

Ionian - Cb Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb Cb

Dorian - Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb Cb Db

Phrygian - Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb

Lydian - Fb Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb Fb

Mixolydian - Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb Fb Gb

Aeolian - Ab Bb Cb Db Eb Fb Gb Ab

Locrain - Bb Cb Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb

Key of G -

Ionian - G A B C D E F# G

Dorian - A B C D E F# G A

Phrygian - B C D E F# G A B

Lydian - C D E F# G A B C

Mixolydian - D E F# G A B C D

Aeolian - E F# G A B C D E

Locrain - F# G A B C D E F#

Key of D -

Ionian - D E F# G A B C# D

Dorian - E F# G A B C# D E

Phrygian - F# G A B C# D E F#

Lydian - G A B C# D E F# G

Mixolydian - A B C# D E F# G A

Aeolian - B C# D E F# G A B

Locrain - C# D E F# G A B C#

Key of A -

Ionian - A B C# D E F# G# A

Dorian - B C# D E F# G# A B

Phrygian - C# D E F# G# A B C#

Lydian - D E F# G# A B C# D

Mixolydian - E F# G# A B C# D E

Aeolian - F# G# A B C# D E F#

Locrain - G# A B C# D E F# G#

Key of E -

Ionian - E F# G# A B C# D# E

Dorian - F# G# A B C# D# E F#

Phrygian - G# A B C# D# E F# G#

Lydian - A B C# D# E F# G# A

Mixolydian - B C# D# E F# G# A B

Aeolian - C# D# E F# G# A B C#

Locrain - D# E F# G# A B C# D#

Key of B -

Ionian - B C# D# E F# G# A# B

Dorian - C# D# E F# G# A# B C#

Phrygian - D# E F# G# A# B C# D#

Lydian - E F# G# A# B C# D# E

Mixolydian - F# G# A# B C# D# E F#

Aeolian - G# A# B C# D# E F# G#

Locrain - A# B C# D# E F# G# A#

Key of F# -

Ionian - F# G# A# B C# D# E# F#

Dorian - G# A# B C# D# E# F# G#

Phrygian - A# B C# D# E# F# G# A#

Lydian - B C# D# E# F# G# A# B

Mixolydian - C# D# E# F# G# A# B C#

Aeolian - D# E# F# G# A# B C# D#

Locrain - E# F# G# A# B C# D# E#

Key of C# -

Ionian - C# D# E# F# G# A# B# C#

Dorian - D# E# F# G# A# B# C# D#

Phrygian - E# F# G# A# B# C# D# E#

Lydian - F# G# A# B# C# D# E# F#

Mixolydian - G# A# B# C# D# E# F# G#

Aeolian - A# B# C# D# E# F# G# A#

Locrain - B# C# D# E# F# G# A# B#


I totally get what this article is telling me, but I have a question. Say I'm writing a song in C major(to keep it simple). If I write a solo over the C major chord, can I solo in C lydian or C mixolydian because they're major modes? similarly soloing in A dorian or A Phrygian over the Aminor chord? Is that what's up? Because I write songs all the time in different "modes", meaning I'll write in the key of C major but start on Aminor or Fmajor or whatever, but when I solo I always stay in the key of C major, never straying from the 7 notes in the key.


I think I'm finally getting modes. Free advice: memorize the mode names in order, starting with Ionian. That way, if you see F Lydian but don't know the key, you can figure it out quickly (C). I have a friend strum a G chord and I'll play different scales starting on G. It really helps me hear what the mode has to offer.


Great article. I have been struggling with understanding modes and this really clarified the concept. For those still struggling here are some things that has helped me: Remember that when playing over six strings a scale is repeated twice. Try playing only the first three strings/ (i.e. to the first octave you come to. This makes it easier to see the concept. Modes are not scales, they are voicings of the scale. Some modes sound major, while others sound minor. Simple. Modes merely refer to where you begin/end on the particular scale (root note). The scale does not change; the key, however, does. Don't let the names confuse you. As you find the modes you like look up their name. Just remember what number you started on within the scale. Use only the major pentatonic scale while learning. It really simplifies things and most lessons refer to it. Learn it on all the strings and know it well. good luck all!


for some reason the post I just made to anon34004 says it was made by anon 36580...don't know how that happened!!


anon 34004 - interesting method to find a lydian OF G and not G lydian. First time I've heard the term "lydian OF...." Of course, the Key of G has F# (7th note in the G scale) in it, which is the only difference between the Key of G and The Key of C. So, what you end up with is that you are playing C lydian (sharped 4th in Key of C = F#) and the note G is the 5th note in the lineup. Do you have similar methods for phrygian, mixolydian, aeolian? How about other keys?


very good point anon34004. I usually don't think of modes at all but rather sounds - period... However, sometimes (especially a new tune on the fly) I do need to resort to the key and when I change modes I always think in terms of the Ionian mode.


i do not think about modes like this really.

i try to steer away from thinking of the dorian as a flat3, flat 7 and the lydian as a raised 4 etc etc.

i just think in the terms that if i was to play a lydian OF g. (note: not lydian ON g) i know that lydian is the 4th mode, so i can count from g, up 4 notes in the g scale.

g, a, b, c

so i know to play all the notes in the g major scale from c to c.

this way of thinking is much easier for me

as all you have to know is how to count and your major scales flats/sharps and you can play every mode.

if you were asked to play a dorian ON g for example.

you still count, but this time count backward because what they are asking for is g to g in dorian.

so dorian is the 2nd mode, so count back two, so you get to your major.

g, f

so you will play from g to g, with all the notes in the f major scale.

something like

g, a, b flat, c, d, e, f, g

this just tries to eliminate thinking of modes as different scales

they all link into your major scale directly.


Funkbass - Thanks for your post! Good explanation. I wonder, though, is the reason for knowing modes mainly for guitar players - so they can play solos and know what/where to sharp/flat notes? I play piano and just learned of modes last summer and was curious about them. I can play from fake books so I know the chords, major, minor, dim, etc. but when I saw your post calling Dm7 D dorian and Em7 E phrygian, etc. that seemed to simplify the "thought process."



They are scales, but the key signature and interval rules apply for every key. If you're

playing the Dorian mode of C, just remember you

play D E F G A B C D. So the Dorian mode of G is

A B C D E F# G A, and so on. The interval W-H-W-W-W-H-W) applies, regardless of what key you're in.

One way this is written is the Roman numeral style. This example is in the key of C

I Ionian chord cegb CMaj7

II Dorian chord dfac Dmin7

III Phrygian chord egbd Emin7

IV Lydian chord face FMaj7

V Mixolydian chord gbdf G7

VI Aeolian chord aceg Amin7

VII Locrian chord bdfa Bminb57

Now try this. I, VI, II, V. or I, VI, IV, V,

C Am Dm G C Am F G

Staying in the key of C, you'll hear how about

10,000 ballads and blues tunes were written.

I remember how much fun grasping this stuff was

when learning walking bass.


re musicinme... I believe what you are talking about is chord theory, not modes. Although the 3b 7b comments are correct, it's more about the intervals in a mode opposed to the 1-3-5 + alternates when you're talking about chords.


I think the one thing missing in these discussions about the different modes is that you need to compare the mode to the original scale. The D dorian scale( where you have the 3rd and 7th notes flatted) compared to D major scale where the 3rd and 7th notes are *not* flatted but rather sharped shows the *reason* it is called D dorian and not simply D major.

Another thing to think about is being able to relate a song to a mode. For example, the song "Maria" from the Sound of Music would *not* be what it is (its unique sound) if it weren't for the *Lydian* scale...the reason being that in the key of C, the notes go C to F# to G for the melody. If you were to play it in any other *key*, for example the key of D, the melody would be D to G# to A because the 4th note in the key of D is G so it is the one that gets sharped. Hope this helps someone somewhere!


One thing to remember is, that although you are playing the same notes as an Ionian scale, you have to *emphasize* different notes based upon the key in which you are playing. Otherwise, your scale will sound Ionian despite the different key you are in. This takes some getting used to and is the nucleus of what you must practice.


Great article. What helps me to remember the spacing is to look at a keyboard. Find C, and play all the white keys until I arrive at the next C (Ionian). The next mode appears when you move up one note, to D (Dorian), and again, play all the white keys, the spacing of intervals is the next mode. Do this again, and again for each mode.

Or, write out the intervals on a paper; W-W-H-W-W-W-H, and repeat so that it looks like this; W-W-H-W-W-W-H-W-W-H-W-W-W-H. Cover the last half of the sequence, and you have Ionian. Then, cover the first step, and move the covered steps up one step. Do this for each mode, and you can see the relation between the intervals.


To understand modes, do this:

1. Learn how to play the G Major (a.k.a. Ionian) scale.

2. Play a solo by improvising with these notes, but remember that your root note is G. There! You just played a G Ionian (a.k.a. major) solo. Notice how "Major" it sounded.

3. Play a solo using *the same notes*, but this time think of your root note as A. In other words, play a solo in A, but use only the notes found in the G Major scale. There! You just played an A Dorian solo. Notice how "Dorian" it sounded.

4. Again, still using only the notes from the G Major scale, play a solo rooted at B. There! You just played a B Phrygian solo. Notice how "Phrygian" it sounded.

5. Now play a solo in C Lydian and notice how "Lydian" it sounds.

6. Now play a solo in D Mixolydian and notice how "Mixolydian" it sounds.

7. Now play a solo in E Aeolian (a.k.a. minor) and notice how minor (a.k.a. Aeolian) it sounds. (The natural minor scale is just a mode of the major scale. The "relative minor" of G major is E minor. The "relative major" of E minor is G major. Also, A=F#m, C=Am, D=Bm, etc.)

8. The final note of the G major scale that we haven't "rooted" on is F#. Play a solo in F#, but use only the notes of the G major scale. There! You just played a solo in F# Locrian. Notice how "Locrian" it sounds.

9. Now just realize that the major scale has 7 notes in it. Therefore is has 7 potential "starting points" or "root points" or "modes". If your buddies are playing in D major, you might try playing a solo in D Dorian (which is a mode of C major, and has all of the notes of C major, but you'd be thinking "D Dorian"). Or you might just solo in D major along with them (a.k.a. D Ionian). Or maybe try D Phrygian for a different feel. All of these modes can be thought of as totally different scales, but what makes them modes of eachother is that they all contain exactly the same notes.

Hope this helps!



I like remembering them as I Don't Punish Little Monkeys After Lunch :) Enjoy!


Response to bitster:

What you are actually saying is this: you want to play a aeolian mode over the key of c. The answer is, you certainly can, but it assumes you like the way it sounds (and so do others). You are definitely on the right track. - Gm


This is very interesting reading.. I am a Rock / Metal / Country guitar soloist and my input follows.

1) For the styles of music I play I find I travel in and out of most all of the modes... for example if you consider the starting note as "the root or 1" of the scale then the intervals between the root, 2,3,4,5,6,7 vary as the mode varies. If the sound I want is a 2b (flat2) then it must be from either the phrygian or locrian modes. etc. I don't think in "modes" anymore, but rather "sounds". However, I recognize that I learned the sounds (of the varying intervals) by learning the modes.

Today, I think more in terms of the Key, the major scale (ionian mode), and when I step out of the key I think chromatically (where anything goes, notes and chords). Don't you just love music theory... I certainly do?


can someone tell me if this is correct? if i want to play in the key of C ionian major, but i want to use the aeolian mode A major t-s-t-t-s-t-t, i would start on C and still end on a C? so i can play any of the seven modes in any key? they will always end on the same note e2e or a2a etc..?


Please *help* me. OK, so there's seven modes to a scale.

Does this mean I can play in C ionian,

but use the E phrygian mode of h-w-w-w-h-w-w ????


Hi I think what he means is that modes are just different ways of playing the scale.

I'm thinking of it like the scale is a planet and the modes are different continents each having there own lifestyle? Hope I'm getting closer to understanding it all myself.

Anon has helped me bigtime. My only thing is can you go deeper on your subject about-- If you look at the position of the whole tones and the semitones, you will see that as you play each mode, one after the other in order, the semitones (H) are moved one place to the left?


This article and it's comments has helped greatly in refreshing my mind about modes, thank you!

Specifically, the fact that you can play in desired mode without having to know huge amounts of music theory, by finding the relevant major scale you are likely to already be familiar with, i.e. you want to play in F lydian, so play with your C major scale but start on and focus around the F instead!


OK, so if I'm playing in C, I could use Aeolian since A's the relative minor of C, and does that mean I could also use F#, which is the relative minor of a?


For those who don't get the theory behind modes, here's a simplified version. You know that the Ionian mode is your basic C major scale, consistent of CDEFGABC. E to F is a natural half step, as is B to C. This form the pattern of 1 2 3-4 5 6 7-8, dashes symbolizing half steps. For example, from C, you can go up to C# and then to D, which is 2 half steps, making 1 whole step. The pattern stays the same; it's just the starting note for each mode changes.

For your basic C major scale:

Ionian: 1 2 3-4 5 6 7-8 starts on C

Dorian: 1 2-3 4 5 6-7 8 starts on D

Phrygian: 1-2 3 4 5-6 7 8 starts on E

Lydian: 1 2 3 4-5 6 7-8 starts on F

Mixolydian: 1 2 3-4 5 6-7 8 starts on G

Aeolian: 1 2-3 4 5-6 7 8 starts on A

Locrian: 1-2 3 4-5 6 7 8 starts on B

For every scale, whatever flats and sharps still apply.


They are just different scales, if you start looking for different types of scales you'll find hundreds of them. You could probably spend a lifetime memorizing scale boxes and be left with some to yet to discover.


The subject of modes has always bothered me a bit. Why would you tell someone to play E Phrygian instead of just C major? Why complicate a simple scale with 7 modes?

Well, I think the answer is that some song forms coincide with particular modes. Most rock and blues seem to agree with the Dorian mode. A blues rock song based around a D tonal center, having a D, D5, Dm, or D7 as the 1st chord can have a ripping solo in D Dorian, and it makes more sense to call it that than simply C major. Its a song in D so call it by its mode, not its base scale (key?).


Locrian mode does have uses...

it is used as a modulation when soloing with the diminished scale over the harmonic minor in genres as diverse as jazz, blues, and heavy metal. Also, in various sub genres of metal, it is the main key used in many songs; for example, metallica's "enter sandman" is written in E locrian. also, the opposite of my initial back-up may occur: a locrian solo modulating into the harmonic minor and/or phrygian may also be played over a rhythm based on the diminished. You see both examples used in modern rock music.


how do these modes of music help to inspire people??


Why do we use the mode we do? Does a change in mode involve re-tempering the scale? Can a computer change a Beethoven Symphony in a particular key into the same key in another mode and what would it sound like?


It is easier to understand modes (or "method") by examining origins. People of the world (almost universally) accept the 13 steps of the octave as now based on notes determined by the use of the 12th root of 2 (1.05946321). Three main world systems of music have been established by specific selection and exclusion of these 12 notes: Pentatonic (five notes of the octave used by the oriental people), Hexatonic (six notes of the octave used by the people of the Middle East), and Septatonic (seven notes of the octave used by people of Western Europe.

Each of these note systems can be easily understood by the use of a standard 12-hour clock. Pentatonic places the five notes at 1:00, 4:00, 6:00, 8:00, and 11:00. Hexatonic places the six notes at 1:00, 3:00, 6:00, 8:00. 9:00 and 12:00. Septatonic places the seven notes at 1:00, 3:00, 4:00, 6:00, 8:00, 9:00, and 11:00. The missing notes were not named, numbered, or existent in most instruments.

Names were given to each of the notes in the three systems, which, in the case of the septatonic, were letters of the alphabet. The note at 1:00 was given A, the note at 3:00 was named B, and so on around. Going one step further, The vocal solfeggio system was devised as a way to attach a given musical pitch to a given note (rather than just talk about note names and locations. In solfeggio, 1=A=La begins the low-octave note, 3=B=Ti, 4=C=Do, 6=D=Re, 8=E=Fa, 11=G=So, and 13(1)=A=La completes the high octave note.

These notes are the same as the seven strings of an ancient stand-up or lap-top harp, or the white keys of the piano or organ today. It therefore comes as no surprise to realize that musicians did not just form their melodies from one starting point, but increased the variety and interest of music by the simple technique of starting their melodies on any one of the seven notes (or the five or six note systems of the orient and Middle East). An octave started at each of the seven different starting points had its own name, or ”mode”: A=Aeolian, B=Locrian,C= Ionian. D-Dorian, E=Phrygian, F=Lydian, G=Mixolydian-- each scale producing its own flavor of music, dark or light. Octaves started on C, F, and G produced sunny, light-hearted (“major”) music, while octaves starting on A, D, or E produced darker, moody “minor” music. The scale starting on B didn’t seem to go anywhere important, and is essentially a scale without friends, but trying to find some.

Modal music persisted until the introduction of the “black” keys— a simple evolution to allow pitch adjustment for vocalists—at which time the uncomplicated seven-mode system fell apart by having, not the original seven systems but rather gaining 77 more, and being reduced to the now-familiar “Diatonic” scale (the ancient Ionian mode, or Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do) with the incredibly complex key system of sharps and flats. It may come as a surprise, however, to discover that the majority (85%) of the music we listen to today is made of the same exact modal structure (though not necessarily the same ancient starting point in the octave) as music was in the past—identical for the most part, with the exception of the language used to describe it.

The most popular mode (if it can be called that now) is Mixolydian, with its wonderful exclusive inclusion of what we now call the flatted 7th note. No other “major” mode had it, though it exists in the three “minor” modes.

It turns out that the selection of the particular seven notes and the ensuing modal scales found in Western European music was a pure stroke of genius, (although a “cheap parlor trick” for prodigious writing of tunes), giving us the greatest amount of musical enjoyment for centuries. But then, when the “black” keys were introduced around 1300 AD, music was given an astronomical boost in power on the ever-present foundation of modes, from which we may never recover.


I think of modes as distinct keys just like Major and Minor (which are basically just the Ionian and Aeolian modes except Minor usually has a raised 7th). Although some like Dorian and Phrygian may have a minor tonality they are all unique.


I've been struggling to understand the concept of modes and how they are used. do they follow the chord sequences in a song for example or do you choose a mode and play it throughout the piece?



What are modes used for? If i were to write a song would i use one mode? do they apply to notes or chords?


If you look at the position of the whole tones and the semitones, you will see that as you play each mode, one after the other in order, the semitones (H) are moved one place to the left.

This indicates that to play in a certain mode, all you need to do is play a major scale over one of it's key chords. So you could figure out which mode you are playing when using the C major scale and playing over the chords C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, and Bmflat5.

Best thing is to record yourself playing a particular chord, and then try playing major scales in various different keys over the top of yourself to see what each one sounds like. Then figure out what it's called and why it sounds that way.


think about the white keys (only) of a piano - if you have a keyboard nearby it helps to visualize the whole step and half steps

c to c is a major scale cdefgabc

d to d is dorian mode defgabcd

e to e is phrygian mode efgabcde

f to f is lydian mode fgabcdef

g to g is mixolydian mode gabcdefg

a to a is aeolian mode abcdefga (also known as natural minor)

b to b is locrian mode bcdefgab (not as usable but who am I to judge?)

the minor scale types are

natural minor or aeolian mode


harmonic minor


melodic minor

abcdeF#G#a (going up or ascending)

agfedcba (going down or descending)


modes are a variation of a scale.

each scale has 8 tones, and all modes do are alter where the half and whole tones lay in the scale.

there are 7 modes to a scale. they just change what the tones are within the scale according to the whole tone/ half tone pattern.

a way to see how modes sound different is by starting on middle C, and doing a scale upward.

then start on D, and play the WHITE keys only to d again.

Then do it with E, F, G, A, and B. you will be to hear a difference in the way the scale is composed. this is due to the different tonality patterns.


No. From this article, it appears clearly that there are seven modes to a scale. Therefore modes are inherent constituents of a scale and not the same thing.

I don't fully comprehend modes yet but this article has helped a lot in a succinct fashion.


So this is probably a dumb question, but is "mode" just another word for "scale" in music? The words seem to be used interchangeably here.

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