While this post may not have immediate practical impact on your playing, it will help you to:
– understand chord naming conventions
– develop your ear
– better understand the music you listen to, play, and write
– improvise within different music genres.
All these things automatically – albeit indirectly – contribute to improving playing over time.
Remember the notes in a scale? Each note (‘degree’) in a seven-note Scale is named for its function in a piece of music. We’ll use the C major scale as our example here:
1st – root/tonic (C)
2nd – supertonic (D)
3rd – mediant (E)
4th – subdominant (F)
5th – dominant (G)
6th – submediant (A)
7th – leading (B)
There’s no need to memorise these names yet; just be aware that they exist. We’ll come back to them in future posts about writing your own music.
From any ‘parent’ scale (again, we’ll use C major as the example), we can derive additional ‘modes’ (unique scale types) by playing:
- starting on C (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C) to produce the C Ionian mode (regular Cmaj)
- starting on D (D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D) to produce the D Dorian mode
- starting on E (E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E) to produce the E Phrygian mode
- starting on F (F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F) to produce the F Lydian mode
- starting on G (G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G) to produce the G Mixolydian mode
- starting on A (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A) to produces the A Aeolian mode (regular Amin)
- starting on B (B, C, D, E, F, G, A, B) to produce the B Locrian mode
Image credit: http://www.colorado.edu (please excuse Phrygian spelling error)
Again, there’s no need to memorise these names yet, but the memory aid “I Don’t Practice Lousy Modes A Lot” might help if you are so enclined.
Although all of these scale modes employ the same set of notes, they each start on a different degree of the scale, producing a different interval pattern in each mode. This is what gives each mode its distinct sonic character. Some sound major, some sound minor, some sound ambiguous, and each has its own *feel*.
The familiar Ionian and Aeolian mode (regular major and minor) scales are obviously used liberally in contemporary Western music.
Dorian mode scales can sound sophisticated or Medieval/Celtic, and are sometimes used in jazz. Dorian mode song examples: Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles, Scarborough Fair by Simon and Garfunkel, Billie Jean by Michael Jackson, and Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple.
Phrygian mode scales have a desperado/cowboy or exotic/Spanish feel, and are used, for example, in Flamenco music. Phrygian mode song examples: Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, and the final aria of Philip Glass’s Satyagraha.
Lydian mode scales sound especially light, goofy, and happy, and can replace the regular major scale, often also being used in jazz. Lydian mode song example: The Simpsons Theme Song.
Mixolydian mode scales are common in funk, jazz, blues, and bluegrass/Southern Rock music. Mixolydian mode song examples: Norwegian Wood and Tomorrow Never Knows by The Beatles.
Locrian mode scales are not commonly used, except maybe in Death Metal. They can sound grand and opulent, or very unsettling. Locrian mode song examples: Deliverance by Opeth, Wherever I May Roam by Metallica, and Rachmaninov’s Prelude in B minor, Op. 32, No. 10.
Song of the day: Baby Can I Hold You by Tracy Chapman
If you like Baby Can I Hold You, please consider helping to support Acoustic Notes by getting it here.
applying scales: understanding the fretboard
playing major and minor scales
the purpose of sheet music
the basics of reading sheet music
reading sheet music for guitar