Modes - The Diatonic scale family

The first and last note of a scale define the tonality of that scale. This refers to the root note of the octave, also called the key of the scale, or the tonic note.

However, which notes between octaves are selected is what defines what is called the modality of the scale. Description of modality usually needs words like 'character' and 'flavour' which are inherently subjective, but attempt to describe the emotional and subtle response to notes. Using the same diatonic pattern of intervals, but a different starting point, the octave can be split a number of ways, and so-called modes are named after the Greek tribes that formalised them.

The various modes are said to have different characteristics, usually described as major and minor.
Major characteristics can be thought of as
  • sanguine,
  • uplifting,
  • advancing,
  • yang.
Minor scale characteristics are
  • melancholic,
  • passive,
  • receeding and
  • yin.
Modal Intervals

The same inteval of patterns can be applied to divide the octave resulting in the various modes.

Equivalent Scales

An astute observer may notice something interesting once it is pointed out.

Namely, the notes in the C major (Ionian) scale can be transposed into any key. Also, the seven modes can be created from the diatonic major scale by changing the position of the root note (tonic).

Copyright © 2009 Piatra Foundation Press. All Rights Reserved.