Music Modes: 7 Modal Scales and Their Relation To Chords

Music Modes: 7 Modal Scales and Their Relation To Chords
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The 7 Greek music modes, also called in their use today, music modal scales, are built on each of the seven notes of the Major diatonic scale.

Major Diatonic Scale, base of the music modal scales

The major diatonic scale, the main scale of music, is the basis of the Music Modes or modal scales. Thus, taking the Key of C as an example, it is made up of the following sequence of notes:

I. C
V. G

That is, the C Major scale contains all the musical notes without accidentals, without sharps, and without flats. This is the scale that will serve as a model for the rest of the tones (D, E, F, etc.).

Also, the Roman numerals to the left of each note refer to the degree they occupy on the scale.

And the distance in tones and semitones between each consecutive note in the sequence is:

T – T – 1/2 – T- T – T – 1/2 or it can also be written T – T- ST – T – T- T- ST.

Where T means a whole tone -two successive frets on the guitar- and 1/2 (or ST) means a half tone or a semitone -one fret-.

Therefore, the structure of this scale is as follows:

– Tone – D – Tone – E – 1/2 Tone – F – Tone –  G – Tone – A – Tone – B – 1/2 Tone – C

     First Tetrachord Second Tetrachord

Thus, this scale can be divided into two equal parts of four notes each, called tetrachords.

The first tetrachord contains the first four notes: CDEF. And the second, the following four: GABC. Thus, the two tetrachords have the same structure, TT-1/2, and between the two tetrachords the distance is one tone (T).

How Music Modes Are Formed

The Music modes or modal scales are seven, as seven are also the notes of the major diatonic scale. Thus, starting from each of these notes, a scale is formed. These seven scales are the music modal scales or Greek modes in modern Western music.

Nomenclature of Greek modes

The name of each of the modal scales is:

  1. Ionian
  2. Dorian
  3. Phrygian
  4. Lydian
  5. Mixolydian
  6. Aeolian
  7. Locrian

The nomenclature of the modes comes from Ancient Greece, although at this time they were used in another way, such as tetrachord combinations. Later in the Middle Ages they are called ecclesiastical or Gregorian modes, although they were also a bit different from what we are going to see here.

In this article we will stick to its use in modern western music applied to the guitar.

Notes for each of the modal scales

The seven modal scales share the same notes, but arranged differently.

Each of them begins in each of the degrees of the Major scale. However, they respect the same key signature alterations of the key to which they belong.

The key of C Major, like its scale, has no accidentals (sharps or flats, # or b) in its key signature. Therefore, the Greek modes that arise from each of the degrees of this scale do not have them either.

In the case of the other tones, all the Greek modal scales or modes that start from each of their degrees respect the alterations of their armor.

For example, D major and its modes, arising from this key, have two sharps, which are F # and C #.

G Major has a sharp, F #. The Greek modes that belong to this key also have F #.

Or finally, a different example, the key of B flat Major, contains two accidentals, which this time are two notes with flat: Bb and Eb.

The other shades follow the same logic as the previous examples.

So, we are going to see the notes that make up the modal scales in the key of C Major and, by deduction, we can build them in the other tones.

Notes of the modal scales of the key of C Major

We have seen that the modal scales are built on each of the degrees and also the name of each mode. Now we are going to see what notes make up each one.

Music ModeNotes (modal scale)Intervals
IonianC – D – E – F – G – A – B – CRoot – 2m – 3m – 4j – 5j – 6m – 7m – 8
DoricD – E – F – G – A – B – C – DRoot – 2m – 3m – 4j – 5j – 6m – 7m – 8
PhrygianE – F – G – A – B – C – D – ERoot – 2m – 3m – 4j – 5j – 6m – 7m – 8
LydianF – G – A – B – C – D – E – FRoot – 2M – 3M – 4+ – 5j – 6M – 7M – 8
MixolydianG – A – B – C – D – E – F – GRoot – 2m – 3m – 4j – 5j – 6m – 7m – 8
AeolianA – B – C – D – E – F – G – ARoot – 2m – 3m – 4j – 5j – 6m – 7m – 8
LocrianB – C – D – E – F – G – A – BRoot – 2m – 3m – 4j – 5b – 6m – 7m – 8

Notes of the Greek Music modes of the key of A Major

Now, to give another example in another key, we are going to see the modes of the key of A major. They are the notes that arise from constructing the scales on each degree of the key of A Major applying the same intervals as in that of C in the table above.

  1. Ionian: A – B – C # – D – E – F # – G # – A
  2. Dorian: B – C# – D – E – F# – G# – A – B
  3. Phrygian: C# – D – E – F# – G# – A – B – C#
  4. Lydian: D – E – F# – G# – A – B – C# – D
  5. Mixolydian: E – F# – G# – A – B – C# – D – E
  6. Aeolian: F# – G# – A – B – C# – D – E – F#
  7. Locrian: G# – A – B – C# – D – E – F#  G#

Differences between each mode

It can be seen that each modal scale has characteristics with respect to the intervals that form it. If we take into account the 3rd interval, there are three major modes (Ionian, Lydian and Mixolydian) and four minor Doric, Phrygian, Aeolian and Locrian modes)

Among the three Major modes, there are two that have the Major 7th (Ionian and Lydian) and the other has the minor 7th (Mixolydian).

The minor modes are distinguished in that there are three that have the minor sixth (Phrygian, Aeolian and Locrius) and one that has the major 6th (Doric).

Likewise, two minor modes have the second Major (Doric and Aeolian) and two others have the 2nd minor (Phrygian and Locrius).

And there are also two modes that have the 4+ or 5ªb, one is Major (Lydian) and the other, minor (Locrian).

Therefore, it can be inferred that:

There are two Maj7 modes: Ionic and Lydian, but they differ in 4, which in the case of Ionian is fair and in Lydian it is increased (+).

There is a dominant mode (7 minor): Mixolydian. It is Major, like the Ionic and the Lydian, but it is distinguished from these in the seventh. And it also has the 5th fair.

The four minor modes are m7 (minor with minor 7th). However, the Doric has the peculiarity of the 6th Major. In the others (Phrygius, Aeolian and Locrius) the 6th is lower.

There are two minor modes with the second Major (Doric and Aeolian) and also two others with the minor sixth (Phrygius and Locrius).

And finally, there is a minor mode that has the 5th diminished (5b).

What are the music modes for? Extended chords over the modes

Extended chords of the modal scales or Greek modes.

The Music modes are seven ways of interpreting the scale. We know that the Major scale has seven notes and a modal scale is formed on each of them, but a chord is also built.

In scales, the sequence of notes is by seconds, that is, all consecutive, while in chords, they are arranged by thirds. Likewise, in the Greek music modes the notes sound separately and in the chords, they sound simultaneously.

As you may have imagined, each Greek music mode or modal scale that starts from a degree of the Major scale, corresponds to a chord, and also, these chords are going to be different from each other.

Thus, this entire introduction is to explain that, depending on the type of harmony that is presented to us in the composition, improvisation or development of a melody, we can associate each type of chord with a music mode or another -or modal scale-.

Chords in each degree of the major key

We have already seen above the notes that each mode has. And, since the modes are scales, their sequence is by seconds, that is, by adjacent and consecutive notes and their arrangement, horizontal.

However, in the case of chords, the notes are arranged by thirds and vertically.

C MajorD minorE minorF MajorG MajorA minorB m/5b

In this table it can be seen that there are some degrees on which Major chords are built, other minor ones and a minor one with a diminished 5th or flat 5th.

In particular there are three degrees with major chords, the I, the IV and the V; there are three minors, II, III and VI, and also a minor / 5b, VII.

Establishing the correspondence of these chords on each degree with the modal scales that are also formed on each of them we can see that:

  1. Ionian, Major
  2. Doric, minor
  3. Phrygian, minor
  4. Lydian, Major
  5. Mixolydian, Major
  6. Aeolian, minor
  7. Locrian, m / 5b

Using the Greek modes in relation to chords

Let’s go a little further and order all the notes in each scale by thirds creating seven-note chords. Thus we will have all the tensions that each mode supports.

We do all the examples with the key of C. To achieve the same results in other keys, just apply the same system by changing the Tonic and key signature.


Well, in this table each mode is developed by third parties and, in this way, we can know the characteristics of each of them and the mode or scale that we can use for each type of chord. We will see each mode separately.

Chords or harmonization of each Music Mode

Now we will see the chord typologies that each of the Greek music modes supports, the harmonization of modal scales.

Ionian mode

We have seen that the ionic mode contains the intervals of Tonic, 2ªM, 3ªM, 4ªj, 5ªj, 6ªM, and 7ªM.

The triad chord in this way is a Major chord with the 5th just. The four note chord for this mode is maj7, five note maj7 / 9. It also supports 6th chords. The 11 chord is not normally used in this mode, as it is usually with the minor 7th. Yes you can use the sus chord (substituting the 3rd for the 4th).

Chords built on the Ionian mode occupy the Tonic function.

Doric mode

Let us remember the intervals of the Doric mode: Tonic, 2ªM, 3ªm, 4ªj, 5ªj, 6ªM and 7ªm.

The basic triad chord in this mode is the minor chord (m). The four note chord can be an m7 or m6 chord. Whenever a minor chord appears with a Major 6th, this mode will correspond to it. The five-note chords in Doric mode are m9 (carries the 7th m) and m6 / 9. Six note chord, m11.

The function of the chords built on the Doric Mode is II degree. In modal harmony they can appear as a tonic of a minor key such as the m6 chord.

Phrygian mode

The intervals of the Phrygian Mode are: Tonic, 2ªm, 3ªm, 4ªj, 5ªj, 6ªm and 7ªm.

This mode supports the m7 or m11 chords depending on the III degree.

The Phrygian Mode has a version in which it becomes Major due to the alteration of the 3rd (This is a mode of the harmonic minor scale): Tonic, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th.

In this case its function is dominant in the wind mode (for example, E7 – Am).

It can also occupy the function of Tonic, as a Major chord, in the so-called Spanish cadence (E – F – G).

Lydian mode

Lydian Mode Intervals: Tonic, 2ªM, 3ªM, 4ªaum, 5ªj, 6ªM and 7ªM.

It is a major mode with 7th M, therefore the basic chord is Major with just 5th and the four note chord is Maj7. It also admits chords with Major with 6th. With five notes the resulting chord is Maj9, and with six notes, the chord is Maj7 / 11 #, also coded as Δ.

Its harmonic function is of IV degree although it can also appear as Tonic in modal harmony.

Mixolydian mode

The Mixolydian Mode contains the following intervals: Tonic, 2ªM, 3ªM, 4ªj, 5ªj, 6M and 7ªm.

The basic chord in this mode is a four note chord, the 7th chord, of course also has the 3rdM and 5thj.

The chords that it supports are all with the minor 7th, that is 9, 11, 13, without alterations, since for altered chords other modes are used that come from other scales, such as the Melodic Minor Scale.

Aeolian Mode

The Aeolian, Mode is located on the VI degree of the Major key and is its relative. It is the tonic of the minor key.

The chords that are built on this mode are the minor (m), with a minor third and a perfect fifth, the m7, the m9 and the m11. It does not support the m6, since the 6th in this way is less.

It occupies the harmonic function of VI degree and also the I of the minor key

Locrian mode

The last mode is Locrian and it is the most different from the others. Its intervals are. Tonic, 2nd m, 3rd m, 4th m, 5b (dim), 6th m and 7th m. It is a minor chord with a diminished 5 and a minor seventh.

The three-note chord is m / 5b and the four-note chord, also called semi-diminished, is the m7 / 5b chord. The semi-diminished chord is distinguished from the diminished one in that the first has the 7th m, while in the second, the 7th is diminished.

The five-note chords m11 / 5b are also used with this mode, as long as 11 is higher than 5b. 6 note chords are with 13b, m5b / 13b.

Do you want to delve into the Greek Music Modes or Modal Scales?

Explanatory video of the Music Modes or Modal Scales:

Which of the Greek Music Modes or Modal Scales do you like the most? Leave us your comment below.

Related articles: Pentatonic scale for guitar and CAGED system: how to play chords across the entire fretboard.

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