Mode

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In the modern western understanding of scales, a mode (or rotation) of a periodic scale is an ordering of the scale's pitch classes determined by choosing one of the pitch classes as the starting/ending point. The chosen pitch class is the tonal center of the mode. Together, a tonal center and a mode form a key.

Modes are mostly used in the context of tonal or modal music, i.e. as opposed to atonal music, since their definition implies a tonal center.

Examples

The diatonic scale has seven different modes. The following table shows the modes of the diatonic scale built on the white keys (C-D-E-F-G-A-B) and in the key of D. The modes can be sorted according to their tonal center (sort by note names (white keys)) or their position in the circle of fifths (sort by step pattern)

Modes of the diatonic scale
Name Step pattern Note names
(white keys)
Note names
(in D)
Ionian (major) LLsLLLs C D E F G A B (C) D E F# G A B C# (D)
Dorian LsLLLsL D E F G A B C (D) D E F G A B C (D)
Phrygian sLLLsLL E F G A B C D (E) D Eb F G A Bb C (D)
Lydian LLLsLLs F G A B C D E (F) D E F# G# A B C# (D)
Mixolydian LLsLLsL G A B C D E F (G) D E F# G A B C (D)
Aeolian (natural minor) LsLLsLL A B C D E F G (A) D E F G A Bb C (D)
Locrian sLLsLLL B C D E F G A (B) D Eb F G Ab Bb C (D)

Properties

A scale has as many modes as the number of tones that it contains within a period. For example:

  • the diatonic scale has 7 different modes, because it has 7 tones per period of 1 octave, and 7 possible keys as well;
  • the octatonic diminished scale only has 2 different modes, because it has 2 tones per period of 1/4 octave, but it has 8 possible keys, since any of the 8 pitch classes of the scale can be chosen as the tonal center.
English Wikipedia has an article on:

In an equal-step tuning, any mode of any supported scale can be built on any tone of the chosen tuning, i.e. it is possible to transpose to any key while keeping the same scale and mode. In unequal tunings, each key can have a different scale pattern, therefore different but somewhat similar-sounding modes, which leads to a phenomenon called key coloration.

Mathematical definition

Main article: Periodic scale#Rotations

See also