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Modes: don't you just love 'em?

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Modes: don't you just love 'em?

PostPosted: Wed Nov 16, 2005 7:45 pm
by David Etheridge
Hi folks,
here a beginner's guide to modes.
Many people, get confused about them (including me! :headbang:) so I'll try to cover them as clearly as possible. Obviously any contributions and/or corrections are more than welcome!

Generalising wildly, Modes have a long history back to medieval days; the days when 'official' music was the province of the church and many melodies were sung by monks in unison in chuches and monasteries.
Hence they were given names from ancient Greece (I believe) in keeping with the academic nature of the music. Remember at the time, this was the only form of written music in existence; all the other types such as folk songs were passed down orally.

Modes are basically derived from the C major scale, but each one starts on a different degree of the scale: in other words, it's liek playing each scle but only using the white notes on a piano: no sharps or flats.
Here's the basic list:

Ionian mode: C D E F G A B C. (also known as mode 1)
Dorian mode: D E F G A B C. (mode 2).
Phrygian Mode: E F G A B C D E (mode 3).
Lydian Mode: F G A B C D E F (mode 4).
Mixolydian Mode: G A B C D E F G (mode 5).
Aeolian Mode: A B C D E F G A (mode 6).
Locrian Mode: B C D E F G A B (mode 7).

Now each of these could be in any key you like, so a Locrian (mode 7) in C would be:
C Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C.

Let's look at some other (and slightly more obscure) modes: all in C to save getting confused.
Melodic minor (same as the scale): C D Eb F G A B C.
Dorian b2: C Db Eb F G A Bb C.
Lydian Augmented: C D E F# G# A B C.
Lydian Dominant: C D E F# G A Bb C.
Mixolydian b6: C D E F G Ab Bb C.
Aeolian b5: C D Eb F Gb Ab Bb C.
Super Locrian: C Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb C.

Yes, I know that all this is doing your head in, but the reason that they're useful is in regarding them as fingering mode when playing any string instrument. Whereever you are on the fretboard/fingerboard, a number of notes will lie immediately under the hand without you having to stretch your hand into agonising shapes or seeking surgery. They're particularly useful for multioctave scales, where you can split a four octave run into several modes (fingering scales or positions).

Here's a few more:
Harmonic minor scale: C D Eb F G Ab B C.
Pentatonic scale: C D E G A (like playing the black notes on the keyboard, but in a different key, natch: the black notes are in F#).
'Da Blooz' scale: C Eb F F# G Bb C.
Whole tone scale: C D E F# G# A # (Bb) C.
Diminished scle: C D Eb F Gb G# A B (C).
Augmented scale: C Db E F G# A C.

Okay, that's enough brain damage: what other ones do you know?
(I 've heard of a 'Hungarian' mode, but don't know anything about it)

Best wishes,

Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

PostPosted: Thu Nov 17, 2005 8:47 pm
by phantomfield
Has this got anything to do with those sharp dressing types with a fondness for mopeds and all things Lambretta ? ;) or am I holding the stick up the wrong way again.

..o that's mods is it. mhn.

Well presented stuff David, many thanks. Best wishes.

( sadly I've no modes of my own to suggest :frown: )

Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

PostPosted: Thu Nov 17, 2005 9:05 pm
by phantomfield
take that back...

G# A B# C# D# E# F# G#

I’ve found a mode to offer which I like. Apparently it would be in G# Mixolydian except that the A# has been dropped to A. Making it what is sometimes called a mixed mode, having characteristics of two diatonic modes. Best wishes.:)

Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

PostPosted: Thu Nov 17, 2005 10:51 pm
by David Etheridge
phantomfield wrote:

Well presented stuff David, many thanks. Best wishes.

Thanks for the appreciation. I'll be putting some stuff on Indian scales here over the weekend.

Best wishes,

Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

PostPosted: Fri Nov 18, 2005 12:58 pm
by David Etheridge
Here's some info on Indian scales and modes.
The reason that these are useful is that encompasses all sorts of extra subjects like alternate tuning scales (you may well have those lurking inside your synth but you've never seen the need for them) and microtones. So hopefully some of this info will be useful for soundtrack composers seeking that extra 'ethnic' quality to their sounds.

Now while Western practice divides up the scale into 12 semitones, and also uses equal temperament, so that all keys sound the same in the relationship of one tone to another, the Indian scale is divided up into no fewer than 22 semtones. So you can have notes that are 'out of tune' to Western ears, but are still corect. When Christian missionaries introduced the harmonium to India in the usual misguided attempt to 'convert the natives' it was taken up with enthusiasm and is still used today; however, it's something of an anomaly compared to all other Indian instruments in that it can't get those microtones.
Here's the bit about tuning: all Indian Instruments use Just Intonation, which is derived from the natural harmonic series, so that (for example) thirds, sevenths and ninths actually sound (to our ears) slightly flat. String players can find that out for themselves with the natural harmonics of each string, and brass players can get natural notes by using just lip pressure instead of the valves and pistons on the instrument.
So it's the natural overtones that gives Indian Music it's character, particularly in drones.

Now let's look at scales (he says, finally getting to the point). :headbang:
Despite the 22 notes in the octave in Indian music, scales are still seven notes, called 'Septak'. The basis of a scale corresponds exactly to the C major scale in Western Music, but the note names are different. Be aware, however, that there's no key changes or modulations, and harmony in the form of chords is virtually unknown. Also a raga can start on any note, dependent on the instrument's range, tuning, or the range of a vocalist. Ravi Shankar tunes his sitars to C#.
For simplicity, we'll use C as the tonic baseline.
Here are the notes of the scale:
C D E F G A B C.
or: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa.

Although there are up to 72 different scales available in Indian Music,
We'll just list the most common ones.
They are:
Bilawal (Ionian) : C D E F G A B C.
Khammaj (Mixolydian): C D E F G A Bb C.
Kafi (Dorian): C D Eb F G A B C.
Asavari (Aeolian): C D Eb F G Ab Bb C.
Bhairavi (Phyrgian): C Db Eb F G Ab Bb C.
Bhairav: C Db E F G Ab B C.
Kalyan (Lydian): C D E F# G A B C.
Marwa: C Db E F# G A B C.
Purvi: C Db E F# G Ab B C.
Todi: C Db Eb F# G Ab B C.

In Carnatic music the scales can be much more developed, and here are some basic ground rules for the 12 note scale.
1st and 5th notes (C and G) are regarded as fixed.
The 2nd note can be Db, D or D#.
The 3td note can be Ebb, Eb or E.
The 4th note F or F#.
The 6th note Ab, A or A#.
The 7th note: Bbb, Bb or B.
Any combination of the above can supply the 72 variations of the scale.

Now a scale can be 5, 6 or 7 notes. Some ragas can use different numbers of notes in ascending or descending scales, while there are also strong, weak or neutral notes in each scale, and there are notes of geater or lesser importance in ragas. That's why you can have thousands of ragas for each scale, with new ones beinfg composed all the time! Then add embellishments and note bends (those microtones again) and the sky's the limit!
So hopefully this brief excursion into alternative tunings, scales, modes and ragas might inspire you to try out some of the more unusual ones on your synth.
Remember that the whole subject of unusual modes has been long in use in jazz (Ornette Coleman studied with Ravi Shankar, and Big Band leader Don Ellis had his own Hindustani jazz sextet in the 60s) so there's a whoile new world of stuff to explore.
Just one more word on alternate tunings: check out synth maestrette Wendy Carlos' recordings, particularly Switched on Bach 2000 and Sonic Seasonings to hear how alternate tunings work.

Best wishes,
(and now you can go and have a cuppa!)


Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

PostPosted: Fri Nov 18, 2005 6:30 pm
by docformat
thanks for that dave - can you recommend any resources for those wanting to dig a little deeper into indian scales and modes

Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

PostPosted: Fri Nov 18, 2005 7:38 pm
by David Etheridge
try as a good starting point for investigating Indian Music. has all sorts of links as well as being a stockist of instruments.
http://www.sitarsetc is the resource for all things on the sitar.
A rather spiffing book is 'The Raga Guide' by Joep Bor published by Nimbus records which includes a 4 CD set of recordings, and each raga is notated in both Indian and Western notation. Really excellent.
This last one's available from my fave Indian Music shop in Southall, Jas Musicals, who are unfailingly pleasant and helpful. 0208-574-2686.

Best wishes,

Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

PostPosted: Sat Nov 19, 2005 10:42 pm
by docformat

i'll check those out

Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

PostPosted: Sun Nov 20, 2005 10:27 am
by David Etheridge
Clangeroony! :headbang:
Sorry, that should be:

Sorry, I'm having a senior moment.
(old git)

Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

PostPosted: Sun Nov 20, 2005 2:33 pm
by Gethin Webster
Another few to add, Messiaen's modes of limited transposition. These are scales based on repeating series of intervals:

Can only remember the second one at the moment, will add others soon. This has various other names i think, including the octatonic or half-diminished scale:

C Db Eb E F# G A Bb C

basically the intervals tone-semitone-tone-semitone...

edit: oops, just found this one in your original post... will leave it in anyway as a bit of extra background info on it

Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

PostPosted: Mon Nov 21, 2005 9:49 pm
by Gethin Webster
A bit of further info on Messiaen's modes:

Mode 1 - whole tone scale

Mode 2 - octatonic (posted above)

Mode 3 - based on augmented 5th:

C D Eb E F# G Ab Bb B C

The idea between these is that as they are based on a short series of intervals (1 for mode one - tone, 2 for mode two - semitone, tone, 3 for mode three - tone, semitone, semitone) they won't sound in any particular key, an idea fundamental to early C20th French music. Anyway, enough theory, it basically means that they are good for atonal, floating soundscapes, where you want to avoid typical harmony, especially when used to make chords.

There are a further 4 modes, although these get more complicated and there are different versions of some of them too... :? more info on Wikipedia for anyone who wants to learn more!

Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

PostPosted: Wed Nov 23, 2005 10:48 pm
by docformat
thats some interesting stuff - i'll have to check those out as well.

the octatonic scale is the same as the diminished scale - though i guess you spotted that anyway.

Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

PostPosted: Fri Nov 25, 2005 11:52 pm
by Pabs
If you are interested in indian music you may be interested in playing around with SwarShala software.


Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

PostPosted: Mon Nov 28, 2005 8:10 am
by phantomfield
Thanks for posting the link pablo. Looks interesting "and" they've recently ported it to OSX which is fine news. I'll give the demo a try. Best wishes.

Re: Modes: don't you just love 'em?

PostPosted: Mon Dec 05, 2005 7:15 pm
by David Etheridge
Hi gang,
one more source for scales: 'the bible of improvisation' (according to Frank Zappa):
The Thesaurus of Scales and Patterns, by Nicolas Slonimsky.
I haven't got this one, but it was mentioned in Neil Slaven's biography of FZ. Has anyone here seen it? (the Slonimsky book, that is)

Best wishes,
Dave :D