[Pt. IV Proj.2] – Moving into the Twentieth Century – Project 2- New harmonic fields – Research Point 4.2 – Modes

[Pt. IV Proj.2] Research Point 4.2– Modes. There are many kinds of modes in many kinds of music, but a good place to start is to get to know what are known as the ‘Greek’ modes, of which the Lydian is one. Undertake some research in to all seven so-called Greek modes, making a note of how they are structured. Be sure to play each one at the keyboard or on Sibelius to develop a sense of what makes each one unique. Try to find musical examples of the use of as many of the modes as you can. Some modes are used more than others but persevere and you’ll find they pop up sometimes in unexpected places. Aim to write around 400 words in your learning log about this research point.


The majority Modes we refer to as the Church modes today originated from the medieval church in Constantinople where four modes were in use, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian and Mixolydian- named (perhaps by the scholar Boethius) after areas in Greece (but did not necessarily originate from those parts). When two additional modes started gaining currency around 1450 the names Ionian and Aeolian were added for consistency. The advent of music based largely on triads, such as John Dunstable and the new tendency of lute makers to tune their frets in equal semitones, slowly giving rise to equal temperament, were the two factors which lead to the popularity and preference of these two new modes which were harmonically very suited to triadic music. These two modes, known today as the major and minor scale gained such popularity, they nearly pushed the remaining six modes out of existence. Their tonic triads perfect 4ths and 5ths and they are easily transposed and harmonised. The remaining modes are still in use in various folk music traditions, some rock music, modal jazz and non-triadic music.

The way to easily obtain the modes is by shifting one white key up the keyboards. For instance, C to C is C Major or Ioninan. D to D without sharps or flats yields the D Dorian scale (and a map for the semitone, tone sequence of a Dorian scale). E to E is E Phrygian, F- F gives a F Lydian, G to G is a G Mixolydian, A to A an A Natural Minor or Aeolian (a Melodic and Harmonic Minor scale were also added later), B to B gives a B Locrian.

There are many more scales in use, such as the whole tone scale and the pentatonic scale, but the ones listed above are generally referred to as modes.

There are a number of well recognised songs and melodies in most of the modes, although the Locrian mode with its diminished 5th degree is the least used.

Scarborough Fair (trad. Popularised by Simon and Garfunkel) is very well-known example of the Dorian mode. The Beatles also sometimes wrote in the Dorian mode, for instance in Eleanor Rigby. Plenty of Bach and Camille Saint- Saens pieces in Dorian.

For Phrygian pop songs there’s Pyramid by Radiohead or Good Vibrations by the Beatles. It is also widely used in Flamenco music and ‘gypsy’ scales. In Classical music Palestrina, Bach and Buxtehude all frequently used it. Mozart’s Don Juan overture is in D Phrygian.

Lydian mode John Williams ‘flying theme’ from E.T or Chopin’s Mazurka no 15, in C Op 24. Beethoven’s String quartet No. 15 and a plethora of Romantic Era music.

Mixolydian there’s another famous Beatles song, Norwegian Wood or Clocks by Coldplay. It is very popular in various types of folk music, including Indian Ragas.  Grieg’s Piano Concerto III rd movement and Ottorino Respighi Piano Concerto in Mixolydian.

Heavy Metal bands like using the dark Locrian mode, for example Metallica’s ‘Wherever I May Roam’. Berlioz used passages of Locrian mode and Eric Satie wrote in it too.