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56 messages


30 Sep 98 - 08:51 PM (#40089)
Subject: Modes?
From: John in Brisbane

There are a number of very good sites around which offer good explanations of the various musical modes, but I wasn't able to answer a couple of basic questions which relate to guitar chords.

First Situation

This happens in tunes like Ragtime Annie and Acrobat's Hornpipe, or in a song like The Stone Outside Dan Murphy's Door. Let's say that the main key is G major ... then the key effectively changes to D major, before wandering back very cleverly to G major. Is this music in a particular Mode? Or is there a convention for telling a guitarist that the tune changes to D type chords in lieu of G?

Second Situation

Scottish tunes and songs are often modal with successive chords moving a full tone, eg Am to G, or A to G. Is this typically a particular mode?

Any help from qualified practitioners would be appreciated.


30 Sep 98 - 09:07 PM (#40095)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Roger Himler

If the air is quite sweet, it is probably a la mode.

If it is pretty s****y it should be in the com mode.

Art, help me out of here!!!

Roger in Baltimore

30 Sep 98 - 10:29 PM (#40102)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Barbara

John, in the first situation, in my experience, it's something you acquire an ear for. When you hear that descending run in Ragtime Annie, it's your clue that the tune is going to shift to D chords. It's called a modulation. After following the D chord pattern for a while the tune will shift back to the key of G in a way that uses the G chord of the D key as a turning point. After dinner, I'll get out my guitar and make sure I tell you this part right.
Scottish tunes are often modal. There is not much difference between either Dorian or Aeolian mode and a minor key.
A minor is the relative minor of G major. That is to say, they are related, and when the tune changes from one to the other that is where it goes. If you look at an Aminor tune, you will see it is written in the key of G major.
I find modes fascinating, but I suspect if you want to understand them you need a good book or a music theory class.
Did this answer enough to help, or did I just muddy the water?
Barbara I find

30 Sep 98 - 10:32 PM (#40103)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: takeo

i cannot answer the questions above (someone please!), but know good idea of memorizing the name of each modes as follow: "i-do-fu-li-mi-a-lo". in c major scale, mode starting from c is i-onian, d is do-rian, etc. i dont know further from here about mode. -takeo

30 Sep 98 - 10:58 PM (#40105)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: harpgirl

Is that..

Delorean? (grin)...harpgirl

30 Sep 98 - 11:37 PM (#40109)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: BSeed

Actually, Barbara, isn't A minor the relative of C major? I could play A minor tunes on a double reed C major harmonica, and it's the minor most used in songs in C. And there are A minor songs which use C as the only other chord--"Pastures of Plenty," "Ghost Riders in the Sky," etc. Also, as in C, the principal chords are composed of notes in the C scale, i.e., the white notes on a piano (A minor, D minor, E minor--but...and here you may be right...not E major or E 7th. Anyway, the way I learned it was in G the relative minor is E, in F it's D, in D it's B, in A it's F#, always three half notes below the tonic. --seed (and bless you even if you're wrong--or I am)

01 Oct 98 - 12:36 AM (#40123)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Barbara

Yeah, seed, you're right. But I had to go into the house and pick up my guitar to know that. I can't do any of this in my head. (grin)
harpgirl, I thought that the other mode was Locrian. Or is he the president of Chrysler or something?
Tunes that change back and forth between two adjacent chords (like Old Joe Clark , C and D chords) are often in the Dorian mode. I am not aware of a lot of Scottish tunes in Dorian. More are in Mixolydian. The Maid on the Shore is in Dorian.
John, can you name a particular Scottish tune or tunes that you play that way? If I know it or can find it, I can probably tell you what mode it is in.

01 Oct 98 - 02:25 AM (#40135)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: takeo

its nice to know there must be a delorian mode, harpgirl. i must tell this joke to my band members someday when we are annoyed about the mode. mode problems sometimes occured when we play bluesy tune. 7th or major 7th, and major 3rd or minor 3rd. it's often confortable for us to play 2nd, 3rd, 6th code against root code as major code with 7th for old jazz tunes. like this: C/C/C/A7/ D7/G7/C/C. of cource Am7 and Dm7 can applied but we think major code is more sofisticated mood. so i usually use root mixolydian scale for bass line on every bluesy tune but some other note from code will be added adequately.-takeo

01 Oct 98 - 03:19 AM (#40138)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Bob Bolton

G'day John et al,

The Dorian mode is very important in ancient music ... and Irish music. It is the very first of the church (Gregorian) modes (and the modern minor and major are the very last ... from ~ 1000 years later).

The typical Dorian has its tonic note one tone above the key signature - E(minorish) in a D key signature, A(minorish) in a G key signature, etcetera. The chord structure normally bounces between the minor (always at start and finish) and the major one tone below. There are very occasional excursions to harmonically related chords, but mostly in later tunes affected by modern scales ... or guitarists with modern ear preferences.

The Dorian mode comes naturally on the button accordion (my main instrument) and the mouthorgan (my first instrument) and fairly well on the Anglo-German concertina (my late love). All these instruments are built around the Richter tuning scheme (OK ... the Richter Scale...!) and the minors are native to the draw and the majors to the blow.

This is a scale that punches out a strong primitive beat - and then turns out magnificent, plaintive airs. It is well repesented in most really old (and folksy) musical traditons, but mostly today in the Irish.

Until I really looked into the Dorian mode, a lot of folk tunes seemed very odd ... now they are very old friends.


Bob Bolton

01 Oct 98 - 05:44 AM (#40146)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Alan of Australia

In the list of modes above the locrian mode is missing. If we take the white notes only, a scale based on

C is Ionian 1st, 3rd & 5th form a major chord
D is Dorian 1st, 3rd & 5th form a minor chord
E is Phrygian 1st, 3rd & 5th form a minor chord
F is Lydian 1st, 3rd & 5th form a major chord
G is Mixolydian 1st, 3rd & 5th form a major chord
A is Aeolian 1st, 3rd & 5th form a minor chord
B is Locrian 1st, 3rd & 5th form a diminished chord

Which is probably why you seldom hear the locrian mode.

These modes are named after places in ancient Greece. Obviously the phrygian mode is named after the place where they kept their beer.

(Actually I think it's technically more correct that they were named after tribes or clans.)


01 Oct 98 - 09:53 AM (#40154)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Peter T.

It is also worth pointing out that the tribes and the modes were considered to be related. For instance, the Dorians were the earliest (supposedly primitive) tribe to invade Greece, and therefore their mode was a martial mode. Other mushier sounding modes were associated with mushier tribes (like the Lydians, sorry if there are any Lydians out there). In Milton's Paradise Lost, the armies of Satan are assembled and march to Dorian tunes.

Yours, Peter

01 Oct 98 - 10:42 AM (#40166)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Jon W.

The puzzle pieces are falling into place! The only tune I know in Dorian mode is Lord Mayo, an Irish march which is as martial and as stirring music as any I have ever heard. Thanks, Alan and Peter!

Jon W.

01 Oct 98 - 11:32 AM (#40172)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Bruce O

There's a 'Table' of modes for heptatonic scales on my website,, and correlations for hexatonic and pentatonic scales.

From a different perspective is a treatment by Jack Campin at
Click on 'illustrated tutorial' on the home page. This has many examples of Scots tunes as ABC's.

Mixolydian mode is also a popular one for Irish tunes.

01 Oct 98 - 11:58 AM (#40176)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Alan of Australia

"Drunken Sailor" & "Scarborough Fair" are both dorian.


01 Oct 98 - 12:16 PM (#40181)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Barbara

The only song I know in locrian is a Beatles tune by George Harrison called "Within You, Without You" though it may be only the verse part.

01 Oct 98 - 12:32 PM (#40184)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Bill D

"Saw a toad in the road,
Fie, man, fie..
Saw a toad in the road..
Who's the fool now...?
Saw a toad in the road, singing in the Dorian mode.
Thou hast well drunken, man..
Who's the fool now..?"

"Saw two crows on the 5th meridian..etc....
Harmonizing Mixolydian....etc...
Who's the fool now?

(I've been singing these for YEARS... wonder if they are locally written, or widely known additions to the trad?)

01 Oct 98 - 12:50 PM (#40189)
From: Barbara

Have sung the one about the toad for years on the left coast, Bill, but never heard the crow one. Do you also sing the ones about Aristotle and Plato?
Aristotle said to Plato...
Won't you have a baked potato?...

Plato said to Aristotle...
Thank you, I prefer the bottle...

01 Oct 98 - 03:47 PM (#40207)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Harris

Hi.My name is Harris Lambrakis and I'd like to talk about modes in Greece and Eastern Anatolia.I'm a student of Ethnomusicology in the University of Athens and I play also a traditional instrument, called 'nay'.

02 Oct 98 - 07:03 PM (#40242)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Jerry Friedman

Hi, Harris!

As Harris could probably say better than I could, the Greek modes are not all named after Greek tribes. The Lydians and the Phrygians were non-Greek nations/tribes in Anatolia. (Their languages were related to Hittite, if memory serves.) Croesus, who rich people are as rich as, was a king of Lydia.

More relying on my memory: these modes are not the ancient Greek modes. They're church modes (as Bob Bolton implied) that were named after the ancient Greek modes.

A jazz musician on a list I read says that the Locrian mode is popular in contemporary jazz. Those guys LIKE diminished fifths. (Actually, I sometimes do too.) They even mutate standards into Locrian, which hardly seems fair.

"The Campbells are Coming" is in the Phrygian mode (at least in the sense that if played on the white keys, it ends on E).

06 Oct 98 - 03:03 AM (#40498)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Frank in the swamps

John, the first situation you described, as Barbara said, is a modulation. These things are written into the song, and the only convention to follow is, well, you just gotta know the song, and know that it's going to modulate. Sometimes musicians might agree to modulate a song where such a key change isn't written in, but unless they're having a free-for-all "battle of the musicians" a key change will be decided on ahead of time. A good example of this is "Mack the Knife", a lot of people play it in one key, others play it changing keys every time around (giving a "rising" feel each time).

In the second situation you're dealing with the fact that diatonic harmony (major & minor scales) has become the musical convention of the western world, and a lot of old music predates the "Diatonic ascendancy". The major/minor and seventh chords are derived from the major/minor scale system and as such, are a musical accretion, or perhaps even, an intrusion on Scots/Irish tunes. First rule when playing Gaelic music on the guitar, throw away the chord chart. You really have to trust your own ear on this stuff,I find most editors try to squeeze in at least three chords, when two will do, and if three go in easy, they try to add four, etc. Actually, whenever I do try to play these tunes on guitar (I seldom do because I'm not overly fond of the guitar in this kind of music) I don't try to use chords, I search for two note intervals, with occasional triads. Try accompanying a song using just the third & fourth strings of the guitar for a while. Then add on other two note "chords" using the other strings. I personally find it much more satisfying. The trick is to accompany the melody, without imposing a sense of key, or tonality, let the melody be the boss.

Frank i.t.s.

06 Oct 98 - 03:10 AM (#40504)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Frank in the swamps

I know that was longwinded, so I gave everyone a second chance.

Frank in the the the the swamps.

06 Oct 98 - 11:23 AM (#40553)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Peter T.

Question then: if one of the main reasons for the ascendancy of the well-tempered s ystem, etc., was the tonic-dominant-tension/dynamic that characterises most standard music, then the lack of that tension was what attracted 20th century composers to modal music. So what provides the dynamic in modal music, or is there any? Does each mode have an internal structure that patterns the movement of the music? Yours, Peter

06 Oct 98 - 01:37 PM (#40573)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: lingolucky

This is fascinating to me, a musical numskull. But the modes are very plainly indicated when you play the mountain dulcimer and find a different tuning prescribed for each mode. Then, playing from tabsyou are automatically in the given mode. Lane Goldsmith

06 Oct 98 - 02:14 PM (#40578)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Barbara


06 Oct 98 - 02:16 PM (#40579)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Barbara

Dang, how'd I do that? Here's the rest of the message:
I don't know about the scientific reasons for the tension, but each different mode has a different emotional feel to it for me. I've read others talk about this too. I really like mixolydian with its flatted seventh. It feels just a little different, a little more open ended to me.
I have read songwriters telling that opening and/or closing a line on the 5th note of the Ionic scale (sort of mixolydian) gives a tune a more plaintive feel.
And I remember Helen Schneyer saying that what she loved was a song that went to the IV chord in such a way as to bring tears to her eyes. (example she used was "The Sheath and Knife -- broom blooms bonny version).
Dorian and aeolian are minors, but dorian sounds older and more mysterious to me.
Seems to me that music is a way to bypass our ratiocinations, our thinking, and go straight for the heart and gut.
Which is what makes it so powerful.
For me, there is something even more powerful about the combination of words and music. Something about the way a song tells a story, that makes it one of the most powerful ways we have to reach each other.
Barbara PS Peter, do you play a dulcimer? Would I have heard you at Harmony?

06 Oct 98 - 02:26 PM (#40581)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Peter T.

Dear Barbara, my only association with the dulcimer is Coleridgean. Thanks for the note (als. Lane). I'll clean up the question a bit. The tonic-dominant tension routine was so powerful and in such a rut that Debussy headed for whole tones and others headed for modal music, I assume in part because there is no automatic dynamic tension given in modal music as in the standard system. But there must be some kinds of suspensions and resolutions or movements to climaxes or something to give things a shape. Is it all melody driven -- that is, repetitions of tune patterns -- rhythm driven -- different speeds at different moments -- or are there harmonic moves that shape things? It sounds from your example that there are. I am asking out of complete ignorance, but also wondering about how singers and instrumentalists work in modes. Yours, Peter

06 Oct 98 - 04:37 PM (#40595)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Barbara

Peter, if you look at Alan's post above, he tells you something about the structure of the different modes. I find the simplest way to understand modes is to look at the ionian scale, the one we are all familiar with.
It runs: whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step whole step, half step.
Look at it on the piano, key of C. There's a black key between C and D notes, so it's a whole step. Ditto D and E, but when you get to E and F they're only a half step apart. So the pattern in ionian is 2 whole, 1 half, 3 whole, 1 half. That last interval, from B to C, gives you the dynamic tension and the resolution, right? Well, each of the modes has that same spacing of whole and half notes, but dorian will begin on the second note of the ionian scale. I.e. play an all white key scale from D to D and you will be in dorian. An all white key scale from E to E is phrygian. And so on.
The dorian pattern therefore, is whole step, half step, 3 whole steps, half step, whole step. See? They all have two half step intervals in them, which creates the dynamic tension, but they occur in different places in the chordal structure, and the tune structure because they happen at a different place in the scale.
Dorian thru locrian modal tunes have melody and rhythmic structure, same as ionic, but they will have the half steps in different places, which changes where the tension is.
Does that make anything clearer?

06 Oct 98 - 04:49 PM (#40597)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Bert

You're a darling, even I understand it now.


06 Oct 98 - 11:08 PM (#40643)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Jerry Friedman

Just to be pedantic, Frank--the modes people have been talking about are diatonic (can be played on the white keys of a piano).

Peter T., you can still do tonic and dominant in any mode (except Locrian, I guess). But Bob Bolton and Barbara noted that in the Dorian mode, a lot of what moves the music is the alternation between the tonic and subtonic--for example, D minor and C major in the true Dorian mode, where the tonic is D.

What you can't do in most modes is combine tonic-and-dominant with the most important source of melodic tension in most post-1600 Western music: the leading tone (the note a half-step below the tonic) that Barbara emphasizes. (If you know this stuff already, Peter, I apologize--but I'm having fun.)

Thus in the Ionian mode (C major), the dominant chord contains B, the leading tone, which we expect to move toward the tonic C.

On the other hand, in the Aeolian mode (A natural minor), the dominant chord is E minor, which contains G, a whole step below the tonic. The melodic tendency for that G to lead to A is much less strong than if it were a G#. Hence the "modal" sound (I think).

Therefore a lot of music raises that G to a G# to make it a leading tone. You can leave the F alone, giving the harmonic minor scale much used in Ashkenazic Jewish music. (Someone in the blues thread is going to tell me I'm oversimplifying.) Or you can raise the F to an F#, avoiding the "Jewish third" between F and G#, giving the melodic minor scale, as in Greensleeves. Either way, I think you no longer have a modal feeling.

Of course, you can do the same thing in any minor scale, raising the 7th and possibly 6th degrees by a half step.

What I love is not the way the harmony goes to the subdominant but melodic phrases that end on the leading tone. Oh, not all the time.

(And yes, the Lydian mode has a leading tone, just like major scales. I'll bet the reason it didn't catch on the way Ionian did is that it doesn't have a perfect fourth.)

07 Oct 98 - 07:37 AM (#40670)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Frank in the swamps

Jerry, I stand happily corrected. This thread is fun. Your observations about the leading tone go right to the heart of my reticence about using true chords with a lot of old folk tunes. So many music publishers put dominant seventh and even minor seventh chords over tunes that come from an A cappella tradition, or from drone instruments, like bagpipes and much folk fiddle.

Many guitarists who play "celtic" music use alternate tunings, D-A-D-G-A-D and D-A-D-F#-A-D being two popular ones. It allows the player to create chords based on intervals of 4ths, 5ths and 6ths with a lot of doubling of tones, allowing the drone effect. In fact, so called "power" chords, used by rock & heavy metal guitarists usually consist of just roots & fifths, with one note(root usually) doubled. I don't want to speculate too much on what Johns reasons were for asking this question (the second part) but I suspect he may share my dissatisfaction with a lot of guitar accompaniment to old tunes.

What about it John? This thread has taken on a life of it's own, if you've got a specific question which is not being addressed, give us a holler, you know what chatterboxes we all are.

Frank i.t.s.

07 Oct 98 - 12:53 PM (#40717)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Barbara

Jerry, you mean like blues songs? Where the verse ends on the tonic and then drops down a full step to the flatted 7 note? Or are you talking straight ionic?
How about an example?

08 Oct 98 - 04:28 AM (#40847)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Joe Offer

Put another Mixol in
In the Mixolydian
All I want from you is love
And music, music, music.
...I couldn't resist any longer. This has been running through my warped mind all week.
-Joe Offer-

08 Oct 98 - 07:37 AM (#40860)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Frank in the swamps

I don't blame Joe for that. I blame Art Thieme. He's been a corrupting influence.

Frank i.t.s.

08 Oct 98 - 09:06 AM (#40871)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Harris Lambrakis

Hi all of you!! The ancient Greek (or Hellenic) modes have different names from that of Middle Ages. The ancient names is (the notes are in the white keys of piano):

From b to B (descending) is Mixolydian from c to C (descending) is Lydian from d to D (descending) is Phrygian from e to E (descending) is Dorian* from f to F (descending) is Hypolydian* from g to G (descending) is Hypophrygian from a to A (descending) is Hypodorian

*)The Dorian mode was the most important mode in the Ancient years *)The word "Hypo" means in today's Byzantane praxis a mode a fifth lower than the basic mode but in ancient Greek music means a mode a 4th upper.

The ancient Greeks heard probably the intervals in a different mode that we can hear in present days.

Blessings Harris.

08 Oct 98 - 11:52 AM (#40886)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Peter T.

Dear Barbara, Jerry, Frank, et al, Well, thanks. I have been sick (with the non-Locrian flu) for the last few days, so I couldn't respond promply to this outpouring of learning mixed with craftsmanship -- classic Mudcat. I think this is going to have to be downloaded and cut and pasted, and turned into a handbook. (The Mudcat guide to Modes). Yours, Peter

08 Oct 98 - 12:08 PM (#40889)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Bert

Nice one Joe.

09 Oct 98 - 02:35 PM (#41060)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Peter T.

Another question, modistes: The information abou;t Jewish sounds in one mode reminded me of something in j*zz (we are not supposed to speak of j*zz here either), so I checked out Miles Davis' classic "Sketches of Spain" and discovered, naturally, that much of it is in "Spanish Phrygian". Is there more than one kind of Phrygian? And why does it sound that way? And I had always assumed that Spanish music has Arabic roots. Is Moorish music Phrygian? Yours, Peter T.

09 Oct 98 - 02:50 PM (#41061)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Peter T.

P.S. People speak of the underground influence of Moorish music on Celtic -- is this mode one of the vehicles (I see where Loreena McKennit has made a big deal and an album out of this theory)? The Allah-ben-Campbells are Coming? Questions, questions.

12 Oct 98 - 01:07 PM (#41338)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Peter T.

Since I seem to have scared everyone away with dumb questions, I might contribute or bring closure to this by quoting a passage from Ken Perlman’s More Fingerstyle Guitar (Prentice-Hall, 1985) which a friend noted and handed to me over the weekend:

“Diatonic triads and seventh chords can be constructed by applying the same procedure to modal scales as was used for major and minor scales...There is one problem with this approach -- namely that the official dominants of the Dorian, Mixolydian, and Aeolian modes do not strongly lead back to their respective tonic chords, [because] the V-chords are minor triads. To deal with this state of affairs, musicians invented altered scales to which the seventh degree is raised a half step.....This process is most often applied to the Aeolian (natural minor) mode, which when altered in this manner is known as the harmonic minor mode. For scales that remain unaltered, in Dorian , Aeolian, or Mixolydian scales -- such as ones appearing in many fiddle tunes -- the VII chord (a major triad in all three modes) usually serves the role of the dominant. For example, the VII chord for D Dorian is C major, and so on. In “Banish Misfortune”, a jig popularized by the Chieftans in the 1970’s, the tune is in D Mixolydian, and the C major chord acts as the dominant. There is an accidental (a C sharp) in various measures that has the function of leading to the last tonic note of each section with a greater sense of finality.” (Abridged from Pp. 127-128)

Yours, Peter T.

13 Oct 98 - 11:27 AM (#41519)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Peter T.

Also, for anyone who is interested, a little research turned up that "Spanish Phrygian" is the Phrygian scale with both a raised and a lowered third, e.g.: D-Eflat-F-Fsharp-G-A-Bflat-C-D.

Yours, Peter T.

13 Oct 98 - 12:49 PM (#41527)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Barbara

Pete, there is also a minor, I believe called the melodic? harmonic? that uses one set of intervals (i.e. the half step leading tone)ascending and nnother set (whole step)descending. I remember learning that in a music theory class, once, but I can't now recall more specifics. It might be in a music dictionary if you looked up 'minor'.
Something else we did then was name tunes for each of the modes.
Here people have named one possible phrygian - The Campbells are Coming(I have my doubts about this actually being phrygian; anyone?);

Spanish phrygian -"Sketches of Spain"
locrian - Within You,
Without you and several dorian - "Drunken Sailor" "Scarborough Fair" "Maid on the Shore" "Lord Mayo"
This leaves considerable ground uncovered.

13 Oct 98 - 03:42 PM (#41549)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Bruce O.

Early copies of "Hob or Nob/ The Campbells are Coming" are phrygian, but in Scots Musical Museum, #299, it's straight minor. As "An Seanduine Doighte" in P. Kennedy's 'The Folksongs of Britain and Ireland' it's C major".

Melodic and harmonic minors are covered in the file I noted above.

13 Oct 98 - 04:35 PM (#41553)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Peter T.

Dear Barbara, Well, according to this tome I have in front of me, which makes me an instant expert (Aldwell and Schachter, Harmony and Voice Leading, 1989) in the natural (or “pure”) minor scale (like your standard Amin of C) the 7th tone is not called the “leading tone” (which is usually the third on the dominant V, trying to resolve up to the octave) but the subtonic, because it has no drive towards the octave. When the minor scale descends, the lack of a leading tone is not a problem, since it is going away from the octave note; but when it does ascend this is a problem, and the 7th must be raised a half step. This is called the harmonic minor. Raising the seventh has its own problems, because the gap between the 6th and the 7th can sound too big for melodic flow, so if you are going to play the 6th before the 7th, then you raise the 6th as well as the 7th, and you get the melodic minor (presumably because it sounds more melodious). When these scales descend the accidentals for the 6th or the 7th or both, depending on which you are using are cancelled and you are back to the natural minor you started out with. I too took all that in music class a hundred years ago, and forgot it, and not only that, but I never connected it to modes.

I always thought a harmonic minor was like Clementine's father. Yours, Peter

13 Oct 98 - 04:50 PM (#41554)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Jerry Friedman

Thanks to all who've been responding!

Barbara, I don't know much about blues, and I'm not sure what was the thing I meant that you're asking about.

The melodic minor that Bruce mentioned is the one with raised 6th and 7th ascending and lowered descending. A look at "Greensleeves" and (I believe) many classical pieces will show that that description is oversimplified. The raised 7th (leading tone) is used to create an expectation that the tonic will follow--and usually it does follow. It's also used as part of the dominant chord. The raised 6th is used when the raised 7th follows or precedes it. Or when it sounds good--the real rule.

13 Oct 98 - 08:01 PM (#41586)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: John in Brisbane

Thanks to Frank i.t.s. for referring back to my original question. At various stages during this thread I thought I'd come close to understanding the subject, then finally came to my senses and realised that the only way I would ever understand this was to actually do it. How, I'm not so sure?

What motivated me to ask the question in the first place is pretty straight forward - I hope I don't offend too many people along the way.

- It usually takes some time for a rhythm guitarist to get used to session/gig playing of Celtic tunes, if they've been brought up on a diet of popular music.

- We don't make life very easy for them! For the thousands of songs in the DT, but in particular the countless number of tunes in ABC, Midi, O'Neil's etc there is a real drought of chords.

- The Holy Grail! If some form of convention existed to describe the nature of the tune, this MAY greatly assist the ears of rhythm guitarists when confronted with an unfamiliar tune, or one they haven't previously understood.

Regards John

14 Oct 98 - 10:57 AM (#41655)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Peter T.

Dear John, The usual approach is to symbolize the structure with something like I- IIIm-VI-II-V-I, and say a good key is C or whatever. I assume that if you just said this is in X mode, then you would be able to go forward similarly. I am not saying I could do this (!!), but isn't that right, modistes? This could be added to songs in the database: a structural analysis and a key/mode for a suggested starting place. Yours, Peter

14 Oct 98 - 12:03 PM (#41657)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Ian Currie

How does all of this relate to the fact that some instruments like the Scottish pipes are not tuned to the Pythagorean scale and are even further away from the well-tempered scale. If I remember correctly the intervals on the pipes have funny fractions including ninths - maybe the Phrygians played the pipes?

14 Oct 98 - 02:18 PM (#41674)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Bruce O.

Ian, that's a whole new can of worms, but an interesting subject. How about opening a new thread on the subject of what frequencies various instruments give for notes. I have equal tempered, diatonic 7 note, and its extension as the 'chromatic-true intonation' scales in a table, but I know that's not all of them. How about starting off by giving the Pythagorean scale in a new thread? I've lost my copy of that one.

11 Jan 00 - 08:23 PM (#161412)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: sophocleese

Hi There I'm refreshing this fascinating thread for the benefit of clare s who was asking about the use of the word 'modal' in another thread. Its a great read.

11 Jan 00 - 10:04 PM (#161443)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Mary in Kentucky

Thanks for refreshing this, Sophocleese. I've been studying this for several weeks now. What would really help me is more examples of songs I know that are in each mode.

So far I know:
Campbells are Coming--phrygian (maybe)
Drunken Sailor--dorian
Scarborough Fair--dorian

I'm confused by the Greensleeves statements in Jerry's post. Am I wrong to always think in terms of chords instead of a melody line? Can't a melody note actually have different chords to harmonize it? Therefore, isn't the "real" song defined by the chord progressions instead of the melody line? Is this pure gobbledy-gook? If so, just tell me to go read a theory book. In the meantime, I would love to hear of other tunes (that I might know or can hear on the 'Net) that are in various modes. I particularly like Rare Willie at Lesley's site.


12 Jan 00 - 01:02 AM (#161527)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Arkie

Have enjoyed this thread. Glad to see it refreshed since I missed it first time around. Have been fascinated by modes ever since being adopted by a mountain dulcimer some years ago. Have since become a jack-leg, jake-leg some would say, modal theorist. In other words, I have absolutely no formal knowlege of the subject. Have observed though that in traditions where modal music was found, if instruments were used they were often tuned in open, sometimes even called modal tunings. The fiddle and banjo as well as dulcimer were ideal for playing or accompaning modal pieces. I am inclined to believe that the introduction of the guitar and its chordal possiblities helped to bring about the decline in interest in modal pieces. I was told by an elderly singer, here in the Ozarks, that when she was young the young people thought the modal sounding tunes sounded old-fashioned and they stopped using minor sounds. Hence, songs like Wayfaring Stranger fell into disuse and songs like Rose Connely which had minor chords in the Appalachians were played with all major chords. Though my experience is somewhat limited, I have seen and heard many musicains of this lady's generation and have yet to hear one of them use minor chords. In the shape note, unaccompanied singing in the churches they have continued to sing in minor modes. And accapella ballad singers have used the Dorian and Aeolian modes. Did not intend to run on so long. Final notes. Norwegian Wood, the Beatle song, is in the Mixolydian mode. Geordie is in the Dorian mode, which moves in a interesting way back and forth between major and minor. I suspect the use of open tunings by so many Celtic guitarists allows them to obtain a modal flavor not possible in the standard tuning.

12 Jan 00 - 01:45 AM (#161544)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Bruce O.

I think musician should forget the theory and just play the notes. We get better music that way, as there's lots more time to practice.

"The earliest known copy of "The Campbells are coming" is that called "Hob or Nob" in Walsh's 'Caledonian Country Dances', IV, c 1744. (Out side of Scotland it retained this title, an is "Hob Nob" in 'Riley's Flute Melodies', New York, c 1817, with again the same key-mode) It has apparent keynote B with one sharp on the key signature, which would make it B phrygian, but it can also be coded as G major circular starting on the 1st of the scale. Those in Charles Gore's 'The Scottish Fiddle Music Index' are all coded G major, but there's no real way to decide one way or the other.

You will find the same two options for the Scottish "The White Cockade/The Ranting Highlandman" (1st tune in Aird's 'Airs', Jack Campin's website, which you can click on from mine). Here, however, the circular mode starts on the 3rd of the scale.

Circular tunes can be stinkers to figure out, because while the mode may seem a little bit odd, there is always one, and it does't seem all that odd. One case that shows very fast that this isn't the right way is when the last note is B and there are no sharps or flats on the key signature. You get a lot of locrians that way.

My favorite version of "Greensleeves" is not one of the 6 on my website, B168-73, that Simpson gave in 'The British Broadside Ballad and It Music'. I've given it now with an old song that I had forgotten to give previously. See "As I walked by myself" in Scarce Songs 2 for song and tune.

"Greensleeves" is not a normal mode. It has an 8 note scale and there's no standard terminology for it. It's about as close as one can get to being half way between major and minor, or, another way of saying the same thing within narrower limits, is that it's half way between mixolydian and dorian. As for notation, it's simplest when you given it as dorian with a variable 7th. Those who want to believe that ancient Greeks had modes can if they like. Let's see them come up with real evidence. I spell the names in lower case, because as far as I'm concerned, they're just (faulty) names that have been generally accepted because of wide useage.

12 Jan 00 - 01:46 AM (#161546)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: paddymac

A crusty old machinist once taught me that the most important thing to know was what you don't know. This thread has reinforced that sage advice. My knowledge of music theory is, ahem, somewhat limited, but this thread is sure to expand my horizons in that area. If anybody ever again asks "what have you learned from Mudcat?", I'll be sure to direct them to this thread. Thanks to all of you for your "teachings" here.

12 Jan 00 - 05:50 AM (#161575)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Lady McMoo

Very very informative and interesting thread. I know now why I've been having so much phrygian trouble with some tunes...

Best regards,


21 Mar 00 - 04:45 PM (#198839)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: GUEST,Okiemockbird

Bruce O., here's my table of frequencies. First columns is pythagorean, 2nd column is 12-equal. Frequencies are in Herz.

A 440.000 440.000
B 495.000 493.883
C 521.482 523.251
D 586.667 587.330
E 660.000 659.255
F 695.309 698.456
G 782.222 783.991


21 Mar 00 - 05:01 PM (#198846)
Subject: RE: Modes?
From: Crowhugger

Peter T, Usually I feel pretty comfortable around things musical, even the basics of modal stuff. But this thread...WoW! You're right...cut 'n' paste into a handbook!