Mode Formulas: How the “Church Modes” Are Made | Hub Guitar

Mode Formulas: How the “Church Modes” Are Made

Major Scale Review

In another lesson, we looked at the pattern of steps that allows us to form the major scale from a possible twelve notes. We also experimented with shifting the order of this pattern, and came up with the minor scale. As you’ve no doubt realized, this leaves five additional patterns that can be created using the same series of steps and the same twelve notes. Again, we change nothing and invent nothing: we use the same 12 notes, we use the same pattern of whole steps and half steps, and we start the scale from C. All we are doing is moving the order of this pattern of steps. As before, we’re going to look at how these configurations compare to the scale of C major: we’re going to describe every scale we create by comparing it to the C major scale.

Modes and Formulas

Ionian Scale (major)

Formula: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

Now, let’s shift our “brackets & cherries” to the left by one placeholder.

Dorian Scale

Formula: 1, 2, ♭3, 4, 5, 6, ♭7, 8.

Phrygian Scale

Formula: 1, ♭2, ♭3, 4, 5, ♭6, ♭7, 8.

Lydian Scale

Formula: 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

Mixolydian Scale

Formula: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, ♭7, 8.

Aeolian Scale

Formula: 1, 2, ♭3, 4, 5, ♭6, ♭7, 8.

Locrian Scale

Formula: 1, ♭2, ♭3, 4, ♭5, ♭6, ♭7, 8.

The best way to familiarize yourself with these scales is to play them and try to learn how they sound. You can speed up this process by playing all of these scales while singing the lowest note (“C”).

Another way to learn how these scales sound is to practice playing them over a simple bass-line playing the root and fifth of the scale. If you look at the scales, they all contain the same root – “C” – and they also all share the same fifth note – “G” – with the exception of the Locrian scale at the end. For this reason the Locrian mode is generally avoided, and never invited to good parties.

Another way to contemplate the nature of modes is to compare them to each other diatonically. For instance, returning to the first example, C major:

The modes are relative to each other. If we wanted to find our seven modes within this configuration of notes (C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C) we could do so by considering each note to be the root of its own scale. Therefore, the C scale will be C major—naturally. The D scale will by D dorian, the E scale will be E Phrygian, and so on. This method is commonly used to explain modes; however, it is difficult to deeply grasp these scales without understanding how they sound and how they are built. For this reason, most students acquire the material faster by focusing on learning them in parallel—that is, all starting from the same root note.

Key Tasks

Be sure to play all one-octave modes so you can hear the difference in how they sound.

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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