Modes Part 4 - modal melodies (the sound of the modes?)

It is time to involve the ears in our cognition.

We are going to hear seven parallel modes, all with root note C. First in a simple ascending and descending sequence. Then in a three-note sequence formed from playing three notes up, going back two, three notes up, going back two and so on. This inverts once the upper most note of the pattern is reached. These may still sound like the scale exercises / etudes I decried earlier when discussing modes in series. However, I hope that this time, a distinct difference in character and the unique flavour of each mode becomes just that bit more evident in the eras.
We are going to start with the Lydian mode - the mode found when the modal frame holding a seven-note cluster was rotated to its furthest point clockwise. We will work anticlockwise, ending with Locrian. The order will be:
Lydian
Ionian
Mixolydian
Dorian
Aeolian
Phrygian
Locrian

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The C Lydian Mode

C Lydian

C Lydian ascending and descending

C Lydian ascending and descending 3-in-a-line

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The C Ionian Mode

C Ionian

C Ionian ascending & descending

C Ionian ascending and descending 3-in-a-line

The C Mixolydian Mode

C Mixolydian

C Mixolydian ascending and descending

C Mixolydian ascending and descending 3-in-a-line

The C Dorian Mode

C Dorian

C Dorian ascending and descending - audio file

C Dorian ascending and descending 3-in-a-line

The C Aeolian (natural minor) Mode

C Aeolian

C Aeolian ascending and descending

C Aeolian ascending and descending 3-in-a-line

The C Phrygian Mode

C Phrygian

C Phrygian ascending and descending

C Phrygian ascending and descending 3-in-a-line

The C Locrian Mode

C Locrian

C Locrian ascending and descending

C Locrian ascending and descending 3-in-a-line

Modal Melodies

We have heard the modal scales played in sequence. Hopefully your ears are beginning to discern some differences between them. We now progress to some modal melodies.

I created a fairly simple melody. I was not looking to write the world’s greatest, most memorable melody for a worldwide chart hit. I merely wanted something that moved around the scale, using the notes.

The first example you will hear uses the Lydian mode with its sharp 4 (#4). This is often considered the ‘brightest’ mode. You will then hear how the melody changes as, one at a time to take it from mode to mode, one note is flattened. The order follows that above.

Lydian melody

Ionian melody

Mixolydian melody

Dorian melody

Aeolian melody

Phrygian melody

Locrian melody

Now, just for a bit of silliness, and to illustrate one way that modes can be made to sound awkward and wrong, I present some variations on a tune. A well-known tune. This time going from Lydian to Locrian. Apologies if you had managed to put festive thoughts away for the year. :slight_smile:

Ding Dong Lydian

Ding Dong Ionian … the true scale for this tune.

Ding Dong Mixolydian

Ding Dong Dorian

Ding Dong Aeolian

Ding Dong Phrygian

Ding Dong Locrian

Crikey! That was something wasn’t it? Wow.

We have now listened to seven variants of modal melody.

Each does sound different.

Perhaps in listening to each, starting at Lydian and moving towards Locrian, there is a sense of the mood of the melody changing. Ordering the modes from Lydian to Locrian has us moving anticlockwise around the Circle of Fifths, around the colour wheel. It also sees one new note lowered by a semitone (flattened) with each rotation. And many musical descriptions will describe this as moving from the brightest mode to the darkest mode. Somehow, it seems, flats being a sombre and foreboding character to the music.

Lydian – no flats, one sharp – bright.

Locrian – lots of flat notes – dark.

That is not really a meaningful why / how explanation, but I shall just place it there for the moment.

What I would like to do next is to categorise our modes in to two groups of three and discard one altogether.

The two groups of three are the major types and the minor types.

Major types:

  • Ionian (THE major scale);
  • Lydian;
  • Mixolydian.

Minor types:

  • Aeolian (THE minor scale);
  • Dorian;
  • Phrygian.

Remember, major type scales have a major third and minor type scales have a minor third.

So much music makes use of Ionian and Aeolian that our ears are accustomed to hearing those sounds. There is probably value in hearing the same modal melodies side-by-side in order to hear the subtle differences, the nuances in sound a little more clearly.

Here are the three major modes playing the melody already heard above in this order:

Ionian → Lydian → Ionian → Mixolydian all separated by four chimes of two C-notes an octave apart

Ionian sits in the middle of the three Major modes.

To move from Ionian to Lydian, one of the notes is raised by a semitone.

To move from Ionian to Mixlolydian, one of the notes is lowered by a semitone.

You will hear Ionian twice.

Ionian → Lydian → Ionian → Mixolydian

Here are the three minor modes playing the melody already heard above in this order:

Aeolian → Dorian → Aeolian → Phrygian all separated by four chimes of two C-notes an octave apart.

You will hear Aeolian twice.

Aeolian sits in the middle of the three minor modes.

To move from Aeolian to Dorian, one of the notes is raised by a semitone.

To move from Aeolian to Phrygian, one of the notes is lowered by a semitone.

Aeolian → Dorian → Aeolian → Phrygian

I have deliberately chosen to start with, then move away from, then move back to Ionian and Aeolian as those are – supposedly – the ones our ears are most accustomed to. This sequencing may allow you to hear the divergence from the commonly used major and minor modes.

For this next section I am going to ask you to test your ears – after all, this modal malarkey is all about hearing the music – and take a quiz.

So, before that, please refresh your familiarity with the two groupings of three modes by listening to the modal melody tracks again, multiple times if you wish.

Listen to the audio tracks carefully, make sure you hear that each mode sounds unique and different from the others in its group.

Have you done that?

Do you think you know your Mixolydian from your Ionian?

Can you tell the difference between Dorian and Phrygian?

If you think you’re ready and well prepared here comes the big challenge …

It is QUIZ time.

Yay!

:sunglasses:

For this two part quiz, I have created a ‘major mode’ audio track and a ‘minor mode’ audio track. There are ten modal melodies in each. So there are ten questions - ten modes to identify by ear.

You should now be very familiar with the modal melody above. I have taken just the first half of the melody for each mode and randomly copy / pasted them into a new track. Each segment lasts approximately ten seconds and they are separated by four chimes of C. The entire tracks are both 2 minutes 17 seconds in length. The change in modes comes at you quite quickly so you may want to listen through more than once.

Can you identify each mode as it appears?

Ears at the ready!

Pens at the ready!

GO!

Modal Listening Quiz Part 1 - The Major Modes

  • Play the audio track.
  • Listen to each modal melody - duration approximately 10 seconds each time.
  • Identify when you hear Lydian, Ionian or Mixolydian.
  • There are ten sections.
  • Write down your ten answers.

Good luck.

Modal Listening Quiz Part 2 - The Minor Modes

  • Play the audio track.
  • Listen to each modal melody - duration approximately 10 seconds each time.
  • Identify when you hear Dorian, Aeolian or Phrygian.
  • There are ten sections.
  • Write down your ten answers.

Good luck.