Modes Parts 1 - 9

The C Ionian Mode

We are now looking at seven notes separated from the full circle of fifths, inside of an arc, a ‘modal frame’ if you will.

When those notes are placed in alphabetical order (as scale convention requires) with C as the root note, we have:

C Ionian

This is the Ionian mode. It contains a major 3rd so must be a major type of mode. In fact, so commonly used is it, so ubiquitous, so crucial in the western system of musical theory and practice, it is most often called THE major scale.

The Ionian mode = the major scale. They are one and the same.

This particular example of a major scale - the C major scale - is renowned and often used for musical explanation as it has no sharps or flats. On a keyboard it is just the white notes.

The Major scale / Ionian mode is generally described as having a bright or happy character. What if asked to respond to the colours within that arc – how would you describe this cluster? Warm? Bright?


The next, and all subsequent modes, are found by rotating the modal frame surrounding the seven-note clusters one place at a time.

From the Ionian mode, let us analyse what happens when the modal frame is nudged to the one place clockwise. Think in terms of notes and colours.

The note F is replaced with the F#. Starting from the ‘bright’ Ionian mode then introducing just this one sharpened note, the sound will be altered.


The C Lydian Mode

We now have this cluster of notes.

Notice that F has been replaced with F#. We must choose to name that note F# and not Gb in this instance. Scale convention insists we cannot have both a G and a Gb in the same scale, nor can we omit any of the seven letters.

When those notes are placed in alphabetical order with C as the root note, we have:

C Lydian

This is the C Lydian mode. It contains a major 3rd so is also a major type of mode. Notably, it has a #4 scale degree. It is often described as sounding even more bright, lively or fresh in character compared to the already bright Ionian mode.


Rotating the modal frame

We have found our first two modes. To continue with our mission of finding seven modes in total we must use a method of finding additional seven-note clusters, all containing the designated root note C.
Consider further rotations of the modal frame. Should it be rotated clockwise, even just one place, then the note C would be lost from the extreme left, left behind and not contained within the frame. We would have captured a mode, for sure. But, we cannot make that clockwise rotation here, we cannot do that as part of this particular journey of discovery. The reason is simple and already stated. We are going to look only at parallel modes whose root note is C. This must, by definition, constrain us to viewing only note clusters with C in their groupings. We must rotate in the opposite direction. We therefore reset back to the Ionian mode (our zero, or default setting) and rotate the frame one place anticlockwise from there.


The C Mixolydian Mode

B has been replaced by Bb due to the rotation.

The new scale is:

C Mixolydian

In the C major scale, B is the 7th note. Here we have a new scale, similar to the C major scale but with a flat 7. This is C Mixolydian. It, like Lydian and Ionian, is a ‘major type’ of mode as it maintains a major 3rd. Its characteristic sound is formed by the b7. It is sometimes described as a bluesy sounding major scale.


Let us look again at the full coloured circle of fifths and anticipate the next move, the next anticlockwise rotation.

How will it affect the notes?

How will it affect the colours?

What interval will change?

What will this sound like?

What name will the new mode have?

What will make it different to those we have met so far?


The C Dorian Mode

The bright yellow E has been replaced by Eb. In the C Major scale, E is the 3rd note. Therefore we now have a new scale, having some overlaps with the previous modes, but, crucially, something new and different happens now.
To understand, let us first write the notes alphabetically.
The new scale is:

C Dorian

This scale is C Dorian. For the first time we no longer have a major 3rd. The 3rd scale degree here is a b3. This means Dorian is the first ‘minor type’ of mode we have encountered so far.

Note the colour of that Eb note, that minor 3rd. Blue.
Is that why they call it the blues?
Is that why sad songs say so much?
That’s enough Elton John references for now!


The C Aeolian (natural minor) Mode

We keep on pushing. Another anticlockwise rotation leads to:

A has been replaced by Ab

The new scale is:

C Aeolian

This scale is C Aeolian. As with Dorian, this is a ‘minor type’ of mode due to the minor 3rd of Eb. In fact, when it comes to making music with a ‘minor type’, this, like its counterpart in major types (the Ionian) is so widely used that it is most frequently called THE minor scale. Or the natural minor scale. It is also frequently referred to as the relative minor of a major scale.

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The C Phrygian Mode

Another anticlockwise rotation leads to:

D has been replaced by Db.

The new scale is:

C Phrygian

This scale is C Phrygian. As with the two previous modes, this is a ‘minor type’ of mode due to it containing a minor 3rd.

Four of the original seven notes of the C Ionian (our zero, our default cluster) have now been replaced. The warm, bright colours from the right side of the colour wheel have been steadily replaced by cool, dark blue-tinged colours. Phrygian is given descriptions such as ‘dark’ when discussing its sound.


We have seen six of the seven modes.
One final rotation of the modal frame takes us to our last.

It includes the need to rename F# as its enharmonic equivalent Gb.
Perhaps you can figure out why this must be done?

Answers on a postcard please …



The C Locrian Mode

G has been replaced by Gb.

The new scale is:

C Locrian

This is the Locrian mode. It is virtually never used in musical composition so is an oddity that can be safely viewed then set aside and left to catch the dust. Poor thing.


I must state that I like the beauty and simplicity of this method of discovering the modes in parallel. It also connects, complements and enhances the diagram of overlapping scales shown previously for modes in series.

And it hopefully helps you see the how, the why and the wherefore in relation to questions asked in the Modes in Series topic. Questions such as: is there any sort of pattern or logic to the number and placement of sharps and flats from the 1st mode through to the 7th mode?

I hope that an answer to that has been revealed, bit by bit.


There is more to come on the sounds of the modes, their sonic differences, their unique qualities etc.

There is also more to come about the colours.

For now, I will allow you to read, digest, query, explore and query again.

Ask your questions, make your comments.



Good stuff, sir!


Thanks for this Richard. These Topics are a Priceless asset to the Community, as valuable as Justin’s lessons.

The day will dawn when I choose to immerse myself in modes. Before that day will be the day when I look at your exposition on blending major and minor pentatonics. For now, music making with minor pentatonic.


Thank you @CT and @DavidP … just like a young child with a story book - if you can’t yet read the words you can simply enjoy the illustrations! :joy:


And such cool illustrations :grin:

I can read the words and make sense. But mindful of and live the Justin mantra about when to learn a scale. Now when my attempts at improv over the Layla BT have become far more musical, and I can venture down the neck to commence the improv in position 3, as low as I can go, then maybe I’ll think about that major pentatonic. Or maybe Major Scale Maestro. Eventually the road will hopefully take me back to playing leads that sound like the blues. The road is long …


With many a winding turn … :musical_note: :musical_note:


That leads us who knows where….
Great illustrations, really interesting!



Good to see this wonderful explanation back again and I suspect the odd tweak.

Reading this on a damp Saturday morning and staring at my tablet’s interactive CofF, it just dawned on me why the circle is divided into 2 arcs of 7 and 5 notes respectively. DOH !!
So the ability to identify the notes in any parallel mode for any key has been staring me in the face, hidden in plain sight. Double Doh.

So from I Dont Play Like MAL for the order of Serial Modes, It will have to be

I Like Mal. Doesn’t Angus Play Lead ?

for the parallel order. As easy as ACDc :rofl:

Looking forward to the next instalment !



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