Modes Parts 1 - 9

Just that.
I was naughty - on purpose.
Modes are often taught in short bursts and only concentrate on the scale and what it can do to create melody etc.
Without the ‘modal framework’ of harmonic context, with only a set of notes to listen to, it remains difficult to discern and distinguish between them.

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Precisely why I never heard of it, not a word of it, won’t say nothin’ to no one without any proof…. (teaser)

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Modes Part 5 - The Colour of Modes: A Digression.

What about the colour wheel that I have overlaid above the Circle of Fifths?
Does it speak to us?
Does it add clarity or substance or fuller understanding of the character of the modes?

I must confess, when I first came to this idea, I was hugely excited. I thought that, without doubt, people would view the major type modes, comprising as they do a large proportion of colours from the bright end of the spectrum, as … well … just that … bright, lively, cheerful etc. And I felt sure people would view the coloured arcs of the minor type modes, with their varying depths and hues of blue, as being sad, dark, sombre etc.

In advance of writing any posts on modes whatever, and without so much as a hint of my intention, I posted an open-ended discussion topic in the old JG Forum starting with:

I have a favour to ask, for a little project I have going on.
I’m going to post some colour charts / swatches that are blends of several colours.
Would you please look and comment with your impressions. Describe them using whatever words or phrases or descriptors come to mind, whether in absolute terms, comparative terms, poetical terms, emotional terms or anything.
There are no rules or expectations, right or wrong - just a request from me to look at the various combinations and write your reactions / responses.
Many thanks.

I then put on display these seven colour swatches in this specific order:

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Colours No.1

Colours No.2

Colours No.3

Colours No.4

Colours No.5

Colours No.6

Colours No.7

Here are some of the responses made:

I also received various direct messages in response to this. I also sought comment from friends, family and others. So I collated a large set of responses.

My hopes, anticipations and expectations were somewhat confounded by people’s actual perceptions. I asked - without disclosing my intent – in the forum and elsewhere for people to ascribe to the various combinations of seven colours words, descriptions, reactions, responses, emotional reflexes etc. No rules – just whatever came to mind.

And the comments that I received in return (for which I am most grateful for all who took a little time to do so) caused me to rethink my expectations and question the narrative that the sound and character of the modes can be closely aligned with the sense of colours shown within the colour wheel that I used.

I had a feeling somewhat akin to having made a gigantic sandwich - whilst voraciously hungry - only to find with successive bites that one of the ingredients tastes off.

My glorious hypothesis may have been shattered.

I’ll let you decide for yourselves if that is the case.

Here again are seven modes, each represented as notes within seven-note colour arcs, and each with several accompanying features.

  • The modal frame.
  • The written scale.
    The original colour sample
  • An audio track of a modal melody.
  • A wordle-type graphic depicting some of the many descriptive words and phrases that the colour-blend arcs inspired in others that they shared.

Just to vary things, the modes will proceed in the reverse order to that used so far. Which means that they will match the colour samples from No1 to No7 presented above also.
The order will be:

If all of this colour-based thinking has any substance you will be hearing, seeing and immersing yourself in sounds that move from dark to light, from gloomy to cheery.
We shall see.

The C Locrian Mode

C Locrian

Colour sample


Do any of those descriptors resonate with you when you listen to the Locrian melody?

Locrian melody

The C Phrygian Mode

C Phrygian

Colour sample


Do any of those descriptors resonate with you when you listen to the Phrygian melody?

Phrygian melody

The C Aeolian (natural minor) Mode

C Aeolian

Colour sample


Do any of those descriptors resonate with you when you listen to the Aeolian melody?

Aeolian melody

The C Dorian Mode

C Dorian

Colour sample


Do any of those descriptors resonate with you when you listen to the Dorian melody?

Dorian melody

The C Mixolydian Mode

C Mixolydian

Colour sample


Do any of those descriptors resonate with you when you listen to the Mixolydian melody?

Mixolydian melody

The C Ionian Mode

C Ionian

Colour sample


Do any of those descriptors resonate with you when you listen to the Ionian melody?

Ionian melody

The C Lydian Mode

C Lydian

Colour sample


Do any of those descriptors resonate with you when you listen to the Lydian melody?

Lydian melody

Once I had posted all of the above, the colours, the modal scales, the melodies, further comments were made:

Hi Richard,
Hopefully this is something from the old forum as I totally missed it,…i haven’t read everyone’s comments,…but @adi_mrok , I nearly choked on my tea laughing…

And do you want us to reply per subject or everything in its entirety, in connection with the overview,…not that I have much to say,…most words are correct,…except sunset /sundown that can’t go together(especially if you’re reading this in winter) logically for me,… and the colors red and orange are the colors for the blues, and blue( Blauw…kou…in dutch) is more sharp and cold,…but yes that’s more of a language thing…
Locrian : relief and calm…not for me

If you’d rather see it written differently, just say so…
Good luck,

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Hi Rogier.

To respond or not to respond, that is the question!

Honestly, seriously, this Part 5 I deliberately called a digression as it is an entirely voluntary and unnecessary walk through a little flight of fantasy that I had, a little hypothesis that people would, unprompted, connect colour groups with words, descriptions, moods, feelings etc. And somehow, magically, those same descriptors, some similar emotional responses, would be brought out by the sound of the modes.
I am likely wrong.
Right or wrong, I got excited for a little while and it was a bit of fun.

You were certainly not wrong…colors and sounds (and emotions) have been going together since the beginning,…only for some people other colors and words apply to some sounds,…it is not for nothing that they are used in many studies methods,…if it was simple and the same for everyone, therapists/researchers/teachers wouldn’t have to use it anymore…which group do you belong to? :joy:

But one thing is certain for me … with colors learning much more fun for me … without my big 4 color pen it is not writing for me :smile:


I think I still stand by these descriptions but would drop the Happy tag from Mixo and say “driving exotica” but that may just be down to the backing tracks I’ve been drawn to. But yes an Allman Bro style BT brings out the happy side, others can be a little darker despite it being classed as a Major mode. Or it could be me slipping in a timely 3b now and then ! :wink:

Thanks Rogier.
Colours and music and moods certainly do blend together. Plus there are people with something marvelous that one can only imagine at - synaesthesia.
In terms of right or wrong, I was more specifically referring to my thought that people’s responses to the combinations of colours when shown out of context would be a reasonable match for the conventional ways that people describe the sound of the modes. In such a way that when I overlaid the colour wheel and the circle of fiths, they would more or less align. The colour of Ionian would be warm, happy etc. The colours of Phrygian would be cool, mysterious etc.

Who hasn’t used pens like these?

Toby, you could be describing yourself there! :wink: