In this post we will look at the difference between each mode in the major scale. If we look at a 7-note scale like the C major scale, we will be dealing with 7 different modes from that scale itself. Instead of just looking at the modes with the same parent major scale, it’s essential to look at the difference between each mode with the same tonic as this allows us to analyze each mode separately. Lets construct the 7 major scale modes with a C tonic:

[image_frame height=”auto” width=”614″][/image_frame]

Note that the Ionian and Aeolian scales are also the major and natural minor scales respectively. The numbers below each note are the degree of the notes with respect to the major scale e.g. the Dorian scale has a flat-3rd and flat-7th compared to the major scale. When harmonized in thirds (until the 7th for this article), each mode has their respective chords as well and some of them end up having the same chords. This gives us different scale choices to play over the same chord. Having options is always good.

  1. Cmaj7 – C Ionian/Major, C Lydian
  2. Cm7 – C Dorian, C Phrygian, C Aeolian/Minor
  3. C7 – C Mixolydian
  4. Cm7(b5) – C Locrian

Now we split the modes into groups where Ionian/Major, Lydian and Mixolydian will be in the major group while Dorian, Phrygian and Aeolian/Minor will be in the minor group and lastly the Locrian in the ‘special’ group (I don’t know what to call this!). In the major group, we will compare each scale to the Ionian/Major scale. Looking at the chart above, the Lydian and Mixolydian scales are just Ionian/Major scale with a sharp-4th (F#) and flat-7th (Bb) respectively. On the other hand, we will compare the scales in the minor group to the Aeolian/Minor scale and it should be obvious that the Dorian has a natural-6th (A) while the Phrygian as a flat-2nd (Db). The minor scale is equally important as the major scale so it’s essential to have its formula memorized! The Locrian mode is special because it harmonizes to a half diminished chord which doesn’t sound major nor minor. It doesn’t sound that good on its own but is commonly used as a passing chord or as a 2 chord in a minor 2-5-1 progression (it’s used for major 2-5-1 as well but not as common). It is special so let it be special!

I hope this post helps in showing the difference between the 7 modes in a major scale. This applies to other scales like the melodic minor and harmonic minor scales as well. It’s a good thing to practice modes as it opens up different possibilities in our improvisation. Have fun practicing!


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