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Modes in Traditional Music

Western music usually fits into a "doh,re,me" scale (Doh a deer a female deer, re a drop of golden sun ...)

A major scale uses doh as its 'home' note - which means it usually ends on doh.

However you can start and end a scale on any note in the doh,re, me scale - where you start and end defines the mode, start and end on doh's and its a major scale, also known as Ionian.

The other mode commonly found in classical music is the minor which starts and ends on 'lah' (However the minor scale is actually a bit more complicated in classical music), The unmessed around with mode which starts on lah is the Aeolian mode.

However other modes exist, particularly in folk music, particularly the Dorian mode, which starts on "re".

You can hear what a scale in Dorian mode sounds like - play a scale using just the white notes on a piano starting on D and ending on D. A famous reel in the Dorian mode is The Tarbolton, in E Dorian. That's a scale with 2 sharps starting and ending on E.

Here are the modes alongside the doh, re, me

doh Major, Ionian
re Dorian
me Phrygian
fah Lydian
soh Mixolydian
lah Minor, Aeolian
te Locrian

If you have a traditional tune which is written with two sharps (for example), how can you tell the mode ? Well find the 'home' note, usually where the tune ends, often but not always where it starts. This is the note to which the melody leads. Then think about the key signature and the number of sharps or flats. Then you can use the following table to calculate the mode.

For example the tune has two sharps, F# and C# and the home note is E. Look down the left hand column for 2 sharps then across for E. This is in the column headed Dorian, so the tune is in E Dorian.

You can use this chart the other way around - to answer the question "What is the key signature of xyz mode ?". For example, what is the key signature of D Mixolydian (or Dmix)? Look down the column headed Mixolydian until you find D. Then look across to the left hand column - you'll see that Dmix has 1 sharp.

Key Sig Home Note
Major Dorian Phrygian Lydian Mixolydian Minor Locrian
0 Sharps C D E F G A B
1 Sharp G A B C D E F#
2 Sharps D E F# G A B C#
3 Sharps A B C# D E F# G#
4 Sharps E F# G# A B C# D#
5 Sharps B C# D# E F# G# A#
6 Sharps F# G# A# B C# D# E#
7 Sharps C# D# E# F# G# A# B#
1 Flat F G A Bb C D E
2 Flats Bb C D Eb F G A
3 Flats Eb F G Ab Bb C D
4 Flats Ab Bb C Db Eb F G
5 Flats Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C
6 Flats Gb Ab Bb C Db Eb Fb
7 Flats Cb Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb

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