This month, because of the amount of questions I get from my own students, I’ve figured we should Tarantino this whole thing and go back to the beginning and discuss the creation and definition of modes.
The easiest way I’ve found to describe modes to students, is to have them look at a piano. The distinction in color between the white and black keys of the piano helps people visualize how modes are created. If we take a C and play all the white keys from C to a higher octave of C we get the major scale. That specific patter of whole steps and half steps create our major scale pattern. Now if we were to start on a D, and play all the same white keys to a higher octave of D we will get the Dorian Pattern. And continuing the patternt looks a bit like this:
c d e f g a b c
e f g a b c d e
f g a b c d e f…ect
Now at this point is where I would normally get the question,
‘Well why isn’t it C Dorian.’
Two reasons, One the same reason we say a chord is a particular letter, ie C,G,D,F# or what ever, the starting note or root of that chord is D in this case and not C. Two there is no key signature for Dorian. There are only two types of key signatures, major and minor.
So by doing this on each of the 7 notes of the major scale, we’re given 7 modes. And all of them, with the exception of the 7th scale being minor7b5, are either major or minor with 1 note displaced. ‘Well how do I know if it’s major or minor’ you may ask. The third note in the scale will determine if the note is major or minor.
Key of C
Is F Lydian
Starting on F playing the key of C which is no sharps and no flats will give us:
A whole step to G
Another whole step to A
Another whole step to B
A half step to C
A whole step to E
And a half step to F
Now if F is our root, G is the second, and A the third. F to A is a major third. So our scale is some form of a major scale. The interval between B and F is a tritone and more specifically an augmented or raised 4th. The change we’re looking for.
So now I would describe Lydian as a Major scale with a raised 4th degree.
I would do this for all of your modes. And I recommend taking it slow. And really grasping what the concept is. Also memorizing your circle of 5ths will help with this also. Eventually, like anything we practice, it will become easier and you will be able to do it faster and faster.