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Model Modish Modes: A Coda

Updated on October 16, 2011

One of the best ways to grasp the sound of a particular mode, of course, is to hear it. There are some songs other than that one mentioned obliquely in Part II, which are written in modes other than Ionian and Aeolian. But identifying the mode and key is not always totally straightforward. One reason for this is that all good music may move out of its home key through various chord progressions that include notes that don’t belong to the home key at all.

Another reason is that some of the music that at first glance would seem to be in a minor key is actually pentatonic. One example is the chorus/hymn “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.” It is in the “minor pentatonic” or “pure melodic minor pentatonic” modality. With a root of E, it uses only the pitches E-G-A-B and D.

In addition, many songs that are not pentatonic, but use six rather than five or seven tones, omit the sixth degree, the one distinguishing degree of the scale and therefore could be either Aeolian or Dorian, for example the American folk song “The Erie Canal” (first theme). If it is played with the note A as its tonic or root, then the notes used would be A-B-C-D-E-G-A. A complete Aeolian scale would be A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A, and a complete Dorian scale would be A-B-C-D-E-F#-G-A. Notice that the one tone that distinguishes between Aeolian and Dorian modes (F vs. F#) is not used at all in this song.

It is a fun and slightly challenging exercise to look up songs in minor keys and try to determine whether they are actually pentatonic, Aeolian, possibly Dorian, or in one of the other types of minor keys (harmonic minor and melodic minor, mentioned in Part I).


 

A song that is definitely modal, written in Mixolydian mode, is the old song “Old Joe Clark.”  If you are familiar with it, think about the note that accompanies the word “Clark”:  that is the flat seventh degree (compared with an Ionian scale) that distinguishes the Mixolydian from the Ionian mode.

 

An old folk song “Bachelor’s Hall” is Dorian, but it is rather unfamiliar and possibly inaccessible.  There are some church songs – choruses or hymns – that are Dorian, including “He Is Here” by Jimmy Owens, “What Wondrous Love,” and “One Small Child” By David Meece.  Try playing/singing these with the sixth degree lowered to make them Aeolian.  They just don’t have the same impact, do they?

 

But many familiar minor songs, or songs with minor passages, are not Aeolian or Dorian, but rather are harmonic minor or melodic/jazz minor (the ascending portion of the melodic minor scale is identical to the jazz minor).  Examples of these would be the phrase in “Yesterday” by the Beatles, “All my problems seemed so far away.” This begins on the fifth degree of the scale.  Try the following changes to hear some modal flavor: (Assume the starting pitch of the song is D with C as the opening chord.)

 

Original, jazz minor key of A (melodic pitches, not chords, are indicated):

E    F#   G#   A     B           C    B   A  A

All  my   problems seemed so  far away.

Aeolian mode, key of A

E    F    G    A      B           C    B   A  A

All my   problems seemed so  far away.

Dorian mode, key of A

E    F#   G     A     B          C    B   A  A

All my   problems seemed so  far away.

Phrygian mode, key of A

E    F    G    A       Bb         C    Bb  A  A

All my   problems seemed  so  far  away.

If you would like to compare the sounds of an Ionian song with the same song manipulated into Lydian or Mixolydian modes, try the following folk song.  The top row of letters shows the pitches of the melody; the second row is a collection of suggested chords to fit the new mode.  Rhythm is suggested with bar lines and with hyphens to indicate longer notes.

 

Original:

C | C   F   G   | A  -   F        E  | D   Bb Bb | Bb -       

     F                                        Bb                                        

O give me a   home where the buf -fa -lo  roam,

A        Bb | C’ -   F   F     | F  E  F     | G - - | -  -

                 F                  G7/D  G7     C        C7

where the deer and the   antelope    play.

C       |  C   F   G | A  -     F  E | D  Bb Bb   | Bb -

            F                                  Bb                                   

Where seldom is heard   a discouraging    word,

Bb Bb   | A -    G    F    | E     F  G | F - - | - - - |

             F/C                  C7            F

and the skies are not   cloudy all day.

C’- -  |  Bb     A   G |  A - - | - - 

F          C7                F                               

Home, home on the range,      

C        C   | F     F     F   | F   E   F  | G  -  - | -  - 

                 Dm                G7            C          C7

where the deer and the  ante-lope play.

C        |  C   F   G | A  -   F  E | D Bb Bb   | Bb - 

             F                               Bb              Bbm             

Where  seldom is heard a discouraging   word,

Bb Bb   | A -   G     F  | E     F  G | F - - | - -

              F/C               C7            F

and the skies are not cloudy all day.

 

Lydian:

C | C   F   G | A  -   F        E  | D    B   B | B -        

     F                                        G                                           

O give me a home where the buf -fa -lo  roam,

A        B  |  C’ -   F   F   | F  E  F |  G -  - | -  -

                  F                  G7          C    

where the deer and the antelope play.

C       |  C   F   G | A  -   F  E | D  B  B |  B -   

            F                               G                                     

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,

B    B |   A -    G    F |  E     F  G | F - - | - - - |

              F                   G6       G  F

and the skies are not cloudy all day.

C’- - |   B       A   G |  A - - | - -          

F         G                  F                                                     

Home, home on the range,        

C         C   | F     F     F  | F  E  F  | G  -  - | -  -

                                       G7           C    

where the deer and the  ante-lope play.

C       |  C   F   G | A  -   F  E | D  B   B  |  B -     

            F                               G                                   

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,

B     B  | A -    G    F  | E     F  G | F - - | -  -

             F                   G6      G    F

and the skies are not cloudy all day.

 

Mixolydian:

C | C   F   G | A  -   F       Eb | D   Bb Bb | Bb - 

     F                                       Bb                                        

O give me a home where the buf -fa -lo  roam,

A       Bb | C’ -    F   F  | F  Eb  F | G -  - | -  -

                  F                  Eb          Gm    Cm   

where the deer and the antelope play.

C       |  C   F   G | A  -   F  Eb | D  Bb Bb | Bb -

            F                               Bb                                   

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,

Bb Bb   | A -    G    F | Eb   F  G | F - - | - - - |

             F/C                Eb           F

and the skies are not cloudy all day.

C’- - |   Bb     A   G |  A - - | - - 

F         Gm               F                                                       

Home, home on the range,        

C        C   |  F     F     F  | F  Eb  F  | G  -  - | -  -

                                       Eb           Cm       Gm   

where the deer and the  ante-lope play.

C       |  C   F   G | A  -   F  Eb | D Bb Bb | Bb - 

Cm       F                               Bb                                   

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word,

Bb  Bb |  A -   G    F  | Eb   F  G | F - - | - 

             F/C               Eb      Cm  F

and the skies are not cloudy all day.

 

If you have read this far, you probably already know that the process of making music in various modes is really not as simple as exchanging one note for another or one chord for another.  Each mode has its own characteristic chord progressions as well.  But I hope this little exercise may be helpful in demonstrating the sounds of the various modes.

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