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Music Theory Quiz and Tutorial - Modes

Updated on January 29, 2017

Test your knowledge of the modes with this quiz. Just to be clear, these are the seven modes, called: Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Ionian and Locrian.

It's necessary to mention it as other types of mode also exist in music, such as the modes of the harmonic and melodic minor scales, as well as the two modes of key-based music, called the major mode and minor mode, often used in classical music analysis. The quiz doesn't include questions on any of those modes.

How did you do?

Have a look at the explanations below for more detailed info on the modes, in case you got any wrong.

Answers Explained

  1. Which mode exactly resembles our present day major scale?

    THE IONIAN MODE

    As music became more tonal and less modal in the latter half of the 17th century, the Ionian mode, due to its particular interval arrangement, was found to be especially suited to establishing strong tonal centres via functional chord progressions - a defining feature of tonal music. That and the minor scale (derived from the Aeolian mode) became the two primary scales of the new major-minor key system that arose around that time, and key-based tonal composition techniques gradually replaced modal techniques
  2. Which mode resembles the major scale apart from having a 4th scale degree that is one semitone higher?

    THE LYDIAN MODE

    F major =FGABbCDEF
    F Lydian = FGABCDEF
    In its earliest usage in Gregorian chant (before sharps and flats were introduced into music), the Lydian mode was based on the note F, but for aesthetic reasons the 4th note (B) was often sung a little lower, making it (almost) identical to our present day B flat note and making the scale equivalent to our present day F major scale. This practice was called musica ficta, and it eventually led to the use of the lowercase letter b to indicate a lowering of the note B. This b, became our present day flat sign and was the first accidental in our current music notation system. It eventually came to mean the lowering of any note by a semitone, not just lowering the B.
  3. If soloing over the modal vamp chord sequence: G-F-C-G, where G is the tonal centre,which mode would fit best?

    G MIXOLYDIAN

    Being the best fit isn't the same thing as the best choice. It just means the notes of the chords agree with the notes of the scale or mode, making it the safest, but not necessarily the best, choice. There are no chromatic clashes between those chords and G Mixolydian's notes, such as F natural in the chords being heard clashing with F sharp in the solo, which could happen if the scale choice was G major instead of G Mixolydian. Such clashes could still be consciously avoided, but on the other hand, they could also be exploited to great effect. So don't confuse best fit with best choice, which is an artistic decision. Best fit is always the safest choice and makes a good home base from which to venture outside whenever you want to go exploring new note relationships and other scales and modes.

    To work out the best fit scale/mode, for a given chord progression that can provide a safe note source for soloing, write out the chord tones of the chords in the sequence:
    G major = GBD
    F major = FAC
    C major = CEG
    Putting them all together, starting from G, (which we already know from the question is the tonal centre), gives us:
    GABCDEFG, which is G Mixolydian (like G major but with the 7th note lowered one semitone).
  4. Which term describes the interval arrangement of all seven modes?

    DIATONIC

    Diatonic scales are scales of 8 notes (including the octave end note) with certain arrangements of three tones and two semitones between the notes (the two semitones being separated by either 2 or 3 whole tones). The term diatonic is derived from the ancient Greek four-string tuning arrangements called diatonic tetrachords. Dia meaning 'through', tonic meaning tones, tetra meaning four and chord meaning string.

  5. Which of the following modes is very common in British and Irish folk music?

    THE DORIAN MODE

    This mode is commonly used in folk music from Britain and Ireland. Examples include, Scarborough Fair, The Lonesome Boatman and Greensleeves, although the latter is commonly heard with alterations and harmonisations that now make it sound more 'minor key' than Dorian mode.
    As a result of folk influence, a fair amount of 60s and 70s English rock music shows Dorian flavours. Pink Floyd's Dark side of the Moon, for example, starts off with a Dorian vamp (Em - A7) that continues and recurs throughout the album.
    The Mixolydian mode is another mode commonly found in British and Irish (and also American) folk and rock music (e.g., Norwegian Wood verse)
  6. Which mode is this 'Spanish sounding' scale: EFGABCDE?

    THE PHRYGIAN MODE

    Mostly due to its semitone interval between the first and second notes, people associate this mode with the sound of Spanish flamenco music. A more commonly used scale in flamenco, however, has the note G# instead of G, and is called by various names including: the gypsy minor scale and the Phrygian dominant scale. The dark haunting feel of that characteristic 'semitone-above-the-tonic' interval of the Phrygian mode is also a popular 'heavy metal' feature.
  7. Which mode did Miles Davis use to compose his classic modal jazz song: 'So What'?

    THE DORIAN MODE

    Modal jazz was a reaction to the preceding fast and furious jazz style of bebop. By contrast, the harmonies are simple vamps consisting of a couple of chords over which melodic lines in a chosen mode are improvised.' So What' is based on the chords D minor 7th and Eb minor 7th and the mode changes pitch to match the chords.
  8. In terms of shared tonal centres, which of the following keys most closely resembles the mode F Lydian?

    F MAJOR

    The important phrase in the question is shared tonal centres. Both the key, F major and the mode F Lydian share the note F as their tonal centre and differ by only one note (F Lydian has B; F major has Bb). C major has exactly the same notes as F Lydian, and so it's the closest key in terms of shared notes but obviously has a completely different tonal centre.
  9. When were these modes first devised?

    IN MEDIEVAL TIMES

    The first four of these modes (Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian and Mixolydian) were note systems devised by medieval monks, in order to organise and classify the existing body of Church plainchant, etc., around the 7th century. (source: medieval.org). They also served to provide a compositional framework for new music being composed for the church. The use of the Latin-derived word 'modes' (meaning: manner,method) reflects this approach to composing music in defined (and Church approved) ways. They were wrongly named: Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian and Mixolydian after what the monks mistakenly believed to be the original ancient Greek note system. It wasn't the same, but the wrong Greek names are still used.

    In addition, each authentic mode had an accompanying so-called plagal mode, which had the same notes (and final note) but starting four notes lower, allowing an extended range of lower notes. These were named: Hypodorian, Hypophrygian, Hypolydian and Hypomixolydian.

    Of the remaining modes, the Ionian and Aeolian (plus their plagal counterparts, Hypoionian and Hypoaeolian) weren't introduced until the mid 16th century, although, secular, and even some sacred, music already existed that could be seen in terms of what later became the Ionian and Aeolian modes. The Locrian mode (with its plagal partner, the hypolocrian) came later still which expanded the modal system to its full complement of fourteen modes, but was never considered to have any musical value due to the unstable tritone interval between its first and fifth notes. The hypo (plagal) modes eventually became irrelevant and obsolete leaving the seven authentic modes that still survive today.
  10. Which note of F Dorian differs from the scale of F natural minor?

    D

    F Dorian - F G Ab Bb C D Eb F
    F minor - F G Ab Bb C Db Eb F
    This holds true for all arrangements of the Dorian mode. The 6th degree will always be one chromatic semitone higher than the minor scale with the same tonic. Modes should be learned in relation to the major and minor keys that share the same tonic, so that the differences between them can be easily seen.
    Many learners of modes think of them simply as rotations of the major scale. For example, F Dorian might be seen as the second 'mode' or rotation of the scale of E flat major as it has exactly the same notes but starting from note 2 of that major scale. This is a convenient way of remembering the notes of modes (assuming they already know their major and minor scales) but doesn't show how they are related musically. For that, the modes need to be compared with the major or minor scales based on the same tonic (first) note.
    F Dorian is only subtly different from F minor, and by comparing them, we can immediately see that the difference in feel or mood is caused by that 6th note being a chromatic semitone higher. It's the only difference.
    On the other hand, F Dorian is very different musically from E flat major, despite having exactly the same notes (although, in a different order), but comparing them reveals nothing about what makes F Dorian sound the way it does. That's because it's not the notes that define any mode or key, it's the unique relationship that the notes have with the first note or tonic. They have to be compared with the same tonic note to really understand the difference.

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