Resources  - Ultimate Learning Zone

Scales and Modes

 

Mostly, when we think about singing a scale, we think about a MAJOR SCALE:

 

C           D             E               F              G             A            B               C

I--tone—I—tone—I—semi—I—tone—I—tone—I—tone—I—semi--I

                                    tone                                                           tone

 

If we were feeling excited, we might think about a MINOR scale:

 

C       D    Eb      F     G      A     B     C      Bb     Ab     G     F     Eb     D     C          

     T       S       T     T      T      T     S      T        T        S     T     T       S      T

 

Ascending--------------------------------I--------------------------------Descending

 

Why not practice these “Scales” on your instrument now? ….MMMM Nice!

 

Of course, there’s more than one way to skin a banana, and, if you look at your keyboard you can see that there’s nothing to stop you from going:

 

B          C        D         E          F         G         A         B

 

Or, more usefully,

 

A         B          C         D         E          F          G         A        

 

These rather exciting groups of notes are called “MODES”. The ancient Greeks found a whole bag of these modes:

 

A         B          C         D         E          F          G         A         Aeolian

 

B          C         D         E          F          G         A         B          Locrian

 

C         D         E          F          G         A         B          C         Ionian (our major scale)

 

D         E          F          G         A         B          C         D         Dorian

 

E          F          G         A         B          C         D         E          Phrygian

 

F          G         A         B          C         D         E          F          Lydian

 

G         A         B          C         D         E          F          G         Mixolydian

 

You can use these wonderful things for two purposes:

 

i) In the GCSE listening exam, they might say “is this tune modal?” The most obvious place to start looking is the end. Conventional major and minor scales have a semitone between the seventh of the scale and the tonic. Most modes do not. Lots of Folk Songs are Modal. Does it sound folky? Gregorian Chant was all modal. Is it lots of monks?

ii) You could try to write something in a mode, or a bit of something in a mode. Try playing a tonic (name of the scale note) pedal (hold on to it or just keep repeating it). For example try holding a pedal C. Then play a tune in a key 5 notes higher – in this case G. The G major scale goes G A B C D E F# G. If we started with the C though  it would go C D E F# G A B C. That would men you were playing in C Lydian Mode. Just imagine how popular you would be at parties if you did that J Rather than being “in a key” it is more usual to talk about “Aeolian on G” or “Mixolydian on D” or whatever – to do that you need a bit of Maths:

 

Aeolian Mode:

 

A         B          C         D         E          F          G         A

1          2          b3        4          5          b6        b7        8

 

So “Aeolian on C”:

 

1          2          b3        4          5          b6        b7        8

C         D         Eb        F          G         Ab       Bb        C

 

Other common things to battle with are:

 

PENTATONIC MAJOR SCALE:       1    2    3    5    6          (C     D     E      G     A)

Giving a Celtic / Chinese sound

 

BLUES SCALE:   eg                1 (2)  b3   3  4   b5   5    b7      ( C (D) Eb E  F Gb G Bb)

Giving a ermm  blues feel. I say “eg” because when you get down to the Blues it’s a folk idiom – as in this story of a posh bloke and a Black Country Geezer:

 

Posh Bloke: I say, sirrah, what is that fine beast you are riding today?

BCG: It’s me oss

PB: "oss" - whatever do you mean? I've never come across such a creature! How are you spelling that word?

BCG: Yow doe spell it, yow spakes it!

 

Blues – summat you do, not summat you write out!

 

WHOLE TONE SCALE:   - 1 2          3          #4        #5        #6

                                              C           D         E          F#        G#       A#

 

Famously used by French Composer Debussy, it’s also the tuning of the double second pans in steelband.

 

 

Of course different countries have there own scales. In India there are Ragas- like special scales for each time of the day, but that’s need a page to itself.

 

Try

 

PELOG:           1          b2        b3        5          b6

                        C         Db       Eb        G         Ab

 

HIRAJOSHI:               1          2          b3        5          b6

                                    C         D         Eb        G         Ab

 

MILES DAVIS’ EGYPTIAN MINOR SCALE:         

 

1          2          b3        #4        5          b6        7

C         D         Eb        F#        G         Ab       B

 

Then there’s microtones.

 

Don’t ask.

 

Back to Ultimate Learning Zone 

 

When it happens...it happens at Holly Lodge