Scales and Modes

 

Musicians practice scales and modes to gain fluency playing their instruments. Melodies tend to move along scales. Chords and harmonies tend to stay within the set of pitches determined by the scale a group of pitches arranged from high to low covering one octave. When you sight-read music, knowing the scale greatly simplifies the process by providing a pattern for hand positions. When you improvise or play by ear, the scale is the road map that helps you along.

 

The scale also sets up a tonal center. The first degree of the scale is called the tonic, and it is the tonal center. Other scale degrees have special relationships with the tonic. For example, a melody that ends on the second degree of the scale does not give one the feeling that it is over. It sounds like there is more to come.

 

Play or sing this melody. It ends on the second degree of the scale. It needs more to feel finished.

 

 

Next play or sing this melody. It ends on the tonic. It feels much more complete.

 

The scale is more than just a group of pitches. It also implies a kind of framework and system of order with the first degree at the center.

 

Here are a few of the most common scales and modes:

 

Major Scale - also known as the Ionian Mode a type of musical scale

 

The most common scale is the Major scale. In solfeggio a system of naming scale degrees with singable syllables, do re mi fa so la ti do the tonic of the Major scale is do.

 

 

Natural minor scale - also known as the Aeolian Mode

 

The next most common is the minor scale. The natural minor scale uses the exact same notes as the Major scale. The difference is that the tonal center is on a different note. The tonic of the minor scale is on the sixth degree of the Major scale. The tonic of the minor scale is la.

 

 

Harmonic minor scale

 

Raise the seventh degree of the natural minor scale to create the harmonic minor:

 

 

Melodic minor scale

 

Raise the sixth and seventh degrees of the natural minor scale ascending only for the melodic minor scale. Return to the natural minor descending.

 

 

Pentatonic Scale

 

The Pentatonic scale is a five note scale that is a subset of the Major scale. If you remove the fourth degree fa and the seventh degree ti from the Major scale, you have the pentatonic scale.

 

 

 

Ionian Mode

 

The Ionian mode is the same as the Major scale.

 

Dorian Mode

 

The Dorian mode uses the same notes as the Major scale but starts on the second degree of the Major scale.

 

 

Phrygian Mode

 

The Phrygian mode uses the same notes as the Major scale but starts on the third degree of the Major scale.

 

 

Lydian Mode

 

The Lydian mode uses the same notes as the Major scale but starts on the fourth degree of the Major scale.

 

 

Mixolydian Mode

 

The Mixolydian mode uses the same notes as the Major scale but starts on the fifth degree of the Major scale.

 

 

Aeolian Mode

 

The Aeolian mode uses the same notes as the Major scale but starts on the sixth degree of the Major scale. The aeolian mode is the same as the natural minor scale.

 

 

Locrian Mode

 

The Locrian mode uses the same notes as the Major scale but starts on the seventh degree of the Major scale.

 

 

 

The MusicGoals Instrument Scales objectives can draw many more scale types starting on any key.

 

see also: Keyboard Scales, String Scales, Tetrachords and Major Scale, Scale or Note Set, Select Scales, Scale and Chord Reference