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Modal Scale/Keys
What makes modal scales different?
Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 Topic Rating: 5 (41 votes) 
Gordon Shumway
London, England

May 13, 2023 - 5:10 am
Member Since: August 1, 2016
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I think the chart is one of various coherent logs of such data, BUT, if you want to play modal music, I think you should not be wanting to play it in EVERY key (agreeing with abitrusty, perhaps) - not initially, anyway (see below) - that is an illusion created by classical music requiring you to practise scales in every key.

The sort of music that was played in modes was popular and accessible. You might have had a penny whistle and didn't know or care what a key was, or you might have had a Rebec and you played in the mode of the middle string (of three), whatever you had tuned it to. You really only cared about one option. And remember that the people who made this music maybe didn't even now what Lydian or Mixolydian meant. And 99% of the music they made was in one "mode". In fact some of the modes only differ according to whether the last note is a tone or a semitone below the tonic, so they probably didn't even think they were different modes, they just played that leading note according to their ear or according to tradition.

The most common violin music is in D major or D minor, so if you learn to play modally in D, as a start, then that's probably as much as you'll ever need or want to do.

To want to play G# Lydian is foolish, almost as foolish as wanting to play G# Locrian. And if you had a friend with a home-made penny whistle who wanted you to accompany them (you'd be lucky if the whistle was exactly G# rather than a quarter tone flat or sharp), then your ears are what is needed.

The key to understanding modes is, read less, listen more.



May 13, 2023 - 8:13 am
Member Since: June 10, 2020
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@ABitRusty -

Yes, it would be fabulous if someone would make a video like that, don't know of any existing ones that are similar - especially geared for the fiddle. 

Afraid I'm years away from making a decent video, and to be honest, I can't set a good example - I'm just too short on time & attention span to be interested in drilling myself on modes, or scales, I'm not currently using. 

I do want to recognize main features & know where to find more info when I'm ready to use one. 


@Gordon Shumway -

I agree listening is very important!  ...feel it's paid off well for me in just a few years. 

Playing different genres has helped me with some specific modes & scales.  


...off the top of my heard, I'm pretty fond of Em & Edor Irish tunes, mixolydian Scottish piper tunes, and phrydgian metal, pop & flamenco music. 


August 25, 2023 - 11:08 pm
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ELCBK said

I have a NEW favorite "Circle of 5ths" Chart... with MODES!

Modal_Circle_of_5ths_Chart.pngImage Enlarger

I have found it useful to refer to this chart, but after watching this video by Rick Beato, I can see where changing the order of these concentric rings to reflect the natural order of modes as SCALE DEGREES would be SO MUCH MORE BENEFICIAL (it's already set up like the circle of 5ths)!!! 

1st Scale Degree - Outer Ring) Ionian 

2nd) Dorian 

3rd) Phrygian 

4th) Lydian 

5th) Mixolydian 

6th) Aeolian 

7th Scale Degree - Innermost Ring) Locrian


I don't know why this didn't 'click' with me before now!  🥴 


Understanding The Chord/Scale Relationship - Rick Beato 


...oh great, NOW I wish I knew how to do computer graphics to make a new chart. 🙄 

* edit - found a better chart & posted it in the Key Signature Chart Thread


September 5, 2023 - 12:00 am
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I just realized that Rick Beato mentioned he taught his son all the chords, etc... when he was FOUR YEARS OLD... wait a minute, his son has Perfect Pitch!!!  So, if Rick says the names of 4 notes his son knows what those notes sound like, without hearing them!  

I remember some of the Circle of 5ths (that I use frequently), but I still haven't memorized the whole thing. 🙄 

A Piano keyboard can definitely help me listen to qualities of scales/modes & chords.  I learned notes on a piano before anything else in music, but using standard music notation helps me understand changes in keys/modes and within chord progressions (when I can see them as notes on the staff), much better. 

...found a cool place to explore scales & modes!  Hooktheory.com has 'Cheat Sheets' where you can learn about/see/listen to & compare scales/modes, along with their popular chords (inversions), chord progressions & popular songs that use them!  What you WON'T find there: Blues & Pentatonic studies. 😒 

I think it is so amazing that a group of scales & modes ('Modal' Circle of 5ths charts) can ALL be made of the EXACT SAME NOTES... but they sound different!  When I listen to Ddor vs Am - I prefer the sound of Ddor MUCH more than Am - same notes & they both sound 'minor', but very different to me.  To my surprise, when I listen to just the 1st Triad of Ddor vs Am, I like them BOTH equally!  It's because that 1st Triad for Ddor = Dm! 

Going to stop here, because this gets into exploring another topic I love - HARMONY! 


I really want to get more comfortable with - Pentatonic & Blues Scales! 

Five, six, seven & nine note Blues scales!

I've fooled around with the 12 bar Blues progression, but think I better seriously start targeting tunes to learn that use these scales - maybe at least start listening to more of them!  ...I'm sure I'll favor minor over major. 😉

Got any favorites to share in the Jazz and Blues Topics, Rock and Pop Topics, Country Topics, or one of the other genre sections? 


December 3, 2023 - 2:28 pm
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Moose And Christmas Balls Smiley

Amazing (to me) that ever since I was introduced to the 'Modal Circle of 5ths' chart, it's changed the way I look at tunes! 

When I used to see someone mention going to the 'relative key', I used to think: okay, I'm in _ major, so what minor key to I go to?  Now I think - which relative mode could be my next playground? 

When I look a little closer at a new tune, I'm looking for what the structure is and what 'key' it is notated in.  This is sometimes hard for me to determine just by listening, sometimes hard even WITH a key signature!  Why? 

Just a few observations:

  • first of all, ONE key signature can actually indicate any of at least 7 keys/modes. 
  • sometimes the key is given for a tune, but I find that proposed 'tonic' is not the 1st, or last note in the tune/part. 
  • sometimes the tonic doesn't feel very prominent anywhere, or maybe for only 1 part. 
  • Seems these can be a good indication the tune is really in a different Mode, or maybe just parts have been changed to a relative key/mode! 
  • I believe this perspective might help broaden my choices, so I might develop better harmony & interesting progressions, over time. 

The Christmas List Smiley


...been scrutinizing tunes from the beginning of my fiddling journey, probably because I'm learning on my own.  The Session has been an important part of this, because it's like having a whole roasted turkey on a platter - I can't just look at it... I have to pull it apart to find the stuffing!  There are just SO MANY CELTIC TUNES there - notated with audio, variations, and tons of discussions that fuel my curiosity! 

So, if I want to find tunes in a certain key, or type, one place I always search is thesession.org. 

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