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Thread: Church Modes: What's their purpose? How do they work? How do they apply to composing?

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    Junior Member Zuo17's Avatar
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    Question Church Modes: What's their purpose? How do they work? How do they apply to composing?

    Hello everyone,

    I'm not sure this thread belongs in this area, since I couldn't find a "Music Theory" section.

    Anyway, I've been studying music theory(just finished learning how to read scales and key signatures without memorizing the circle of 5ths<---evil).

    One quick inquiry I have regards the "Church Modes"(Ionian, Dorian, Mixolydian, etc,). I can't seem to truly understand how they work and for what reason do you use them? I can understand how it would work on a C Maj scale, but I get lost when you try to apply it to the other maj scales. I've also hear they are foundational for constructing melodies. How does that even work?

    I'm sorry if you feel like I'm bombarding you with questions, especially ones coming from a music theory newbie...

    I look forward to your help!

    Until again,
    Zach

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    Senior Member andruini's Avatar
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    Well, I think after the Baroque, Classical, and maybe a bit of the Romantic periods, when chromaticism started going into full effect, and when composers like Debussy and other impressionists were experimenting with whole-tone scales and pentatonic scales, the church modes came back.. I've seen many Bartók pieces in mixolydian mode, and others.. I guess, and I may be wrong, it's just a question of style and of a certain sound you want to get, because modal scales do have very characteristic sounds..
    I really like the Phrygian and the Locrian modes myself.. There's something about that minor second.. :P
    Life is a long lesson in humility.

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    Senior Member Rasa's Avatar
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    The modes are just different scales. You don't apply them to a major scale. You can have a melody in C major, so you use CDEFGAB. If you use a church mode, for example C Phrygian C Db Eb FG Ab Bb C

    As far as used to construct melodies: They are just used like other scales. Debussy's melodies, Messiaens have their particualr sound because of the modes they're written in.

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    Senior Member Tapkaara's Avatar
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    Just to add my two cents:

    So-called church modes are indeed scales, to repeat Andruini.

    They can be used to suggest a type of mood or time. For example, Respighi wrote a well known concerto called Concerto in Modo Misolidio (Concerto in the mixolydian mode) because he was infuenced by Gregorian chant, which is often sung in this mode. He wrote this concerto in this mode to suggest Gregorian chant.
    "Music is not philosophy." --Akira Ifukube

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    Quote Originally Posted by andruini View Post
    I really like the Phrygian and the Locrian modes myself.. There's something about that minor second.. :P
    I love the Phrygian and Locrian modes too. I also love the sound of Ab Lydian. I'm also big into Aeolian, Harmonic Minor, and Dorian. The Whole-Tone scale is quite interesting, but I find it harder to use. I also like to use exotic scales like Persian, Egyptian, Hirajoshi, Arabic, etc., but these are merely tools to help you get to a more creative ideal.

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    Air
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    Oh I have to do the "modes" every year for piano too, so I'll give you some help...

    So about playing different modes more easily, when I play let's say the Mixolydian mode, I remember that the leading tone is lowered a half-step. Therefore, when I transfer it to for example, E flat major, I will play E flat major normally, but lower the leading tone a half step as well. Do you follow that?

    I think the other responses already covered your other questions.
    Last edited by Air; Jul-09-2009 at 03:21.
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    Junior Member Zuo17's Avatar
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    Hello everyone,

    I would like to thank you for all your well-thought out responses and helpful replies to my questions!

    airad2, it's that simple? You look at a maj scale and depending on what mode, you raise whatever note to correspond to that mode?

    From my understanding, it seems to me that you would start on the specific degree of a scale to create a mode. For example, from my music theory book, I attempted to create a "chart". Now, I am unsure if it is even correct, it might even be wrong. Please let me know if my chart is full of errors.

    The 7 Church Modes
    Degree Mode
    ~ Tonic(1st note) Ionian
    ~ Supertonic(2nd note) Dorian
    ~ Mediant(3rd note) Phrygian
    ~ Subdominant(4th note) Lydian
    ~ Dominant(5th note) Mixolydian
    ~ Submediant(6th note) Aeolian
    ~ Leading note(7th note) Locrian


    Until again,
    Zach

    P.S. I would also like to thank the moderator or person who moved this topic to the correct section. I never thought of the idea that the modes are mostly involved with keyboard/ pianos.
    What can music be, but of passion, love, and life?

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    Air
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zuo17 View Post
    airad2, it's that simple? You look at a maj scale and depending on what mode, you raise whatever note to correspond to that mode?

    From my understanding, it seems to me that you would start on the specific degree of a scale to create a mode. For example, from my music theory book, I attempted to create a "chart". Now, I am unsure if it is even correct, it might even be wrong. Please let me know if my chart is full of errors.

    The 7 Church Modes
    Degree Mode
    ~ Tonic(1st note) Ionian
    ~ Supertonic(2nd note) Dorian
    ~ Mediant(3rd note) Phrygian
    ~ Subdominant(4th note) Lydian
    ~ Dominant(5th note) Mixolydian
    ~ Submediant(6th note) Aeolian
    ~ Leading note(7th note) Locrian


    Until again,
    Zach
    Yes your chart is right. But you see, we're talking about different things. I was just giving you tips on how to "apply it to other major scales". I should've said E flat not E flat major, because of course E flat is the dominant, and we would be playing it in the A flat key. I hope that helps.
    "Summit or death, either way, I win" ~R. Schumann

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    Senior Member jurianbai's Avatar
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    on rock/jazz guitar soloing context. it will be easier if you search youtube and find the answer by listening a video on how the mode applied in those guitar soloing.

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    Senior Member TresPicos's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zuo17 View Post
    From my understanding, it seems to me that you would start on the specific degree of a scale to create a mode. For example, from my music theory book, I attempted to create a "chart". Now, I am unsure if it is even correct, it might even be wrong. Please let me know if my chart is full of errors.

    The 7 Church Modes
    Degree Mode
    ~ Tonic(1st note) Ionian
    ~ Supertonic(2nd note) Dorian
    ~ Mediant(3rd note) Phrygian
    ~ Subdominant(4th note) Lydian
    ~ Dominant(5th note) Mixolydian
    ~ Submediant(6th note) Aeolian
    ~ Leading note(7th note) Locrian


    Until again,
    Zach
    That's how I see it too.

    You get the sound of the different church modes if you only play the white keys, but start on different keys:

    C: Ionian (normal major scale)
    D: Dorian (like in "Eleanor Rigby")
    E: Phrygian (like in "Hava Nagila")
    F: Lydian (like in "The Simpsons")
    G: Mixolydian (like in "Star Trek TNG")
    A: Aeolian (normal minor scale)
    B: Locrian (like in "Sakura")

  11. #11
    Senior Member Rasa's Avatar
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    That chart leads to the impression that the church mode are a derivative of the major minor ones, but keep in mind that these are all scales by themselves.

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