The following 3 part article was written this evening as a single piece of work, however, upon postimg, it exceeded the allowable character limit, so I haveparcelled it out.

One of the most talked about subjects on guitar forums is modes. guitarists seem fascinated with them. Here I will discuss a little on the history, evolution, aural properties of and application of the modes. I do not claim to be an expert on ancient Greek and /or Gregorian music, but understanding the origin of the modes may help aid in one's ability to fully utilize them in one's music. I make no claims as to the completeness of the history given, after all, modal use flourished for eleven centuries, someone could spend an entire career and fill volumes analyzing the development of the modes accross that time span.

This is a condensed version of the article I originally wrote. Some of you that have read previous articles may have notice my tendency to be a bit bookish about things, concerning this article, I apologize in advance for this. I assure you that I have edited out as much as I have included in an attempt to streamline the information to make it suitable fo a forum post.

Feel free to cite this article. It is my original work, though the information is all pretty much public domain, the wording and organization of said information, as well as any conclusions, interpretations, commentary, etc... belong to me. Quote me and cite me all you like, I simply ask to have my name attached to the citation.

I. The Evolution of the Modes

In the beginning.....

OK, perhaps not the beginning, but in the days of ancient Greek music, modes eveolved . The names of the modes were derived form cities in which the sound of a particular mode was commonly employed. In addition to the mode names we have today, the Greeks had extra modes such as "Hypolydian" and "Hypolydian". The modes had to do with the way in which a tone series (scale) approached it's final (tonic). In the days of Greek music, what we may call a tonic was at the end of the scale rather than the beginning.

The Greek modes were believed by scholars of the time to cause in the listener certain emotional reactions. This property of both the Greek and our modern modes is one of the reasons for their resurgence in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Greeks had no equivelent to our diatonic harmonic system. They had no actual definite pitches (such as A=440), the idea of absolute pitch had not been made reality yet. This means that if 5 singers read the same tone on paper, they may produce 5 (presumably slightly) different tones. However, the modes we hear today are not exactly derived from the Greek modes bearing the same nomenclature.

The Gregorian or "Church" modes.

Around the end of the sixth century A.D., Pope Gregory is credited with codifying the modal system employed by the medieval church. Gregorian chant, or plainsong, consisting of unaccompanied modal melodies. A few years ago there was a CD released by some monks that featured some very beautiful Gregorian chant. You can buy it in most any New Age store in the 90's it achieved a good degree of widespread popularity.

The Gregorian modes were devised by scholars under Pope Gregory from a text on ancient Greece by a scholar named Boethius. However, much of the information was misinterpreted and the modes of the church differed from the modes as the Greeks actually used them.

The Gregorian modes were very succesful, they persisted as the musical system that dominated Western music for over 1100 years, until the Baroque era, and the emergence of Diatonic Tonality. the modes had been evolving over time and in the Baroque era, the Diatonic system had taken form. For many year, up into the late Classical period, the modes had been abandoned, composers began favoring the new and sophisticated tonal system. Music of the Baroque and Classical era was highly "chord-centric" with harmonic progressions being the primary organizng factor in the mind of the composer. Keep in mind that these generalizations about the Baroque era apply to what we would think of as "main stream" European composers. In various folk musics of the era, modes were still in use.

Later composers, such as Beethoven, Liszt, Bartok, etc.... began making use of modes in order to impart a certain effect or mood. Beethoven merely hinted at modal flavors on occasion whereas Bartok really emphasized modal personalities in some of his work.

The modes as heard and employed in modern music.

In modern mainstream music (meaning jazz, rock, country, blues, etc.....) the modes made their first resurgence in jazz. Jazz players began employing the Dorian mode instead of the Natural Minor over a ii chord, or the Mixolydian mode over the V7, etc..... The Melodic Minor scale, in jazz, is most often used with the sharp 6 and 7 remaining sharp in descent as well as ascention, and is often treated modally, producing some very nice and exotic sounds.

Certain modes are identifyable even today with particular ethnic musics. The Phrygian mode, for example, is a staple of Flamenco music. Especially when employed with a #3; which would make it the 5th "mode" of the harmonic minor scale. For instance, E Phrygian Dominant would be the 5th "mode" of the A harmonic minor scale. The term Phrygian Dominant comes from the fact that a Phrygian scale with a #3 will yield a dominant chord; in the key of Am this would be an E7. (Incidentally, the entire reason the Harmonic Minor scale developed was to solve the problem of minor keys not producing a Dominant 7th chord based on the 5th degree. This chord was needed in order to create a V7-I cadence, the progression that nearly all of Western music has revolved around for over 400 years. But, i digress, we will save this too for a future article).

*(that is a minor scale with a sharp 6 and 7 while ascending and anatural 6 and 7 descending, a practice known as inflection, a topic that will be addressed in a future article)

CLICK HERE FOR PART 2 : https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/forum/showthread.php?t=383302
Last edited by spaivxx at Jun 26, 2006,
We are not worthy. Thank you so much. I'd buy you a beer if you lived in London.
I agree, good stuff! Except the little thing we had a similar argument about before. You said somewhere in this article that Phrygian Dominant has a #3, I disagree. Phrygian has a b3, and Phrygian dominant has a 3

But, a great job! You're a nice guy for writing out a lot of this! (also applies to all you articles)
elvenkindje, read part two and you will have a much better understanding of this. I actually wrote this entire article out of the frustration caused by our previous conversation. In Part two (find it in UG Contribution of click the link at the end of part 1) I fully explain why it is also correct to hear the Phrtgian as a minor scale with a flat 2, and thus the Phrygian Dominant as a Phrygian with a sharp 3.