Diatonic Modes

There are only seven basic modes, and they are diatonic modes. Each one has its own name. Diatonic is a fancy word for only using the seven notes of a major scale: These seven basic modes are diatonic modes. With these seven basic modes you can write an incredible amount of interesting music, but this is just the start.

Starting with C major is the easiest:

You can make all the modes with white notes. So start with the C major scale, then start on each note: Even though each mode can be considered a subset of a major scale, each one sounds like its own world.

You can get to all of the diatonic modes from another mode by moving just one note of some other mode:

You can get to every mode except Locrian by starting from major – also called Ionian – or from natural minor – also known as Aeolian.

To get to Locrian you have to start with natural minor and change two notes.

There are 12 keys or pitch levels for the modes:

Three can be written two different ways, making it look like 15. They all sound the same except each is higher or lower than the others:

Sometimes moving one note of a diatonic mode gives you a new scale that is not a mode:

By continuing to make more than one note of a mode go up or down you get many more cool scales that are not modes: I call these other cool scales altered modes. At this time I’m sticking to seven note scales, but you can make more by adding extra notes or by using completely different systems.

In general you want to name only the most important and common scales because there are so many:

Too many names gets confusing. Then you can’t remember which name goes to which scale. For the time being I’m only going to present scales that are entirely made of half steps and whole steps. Example of scales that are not like this are harmonic minor, gypsy major and minor, the whole tone scale and the octatonic scale. Those are separate subjects.

2 thoughts on “Diatonic Modes

  1. I am currently learning to play the modes. It seems strange to play a scale you know by starting on a different note. For example, to play D Dorian you start on D and play the C major scale. All the notes are white.

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