As Halloween approaches, this might be a good time to talk about the modes of the major scale. Why you ask? Here’s why:
Years ago, Maria Schneider gave a clinic at a school I teach at. I couldn’t be there because of a conflict, but a student of mine told me that she talked about the modes of the major scale from bright to dark. I was already familiar with this idea from my jazz composition class at University of Miami, taught by the great Ron Miller. I had many mind blowing experiences in that class, and it gave me a newfound approach to how I think about music.
I already knew my modes with a fixed parent scale (C Ionian, D Dorian, E Phrygian, ect.), and had a pretty good idea of their relative brightness/darkness, but I never put them in order of brightest to darkest until that class. I knew that certain modes are clearly darker/brighter than others. Lydian is very bright compared to Phrygian, for example.
Side note: when developing your ear, consider using words to describe chords, like happy (major), sad (minor), questioning (dominant), floaty (sus), birds (Lydian), Detective movie, (Minor major 7), film noir (Aeolian), ect….try to use any connection that works for you. Some people see color, others (like me) see shape. Use your ability of association with your senses (sight, smell, feel, taste) to identify chords.
Here are the modes of the major scale with a fixed root, where the parent scale changes with each new mode, in order of brightest to darkest:
C Lydian-parent G major
C Ionian-parent C major
C Mixolydian-parent F major
C Dorian-parent Bb major
C Aeolian-parent Eb major
C Phrygian-parent Ab major
C Locrian-parent Db major
See a pattern? When I made this discovery, it blew my mind! The parent scales are moving around the cycle of 4th’s as we get darker. The same applies as we go dark to bright (cycle of 5th’s). Moreover, as we get darker, we add one flat or take away one sharp, and the opposite happens in the other direction.
Yeah, but what does this have to do with Halloween? Well, let me ask you this. If you were to compose a piece of music and wanted to convey something with Monsters and cobwebs and spiders, which mode would you choose. I certainly wouldn’t choose Lydian, would I?
There is much more to this, but how much do you want to read here? For more info, or if you have any questions, I’m available.