Teach Yourself Music Theory – 24.) Diatonic Modes

Now, there are more scales in music than just the major, natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor. In fact, I have came across a reference book that listed over 2,000 different scales. That being said, we are not going to cover all those (just yet), but we do want to cover a new way to look and build scales.


Modes are scales the encompass the same pitches as a key area, but are not technically our known major or natural minor. Their “tonic” and tonal sense of gravity is elsewhere away from the accepted tonic. Diatonic modes are ones constructed from the diatonic pitches of a key – we will go over this shortly.


There are 7 diatonic modes (6 to some people that do not include Locrian), with one scale built on each pitch of a key. Taking the key of C Major for example, here are the modes with their names:


Notice that each mode is a scale that travels an octave length in distance; basically C major scales starting on different pitches. However, they are all obvious different scales even though the contain the same pitch-class collection because of the intervals in the scale.

NOTE: the major scale is the Ionian Mode, and the natural minor scale is the Aeolian Mode.


To build a diatonic modal scale, you can do one of two things:


Say you wanted to build E Dorian. Dorian is the second mode – so, we know that Dorian comes from D Major, just keep the accidentals and start a scale on the second pitch. Or, you can memorize that Dorian is | 1 – 2 – b3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – b7 – 8 | and construct it from there.


Practice building the modes, playing them, and memorizing the names.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read! Feel free to comment, share, and subscribe for more daily tips below! Till next time.

Author: Bryan M. Waring

Bryan Waring is a graduate of USM's School of Music with a B.M. in Performance – Composition and is now attending Belmont University for a M.M. in Commercial Media – Composition & Arranging. During his time at USM, he studied violin with Dino Liva and composition with Dr. Daniel Sonenberg, as well as has premiered several pieces during the semiannual Composer's Ensemble concert series. In 2017, Bryan was a writer for the original musical theater work of "Molded By The Flow," directed by Paul Dresher and Rinde Eckert. Outside of school, Bryan has been involved with writing music for videogame developers at Portland's CI2 Lab, collaborating with the King Tide Party, and studying with Larry Groupé (Straw Dogs) in San Diego. Now living in Nashville. Along with composing, Bryan teaches music to children, receiving the Master Teacher Award for his work at ESF Camps; and does audio engineering for live ensembles. Besides talents in music, Bryan is a team-player in any competitive work environment; equipped with skills in leadership, organization, mathematics, creativity, communication, and managing. On the side, Bryan has worked as a model for several skilled artists in the New England area. Among his other accomplishments include obtaining the rank of Eagle Scout in April 2013 with a project of building a side parking area with guide rails for Webb Mountain Park in Monroe, CT.

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