Modes can add interest and really shape a musical piece so knowing the modes and what each is noted for is a good thing. I come back to this post quite often when I am composing so I can choose a mode.
First, some good articles on musical modes:
Here are how I characterize different musical modes:
I put a capital “M” in front of the ones that are “Major”-sounding, and a lower-case “m” for ones that sound “minor.”
For example, any of the ones with lower-case m, if you play the scale over a minor chord, they will sound good. And do the opposite for the capital M ones.
- (M) Ionian or Major – Bright and joyful.
- (m) Aeolian or Minor – Sad and oppressive. Quite the downer. Use for super sad stuff.
- (m) Dorian – A minor-type of scale that is slightly sad but very hopeful. Like the minor scale but with a slight difference that is the raised 6th note (the Dorian 6th). Although it is mostly minor, it has an uplifting feel to it when played.
- (m) Phrygian – Dark and tension-filled. I’ve heard it works for heavy metal, flamenco, and jazz music, but I don’t know for sure. It has an oriental and Spanish feel to it as well. It is kind of foreboding in its feel.
- (M) Lydian – Mystical and mainly used in jazz. It is a major scale with a raised 4th. It has a mysterious sound that is also uplifting at the same time.
- (M) Mixolydian – Blues, rock, jazz, and funk use this one. Similar to the major scale in feel, but with a bit of a difference.
- (m) Locrian – Unstable and tense is the Locrian scale’s forte. It has a dissonance to it but is not as sad as the minor mode.