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. It really sounds good with many different types of songs. To me it has a just a twinge of sadness or negativity to it because it is exactly like the major scale except for the 7th note of the scale is flat, and that is that “tiny bit of sadness” that many songs need.
- (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.