What Are Musical Modes & How To Use Them | Music Theory Lesson

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What ARE musical modes? You may have heard terms like Ionian, Dorian, Phyrgian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, or Locrian… but what do they mean? Modes are like scales, but what’s the difference? Join Sweetwater’s Jacob Dupre as he explains a basic concept for understanding modes that can be grasped by musicians and non-musicians alike. You’ll also learn the modes of the major scale, why modes are important, and how legendary musicians like Miles Davis and John Coltrane used them for composing and improvisation.

#Sweetwater #MusicalModes

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thorified says:

Sting is some of my favorite modal music compositions

Carl Garrett says:

Great Video!

Shawn Su says:

Best explanation on modes I’ve seen so far. Most people don’t even explain interval which is the fundamental reason for different modes

Barbara Garnar says:

I've been looking for a few years for a really good video explaining modes. Thanks so much for putting this together. It's simple, while actually giving a detailed explanation about how the half and whole steps change with the modes. (Thanks for not just saying "Dorian starts on D." Going to use this video for my theory class now that we are on quarantine and doing distance learning.

Joey Mitchell says:

C Dorian: "Don't Take Me Alive", Steely Dan

dbeentjes says:

Wow, this really helped me. I'm a total noob.

Derek G says:

Holy crap this really helped.

Gregory Evans Callaway says:

Nice, however I have to watch it more than once.

Bruce Mincks says:

An interval is a difference iin tone, not a position in scale.
There are six partials to a whole tone.

Plato describes the ancient tetracord in the Timaeus dialog, which is very difficult to understand in modern translation, but it simply reflects Pythagoras' discovery of the "harmonic intervals" (½, ⅓, ¼ . . .) which is simply a harmonic, not arithmetic series of numbers. The first division gives an octave of measure, not a length of interval. The only true harmony on the scale is at C E G (½, ⅓, ¼) as measured in the ancient tetrakys. The integration of harmony into music, therefore, likely begins where (m = n -1) measures the interval as m = 1/n measures the partial notes on a given length of scale.

Aristotle distinguishes between a length (arithmois) and a measure (mese) in numbers. The measure of the mese is equivalent to the difference between a major and minor E in the Dorian mode, as described in the video. The way up is the way down.

Look in the Arithmetic of Hippocratus for ten equations (tetrakys) which complete the "circle of fifths" which are also the "keys" of scale. Those modalities are the basis for medieval harmonies as epitomized in Gregorian Chants.

Modern music is fundamentally based on syncopated rhythm in jazz and dissonance in scale.


Leonard Bernstein was a great teacher of music. Another program, about Beethoven' 9th, explores the origins of new scales by Debussy and Hindemith.

Thus the study of Music is not the subject of Harmony. Music is one of the original Quadrivium, which complements the trivium of ancient subjects of learning.


Here is a very comprehensive study of where these concepts of "scale" fit into the context of Plato and Aristotle, which will explain how Music and Arithmetic are distinct from Geometry in meaning while indicating how harmony and astronomy don't change for Kepler or Galileo as geometry does change between Sir Issac Newton and Max Planck in Physics.

Emil Andersen says:

Thanks so much for the help, sweetwater is just amazing

Smash Ogre says:

Great explanation and demonstration! What I still struggle with is how to know when we should use the "language" of modes, and when to use the language of keys and chords – "Cm11b9/A" (yes, I completely made that up). Any guidance much appreciated!

Tony Lancer says:

Question: Why did Coltrane play a C Harmonic Minor on top of the E Dorian voicing? I don't get it. Yelp. Jazz me up, someone.

Abelhas da Mantiqueira says:


brianderek says:

Learned the modes at Berklee. I believe they are very useful if you play any western music from the early 20th century to today. The modes are simply the organization of notes/scales behind diatonic harmony- music with most notes relating to a certain key etc. And most music is written in a key, so the modes help in showing the available choice of notes for the improvisor.


you are my best teacher

LakeWater says:

Good video, would like to see more like this on music theory. Thanks!

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