• An Introductory Lesson On The Diatonic Modes

    in General Music,Piano,Scales,Theory

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    You arrived at this page because you want to learn about the diatonic modes.

    The knowledge of modes is of the greatest possible importance for all musicians – especially jazz and gospel musicians.

    Although modes were used as scales several centuries ago before they were replaced by scales, they are still used in popular music – especially in modern jazz.

    In this lesson, we’ll define, explain, and explore diatonic modes. But before we go into all that, let’s breakdown these terms:

    • Diatonic
    • Mode

    A Breakdown On The Concept Of Diatonic Modes

    A good way to start this lesson is by breaking down the concept of diatonic modes. Pursuant to that, let’s expound on the two words that make up the concept:

    • Diatonic
    • Modes

    A Short Note On The Term Diatonic

    There are so many perspectives to the term diatonic, however, in this lesson, we’ll be focusing on the the modal perspective.

    “Check It Out…”

    There are twelve musical notes:

    Seven white notes:

    …are considered as naturals, while five black notes:

    …are considered as  accidentals.

    The seven naturals were named using the first seven letters of the alphabet:

    A, B, C, D, E, F, & G

    …while the five accidentals are considered as variants of the naturals.

    Ab, Bb, C#, D#, Eb, F#, and Gb

    are used to name the naturals, while the

    Whenever the term diatonic is used, it refers to the relationship between the naturals, having any of these seven alphabets:

    A, B, C, D, E, F, & G

    …without any of the accidentals:

    Ab, Bb, C#, D#, Eb, F#, and Gb

    A musical element (be it a scale, interval, chord, or chord progression) can be classified as diatonic if it’s a product of the relationship between natural notes.

    A Short Note On The Term Mode

    Before the evolution of modern day scales like the natural major and natural minor scales, modes were used.

    Although there are so many ways to define a mode, the definition below has some of the essential keywords we need in this study:

    A mode consists of a sequence of natural notes starting from a given natural note until its octave is reached.

    For example, starting from E:

    …and progressing to other adjacent notes:

    F:

    …G:

    …A:

    …etc., until octave is reached:

    …produces a mode.

    Let’s go ahead and explore these modes.

    Diatonic Modes – Explored

    The Ionian Mode

    The ionian mode is the first mode in the diatonic set of modes and consists of all the white notes on the piano from C to C:

    The ionian mode consists of whole steps between successive tones, save between its third and fourth tones and between its seventh and eighth tones.

    In the C ionian mode, there are half steps between the third and fourth tones (which are E and F):

    …and between the seventh and eighth tones (which are B and C):

    Although modes are not designed to be transposed, the evolution of the concept of key made it possible for a mode to be transposed.

    “Here’s The Ionian Mode Starting From Other Notes…”

    The Db ionian mode:

    The D ionian mode:

    The Eb ionian mode:

    The E ionian mode:

    The F ionian mode:

    The Gb ionian mode:

    The G ionian mode:

    The Ab ionian mode:

    The A ionian mode:

    The Bb ionian mode:

    The B ionian mode:

    The Dorian Mode

    The dorian mode is the second diatonic mode, and consists of white notes from D to D:

    The dorian mode consists of whole steps between successive tones, save between its second and third tones and between its sixth and seventh tones.

    “Here’s The Dorian Mode Starting From Other Notes…”

    The C dorian mode:

    The C# dorian mode:

    The D dorian mode:

    The Eb dorian mode:

    The E dorian mode:

    The F dorian mode:

    The F# dorian mode:

    The G dorian mode:

    The G# dorian mode:

    The A dorian mode:

    The Bb dorian mode:

    The B dorian mode:

    The Phrygian Mode

    The phrygian mode is the third diatonic mode, and can be played by depressing all the white notes of the keyboard successively from E to E:

    The phrygian mode consists of whole steps between successive tones, save between its first and second tones and between its fifth  and sixth tones.

    “Here’s The Phrygian Mode Starting From Other Notes…”

    The C phrygian mode:

    The C# phrygian mode:

    The D phrygian mode:

    The D# phrygian mode:

    The E phrygian mode:

    The F phrygian mode:

    The F# phrygian mode:

    The G phrygian mode:

    The G# phrygian mode:

    The A phrygian mode:

    The A# phrygian mode:

    The B phrygian mode:

    The Lydian Mode

    Playing all the white notes on the piano from F to F:

    …produces the lydian mode, which is the fourth diatonic mode.

    The dorian mode consists of whole steps between successive tones, save between its fourth and fifth tones and between its seventh and eighth tones.

    “Here’s The Lydian Mode Starting From Other Notes…”

    The C lydian mode

    The Db lydian mode:

    The D lydian mode:

    The Eb ionian mode:

    The E lydian mode:

    The F lydian mode:

    The F# lydian mode:

    The G lydian mode:

    The Ab lydian mode:

    The A lydian mode:

    The Bb lydian mode:

    The B lydian mode:

    The Mixolydian Mode

    The mixolydian mode is the fifth diatonic mode, and can be formed by playing all the white notes on the piano from G to G:

    The mixolydian mode consists of whole steps between successive tones, save between its third and fourth tones and between its sixth and seventh tones.

    “Here’s The Mixolydian Mode Starting From Other Notes…”

    The C mixolydian mode:

    The Db mixolydian mode:

    The D mixolydian mode:

    The Eb mixolydian mode:

    The E mixolydian mode:

    The F mixolydian mode:

    The Gb mixolydian mode:

    The G mixolydian mode:

    The Ab mixolydian mode:

    The A mixolydian mode:

    The Bb mixolydian mode:

    The B mixolydian mode:

    The Aeolian Mode

    The aeolian mode is the sixth diatonic mode that is formed by the melodic relationship between all the white notes on the piano from A to A:

    The aeolian mode consists of whole steps between successive tones, save between its third and fourth tones and between its fifth and sixth tones.

    “Here’s The Aeolian Mode Starting From Other Notes…”

    The C aeolian mode:

    The C# aeolian mode:

    The D aeolian mode:

    The D# aeolian mode:

    The E aeolian mode:

    The F aeolian mode:

    The F# aeolian mode:

    The G aeolian mode:

    The G# aeolian mode:

    The A aeolian mode:

    The Bb aeolian mode:

    The B aeolian mode:

    The Locrian Mode

    The locrian mode is the seventh diatonic mode, and consists of all the white notes on the piano from B to B:

    The locrian mode consists of whole steps between successive tones, save between its first and second tones and between its fourth and fifth tones.

    “Here’s The Locrian Mode Starting From Other Notes…”

    The C locrian mode:

    The C# locrian mode:

    The D locrian mode:

    The D# locrian mode:

    The E locrian mode:

    The F locrian mode:

    The F# locrian mode:

    The G locrian mode:

    The G# locrian mode:

    The A locrian mode:

    The A# locrian mode:

    The B locrian mode:

    Final Words

    Diatonic modes have taken a common place not only in jazz improvisation, but in other popular music styles like blues and gospel, and that’s why every serious pianist must dedicate time to learn and master them.

    Thank you for your time!

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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