• A Contrast Between Authentic Modes And Synthetic Modes

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    Our focus in today’s lesson is on a contrast between authentic modes and synthetic modes.

    Modes are ancient scales that were used several centuries ago, that occupy the place of what we call key in contemporary music.

    Although so many people consider modes as being outdated, they are still used in contemporary music styles – especially gospel and jazz. That’s why we’re dedicating this lesson not only to study authentic modes but synthetic modes too.

    So, if you invest the next 15 minutes or so in this lesson, you’ll be learning about authentic and synthetic modes. But before we go on into all what we have for today, let’s get started with a very quick review on traditional scales.

    A Short Note On Traditional Scales

    There are two key types – the major key and the minor key, and every key type has its traditional scale which is basically a long established scale that is associated with the key. These scales are an outline of all the eight components within that key.

    In the key of C major, its traditional scale which is the C natural major scale:

    …consists of all the eight components in the key.

    Traditional scales are associated with key center. The major key has its traditional scale and so does the minor key. The traditional scale of the major key is the natural major scale, while the traditional scale of the minor key is the natural minor scale.

    However, for certain reasons that I would not want to go into in this lesson, there are two chromatic variants of the natural minor scale:

    #1 The melodic minor scale

    #2 The harmonic minor scale

    They are called chromatic variants because of the introduction of two notes that are foreign to the minor key.

    For example, in the key of A natural minor:

    …the chromatic variants of the A natural minor scale which are the A melodic minor:

    …and the A harmonic minor scale:

    …consists of notes that are foreign to the key of A natural minor:

    The harmonic minor scale consists of G#:

    …which is a chromatic variant of G:

    …while the melodic minor scale consists of F# and G#:

    …which are the chromatic variants of F and G:


    Let’s take a look at these traditional scales in all twelve notes.

    Here are the natural major scale in all twelve keys…

    C natural major scale:

    Db natural major scale:

    D natural major scale:

    Eb natural major scale:

    E natural major scale:

    F natural major scale:

    Gb natural major scale:

    G natural major scale:

    Ab natural major scale:

    A natural major scale:

    Bb natural major scale:

    B natural major scale:

    Here are the natural minor scale in all twelve keys…

    C natural minor scale:

    C# natural minor scale:

    D natural minor scale:

    Eb natural minor scale:

    E natural minor scale:

    F natural minor scale:

    F# natural minor scale:

    G natural minor scale:

    G# natural minor scale:

    A natural minor scale:

    Bb natural minor scale:

    B natural minor scale:

    Here Is The Harmonic Minor Scale In All Twelve Keys…
    C harmonic minor scale:

    C# harmonic minor scale:

    D harmonic minor scale:

    Eb harmonic minor scale:

    E harmonic minor scale:

    F harmonic minor scale:

    F# harmonic minor scale:

    G harmonic minor scale:

    Ab harmonic minor scale:

    A harmonic minor scale:

    Bb harmonic minor scale:

    B harmonic minor scale:

    Here Is The Melodic Minor Scale In All Twelve Keys…

    C melodic minor scale:

    C# melodic minor scale:

    D melodic minor scale:

    Eb melodic minor scale:

    E melodic minor scale:

    F melodic minor scale:

    F# melodic minor scale:

    G melodic minor scale:

    Ab melodic minor scale:

    A melodic minor scale:

    Bb melodic minor scale:

    B melodic minor scale:

    So that’s it for traditional scales.

    A Brief History On Modes

    Before the use of what we call key today, modes were in use. These modes were inherited by the Romans from the Greeks -hence the term Greek modes – and because they were later used in church, they are commonly referred to as ecclesiatical or church modes.

    They were predominantly used in church music in the dark ages from about 400AD to about 1400AD (a period of 1000 years which is also called the middle ages).

    The concept of modes is the re-arrangement of diatonic notes from a given note to its octave. So, modes can be formed from each of the white notes.

    From C to C:

    …the ionian mode.

    From D to D:

    …the dorian mode.

    From E to E:

    …the phrygrian mode.

    From F to F:

    …the lydian mode.

    From G to G:

    …the mixolydian mode.

    From A to A:

    …the aeolian mode.

    From B to B:

    …the locrain mode.

    So these are the seven modes that were used until the introduction of concept of key (aka – “tonality.”)

    So let’s go ahead and explore authentic and synthetic modes.

    “What Are Authentic Modes?”

    Authentic modes are diatonic modes. Authentic modes can be formed by starting from one natural note to its octave like we did in the last segment, and there are seven of them.

    Ionian – which is the first mode.

    Dorian – which is the second mode.

    Phrygian – which is the third mode.

    Lydian – which is the fourth mode.

    Mixolydian – which is the fifth mode.

    Aeolian – which is the sixth mode.

    Locrian – which is the seventh mode.

    These modes are authentic and are exclusively made up of natural notes without any accidentals. Before the concept of key was introduced, authentic modes were just modes that are formed from the natural notes – they are diatonic. They strictly have to do with the natural notes, and not the chromatic variants of natural notes.

    So, notes like C# (or Db):

    …D#(or Eb):

    …F# (or Gb):

    …G# (or Ab):

    …A# (or Bb):

    …cannot be found in authentic modes except they are transposed.

    Synthetic Modes – Explained

    Synthetic modes are modes of the two chromatic variants of the natural minor scale which are the melodic minor and the harmonic minor scale. They are called synthetic modes because of the introduction of chromatic variants of diatonic notes.

    The harmonic minor scale has its modes and the melodic minor scale has its modes as well, and these modes are synthetic modes. Although most of them share some similarities with authentic modes, they are different because of the introduction of the chromatic notes.

    For example, the second mode of the A melodic minor scale:

    …is called the “dorian flat second”:

    The dorian flat second scale is basically a dorian scale but with a chromatic variant of the second note. Consequently, lowering the second tone of the B dorian mode (an authentic mode):

    …which is C#:

    …by a half step (to C):

    …produces the C dorian flat second scale:

    …which is a synthetic mode.

    So the dorian mode is an authentic mode and its synthetic mode is the dorian flat second which is the second mode of the melodic minor scale.

    Final Words

    While authentic modes are modes of the natural major scale, synthetic modes are modes of the two chromatic variants of the natural minor scale which are the harmonic minor scale and the melodic minor scale.

    Therefore, every time you come across the term synthetic modes, think of them as modes of these two scales.

    I would see you in another lesson where we’ll be exploring the synthetic modes of the harmonic minor and the melodic minor scale.

    See you then!

    The following two tabs change content below.
    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 the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.



    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 zino



    2 Paul

    Hi, I don’t really understand why lowering the second tone of the B dorian mode (C#) to C produces a C dorian flat second scale and not a B dorian flat second scale. Isn’t it essentially still a B scale? Can you help me out?


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