• Relating Tonalities With Modes

    in Piano,Scales,Transposing Keys

    modes

    In this lesson, you’ll be learning how to create relationships with several keys using modes.

    Several years ago (early 2000s), I remember hearing certain songs that were simply beyond me. The melodies were clearly chromatic and the chords were out of this world.

    Imagine having Eb and Bb tones:

    …while in the key of C major. Not too bad right? Wait until you hear the chords that harmonized these melodies. They were so beyond me then that I gave up.

    In 2009 or so, I came across this same song, but this time, it didn’t sound too “out of this world”. The chromatic melodies weren’t as unusual as I recalled in prior years. I was able to clearly see the composer’s mind and how he literally stepped out of this world by creating a relationship between two keys. Story of my life!

    There are still songs out there that sound “crazy” because of the way the melodies are composed in a foreign key, and surely this can be a topic of its own for those who need more advice on such techniques.

    In this post, you’ll learn how to create relationships between keys using modes.

    But before we get into these key relationships, let’s quickly review modes.

    Modes

    Today, we play music in different keys. Ab major, E minor, C major etc. are examples.

    However, before “keys” came to be, modes were in use.

    Modes can be formed by starting on any natural note and ascending, step by step, until its octave is reached.

    Of course, there are seven naturals and each one of them is represented using the first seven alphabets:

    …A to G.

    Seven naturals would produce seven unique modes. Check them out below:

    Ionian (C to C):

    Dorian (D to D):

    Phrygian (E to E):

    Lydian (F to F):

    Mixolydian (G to G):

    Aeolian (A to A):

    Locrian (B to B):

    Thinking of these modes in terms of the present day C major scale, we can deduce that:

    Ionian mode can be formed from the first degree of the major scale to its octave.

    Dorian mode can be formed from the second degree of the major scale to its octave.

    Phrygian mode can be formed from the third degree of the major scale to its octave.

    Lydian mode can be formed from the fourth degree of the major scale to its octave.

    Mixolydian mode can be formed from fifth degree of the major scale to its octave.

    Aeolian mode can be formed from the sixth degree of the major scale to its octave.

    Locrian mode can be formed from the seventh degree of the major scale to its octave.

    Modes were used in medieval times before the discovery of present day tonal centers, also known as key centers or simply the key.

    There were two tonalities, major and minor, and consequently the major and minor scales. These scales were used to replace modes. However, there are two modes that stood out and are comparable to present day scales.

    The Ionian mode (from C to C):

    …and the Aeolian mode (from A to A):

    The Ionian mode is related to the present day major scale, while the Aeolian mode is related to the present day minor scale.

    Limitations Of Playing In A Key

    Playing music in a key restricts you to the use of only seven notes. These seven notes are from the major or minor scale of the major or minor key, respectively.

    While in the key of C major, one is limited to these seven notes:

    Because everything rises and falls on C, there’s so much attraction towards C because it’s the key center.

    Other notes outside these seven:

    …are considered foreign and are used sparingly.

    Even with movement from one key center to another (aka – “modulation“), there’s still restriction to another set of seven notes.

    That’s how limited the use of key center (aka – “tonality”) is.

    In today’s post, I’ll show you how to be in one key and use these modes (even though, to some, they are ancient and outdated), to create relationships with other keys (whether foreign or related). This will add to the “license to play in two keys at once” concept that I gave you in a previous post.

    First of all, to be able to do this, you must learn how to transpose modes.

    Transposition of Modes

    Transposition simply means transfer of position.

    The ionian mode is normally from C to C:

    However, playing it from B to B:

    …means that it’s transposed (from C to B).

    Transposition of modes will depend on two things – your familiarity with modes and secondly, your familiarity with melodic progressions like semitones (half steps) and whole tones (whole steps).

    Every mode has its formula, based on the distance between its tones.

    The ionian mode has its formula, same thing goes for the dorian, phrygian, lydian, mixolydian, aeolian, and locrian modes.

    Your mastery of their respective formulas can put mode transposition within your grasp. Here are the intervallic formula of modes:

    Ionian mode – W W H W W W H

    Dorian mode – W H W W W H W

    Phrygian mode – H W W W H W W

    Lydian mode – W W W H W W H

    Mixolydian mode – W W H W W H W

    Aeolian mode – W H W W H W W

    Locrian mode – H W W H W WW

    W means whole step.

    H means half step.

    Using the formula of the dorian mode:

    W H W W W H W

    …let’s transpose the D dorian mode to an E dorian mode.

    Starting from E:

    A whole step from E is F#:

    …a half step from F# is G:

    …a whole step from G is A:

    …a whole step from A is B:

    …a whole step from B is C#:

    …a half step from C# is D:

    …and a whole step from D is E:

    Using the intervallic formula of the dorian mode we’ve transferred its position (transposed it) from D:

    …to E:

    Transposition of every other mode is done following the same procedure.

    I’ll cover transposition of modes extensively in a post in the near future. But for now, let me show you how to relate C to other tonal centers using modes.

    Key Relationships Using Modes

    Let’s cover key relationships using modes in the key of C.

    In this concept, we’ll create relationships with foreign and related keys as well by looking at various modes of C. If this concept is understood in this key, feel free to apply it to any other key of your choice.

    C Ionian mode relates to C major.

    This is the most obvious relationship for the reasons already mentioned.

    Since the ionian mode is formed from the first tone of the major scale, it is essentially the same as the major scale.

    C ionian:

    C major:

    C dorian mode relates to Bb major.

    Below are the notes of C dorian mode based on the intervallic formula we covered earlier:

    The dorian mode can also be formed from the second degree of the major scale to its octave and the C dorian is no exception.

    “If C dorian mode is formed from the second tone of an unknown major scale, what major scale is that?”

    The answer is the major scale of Bb because C is the second tone of Bb major.

    Therefore, C dorian relates us to another key center (Bb). So it’s possible to relate to the key of Bb while in the key of C using the C dorian mode.

    C dorian:

    …if compared side by side with Bb major:

    …will make this relationship more obvious.

    C phrygian mode relates to Ab major.

    Using the intervallic formula for the phrygian mode we covered earlier, the C phrygian mode can be formed thus:

    The phrygian mode can also be formed from the third degree of the major scale to its octave and the C phrygian scale above is no exception.

    “If C phrygian mode is formed from the third tone of an unknown major scale, what major scale is that?”

    The answer is the major scale of Ab because C is the third tone of Ab major.

    Therefore, C phrygian relates us to another key center (Ab). So it’s possible to relate to the key of Ab while in the key of C using the C phrygian mode.

    C phrygian:

    …if compared side by side with Ab major:

    …will make this relationship more obvious.

    C lydian mode relates to G major.

    Below are the notes of C lydian mode based on the intervallic formula we covered earlier:

    The lydian mode can also be formed from the fourth degree of the major scale to its octave and the C lydian is no exception.

    “If C lydian mode is formed from the fourth tone of an unknown major scale, what major scale is that?”

    The answer is the major scale of G because C is the fourth tone of G major.

    Therefore, C lydian relates us to another key center (G). So it’s possible to relate to the key of G while in the key of C using C lydian mode.

    C lydian:

    …if compared side by side with G major:

    …will make this relationship more obvious.

    C mixolydian mode relates to F major.

    Below are the notes of C mixolydian mode:

    The mixolydian mode can also be formed from the fifth degree of the major scale to its octave and the C mixolydian is no exception.

    “If C myxolydian mode is formed from the fifth tone of an unknown major scale, what major scale is that?”

    The answer is the major scale of F because C is the 5th tone of F major.

    Therefore, C mixolydian relates us to another key center (F). So it’s possible to relate to the key of F while in the key of C using the C mixolydian mode.

    C mixolydian:

    …if compared side by side with F major:

    …will make this relationship more obvious.

    C aeolian mode relates to Eb major.

    Below are the notes of C aeolian mode:

    The aeolian mode can also be formed from the sixth degree of the major scale to its octave and the C aeolian is no exception.

    “If C aeolian mode is formed from the sixth tone of an unknown major scale, what major scale is that?”

    The answer is the major scale of Eb because C is the 6th tone of Eb major.

    Therefore, C aeolian relates us to another key center (Eb). So it’s possible to relate to the key of Eb while in the key of C using the C aeolian mode.

    C aeolian:

    …if compared side by side with Eb major:

    …will make this relationship more obvious.

    C locrian mode relates to Db major.

    Below are the notes of C locrian mode:

    The locrian mode can also be formed from the seventh degree of the major scale to its octave and the C locrian is no exception.

    “If C locrian mode is formed from the seventh tone of an unknown major scale, what major scale is that?”

    The answer is the major scale of Db because C is the 7th tone of Db major.

    Therefore, C locrian relates us to another key center (Db). So it’s possible to relate to the key of Db while in the key of C using the C locrian mode.

    C locrian:

    …if compared side by side with Db major:

    …will make this relationship more obvious.

    Final Words

    The reason why I shared these key relationships is to help you break away from the shackles of tonality (which is being in one key).

    With the knowledge of relating key centers using modes, I suppose that you will become a better player who can play more complex arrangements, and above all, think outside the box.

    Explore these ideas while I prepare another post on the application of these relationships in real-life songs.

    See you then.

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku (aka - "Dr. Pokey") is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

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




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    { 11 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Emmanuel

    thanks man. I love this.

    Reply

    2 Barbara

    Very interesting and helpful! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

    3 Robert Sumner

    Very interesting. I have never considered this approach. Probably will take me a while to do this since there are so many other things that I am working on, but nice to know about this and do more investigating in the future.

    Bob

    Reply

    4 Joe

    God bless you mehn!

    Reply

    5 Yakub

    Eye opening esplanation! Thank you so much.

    Reply

    6 Chidube David

    I’m most grateful to GOD for you sire and this knowledge i’ve also acquired at the right time. I had been relating keys before now, but not with the full knowledge of using the modes. Right now i can’t just wait to start exploring with this newly acquired knowledge already running through my head. Lol. GOD BLESS YOU SIRE……

    Reply

    7 Lakunle

    Nice one bros. More grace.

    Reply

    8 Chidube David

    Can anyone here give examples of songs where this was experimented or used? I’d appreciate. THANKS.

    Reply

    9 Joe

    Hi, Great post!! But I have a question? Let’s say I would like to relate a 2-5-1 on the key of C using phrygin mode, wuld I look at using the C phrygian mode and play Db-G-C or I would look at it using Ab major scale and play Bb-Eb-Ab. Tnx. Pls reply

    Reply

    10 Chuku Onyemachi

    Thanks for that question Joe!

    A 2-5-1 based on the C phrygian mode is Db-G-C and not Bb-Eb-Ab (which is obviously a 7-3-6 root movement.)

    Note that you’re free to create any 2-5-1 root progression using any of the modes. However, while doing the 2-5-1 root movement in C phrygian mode from Db to G, then C, you should understand that the interval between the Db and G is an augmented fourth interval, hence, it won’t have that satisfactory pull associated with root movements in perfect fourths. Also note that the G chord that should move to C is not the regular dominant chord, it’s rather a diminished (triad or seventh) chord.

    Go ahead with that 2-5-1 root movement, whether it sounds satisfactory or not, it sure has its place in harmony.

    Chuku Onyemachi

    Reply

    11 Music wanderer

    Thank you for this explanation.
    This is by far the best explanation of the correlation between modes; tonalities, and scales I have found so far. Simple, elegant, and straight to the objective of making the knowledge applicable and useful. Cheers.

    Reply

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