Scale Construction 2 – A Deeper Look at Major Modes

Last time we covered the basics of tonality and modality – I discussed what makes scales and keys sound major or minor; how to construct a major and natural minor scale using the semitone-tone interval pattern method; and how to connect those scales together, either by starting with the same root note and using different semitone-tone interval patterns or by modulating through keys but using the same mode (using the same interval pattern).

If you haven’t read the previous post, please feel free to go back and get yourself caught up here

I want to dig a little deeper in to this topic in this post, so you can understand the flexibility that we can gain by thinking about modes in a number of different ways.

Below are a few tables which explain different methods of constructing modes. Each method highlights a different focal point; I’m hoping that by showing you this way it will become clearer to you how interconnected these modes are.

Table 1 – Major modes in the key of C

Mode Notes (C root note) Home Key of mode Degrees compared to major Interval Pattern
Ionian (Major) C  D  E  F  G  A  B C TTSTTTS
Dorian D  E  F  G  A  B  C C Flat 3rd and 7th TSTTTST
Phrygian E  F  G  A  B  C  D C Flat 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th STTTSTT
Lydian F  G  A  B  C  D  E C Sharp 4th TTTSTTS
Mixolydian G  A  B  C  D  E  F C Flat 7th TTSTTST
Aeolian (natural minor) A  B  C  D  E  F  G C Flat 3rd, 6th and 7th TSTTSTT
Locrian B  C  D  E  F  G  A C Flat 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th STTSTTT

Table 2 – Dorian mode through every key

Mode Notes Home Key of Mode Degrees compared to major mode Interval Pattern
Dorian C D Eb F G A Bb Bb Flat 3rd and 7th TSTTTST
Dorian C# D# E F# G# A# B B Flat 3rd and 7th TSTTTST
Dorian D E F G A B C C Flat 3rd and 7th TSTTTST
Dorian Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db Db Flat 3rd and 7th TSTTTST
Dorian E F# G A B C# D D Flat 3rd and 7th TSTTTST
Dorian F G A Bb C D Eb Eb Flat 3rd and 7th TSTTTST
Dorian F# G# A B C# D# E E Flat 3rd and 7th TSTTTST
Dorian G A Bb C D E F F Flat 3rd and 7th TSTTTST
Dorian G# A# B C# D# E# F# F# Flat 3rd and 7th TSTTTST
Dorian A B C D E F# G G Flat 3rd and 7th TSTTTST
Dorian Bb C Db Eb F G Ab Ab Flat 3rd and 7th TSTTTST
Dorian B C# D E F# G# A A Flat 3rd and 7th TSTTTST

Table 3 – Modes starting on note C

Mode Notes (C root note) Home key of Mode Degrees compared to major Interval Pattern
Ionian (Major) C  D  E  F  G  A  B C Ermm.. it’s the same, obviously TTSTTTS
Dorian C  D  Eb  F  G  A  Bb Bb Flat 3rd and 7th TSTTTST
Phrygian C  Db  Eb  F  G  Ab  Bb Ab Flat 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th STTTSTT
Lydian C  D  E  F#  G  A  B G Sharp 4th TTTSTTS
Mixolydian C  D  E  F  G  A  Bb F Flat 7th TTSTTST
Aeolian (natural minor) C  D  Eb  F  G  Ab  Bb Eb Flat 3rd, 6th and 7th TSTTSTT
Locrian C  Db  Eb  F  Gb  Ab  Bb Db Flat 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th STTSTTT

Table 4 – Modes starting on note C, according to brightness

Mode Notes (C root note) Home key of Mode Degrees compared to major Interval Pattern
Lydian C  D  E  F#  G  A  B G Sharp 4th TTTSTTS
Ionian (Major) C  D  E  F  G  A  B C TTSTTTS
Mixolydian C  D  E  F  G  A  Bb F Flat 7th TTSTTST
Dorian C  D  Eb  F  G  A  Bb Bb Flat 3rd and 7th TSTTTST
Aeolian (natural minor) C  D  Eb  F  G  Ab  Bb Eb Flat 3rd, 6th and 7th TSTTSTT
Phrygian C  Db  Eb  F  G  Ab  Bb Ab Flat 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th STTTSTT
Locrian C  Db  Eb  F  Gb  Ab  Bb Db Flat 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th STTSTTT

Table 1 shows all of the seven major modes that can be derived by using the notes of the C major scale. Notice that unlike the modes in Table 3 which are derived by starting on the note C, all of the modes in Table 1 contain the same 7 notes, but with a different starting point. Crucially, the “degrees compared to major” column does not change – this shows how each mode relates to the major scale that shares the root note of that mode. This does not change because, the intervals between the notes are what create the “sound” or mood of the mode.

For example, Dorian will always have a flat 3rd and flat 7th, Lydian will always have a sharpened 4th, and mixolydian a flattened 7th.

Table 2 shows this, by cycling through all the dorian modes of every key.

Table 3 shows us the modes when they all based on the same root note. Notice in this table and table 4, key that the mode is based in, is changing; this is because the notes within the scales are changing as the modes are being applied to the same root note. In order for the mode to have the correct interval pattern, we have to modulate it to a different major key.

In Table 4 I have arranged the modes according to their tone colours, from brightest to darkest. Lydian is said to have the brightest tone because of the sharpened 4th, and the modes become progressively “duller” because of the introduction of more and more flats each time, with Locrian at the bottom being the most sinister. This is a great thing to be aware of when writing, as it gives a really definite palette to choose from.

The best way to understand how the modes are constructed in table 1 is to notice how the notes rotate as you progress through the modes from Ionian to Locrian.

C Ionian : C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C             D Dorian:  D  E  F  G  A  B  C  D           E Phrygian:  E  F  G  A  B  C  D  E

                      T  T  S  T   T   T  S                                     T  S  T   T   T  S  T                                        S  T   T   T  S  T  T

When moving from C Ionian to D Dorian, we can see that the notes stay the same, but the note C is put to the back of the queue. What we are doing is essentially just calling D the root note rather than C. We are in the same key, but a different mode, and by doing this through all seven of those modes, we have got such a huge choice of tonal possibilities with barely any work at all! What we have got here is a gem for inspiration; a 7 for the price of 1 deal.

I have explained the three best ways that I know of to build modes when writing – they all work equally well in simple construction of the scales, but they all also have real life applications in music as an harmonic device when modulating through keys. This is a great musical idea when you want to bring some interest in your tunes, maybe when you move to a new section, or bring back an existing theme.

Method 1: Pick a major key, and work out what modes are available by rotating through the positions of that key as in Table 1. E.g. In A major, and I want to use the mixolydian mode (fifth mode), I count through the positions of the scale – when I land on the fifth note, E, I know that a scale starting on E and using the notes of the A major scale will be E mixolydian. This is known as relative modulation or modal modulation, as the home major key remains the same, but the tonality changes. 

Method 2: Pick a mode, and work out which key you want to use by moving the whole collection together until you have the correct starting note. This is sometimes called parallel modulation, where the tonality remains the same but the key changes, as is shown in Table 2. 

Method 3: Choose a starting note, build the major scale for it, pick a mode and tweak the scale by applying the mode’s signature of sharps or flats as in Table 3. E.g. Choose the note G, build a major scale/Ionian mode for it, then sharpen the 4th for G Lydian, or flatten the 7th for G Mixolydian. This is a great technique for really accomplished sounding modulation as we change key and tonality smoothly without jumping to a new root note. 

Whichever of these three methods you prefer, I want to emphasise here that the aim is allow the theory just be a tool, try not to get too bogged down; so while being able to build a mode in isolation is great, the real power of this music theory is when you can start to realise that all keys and all modes are really very interconnected, and start to incorporate that in to your music.

Let’s take for example a ii-V-I progression in F major.


Instead of thinking of the whole progression as being in F major (or since we are in modal land, F Ionian) lets break it down a bit more. For each chord we can use a different mode – G Dorian for Gmin7, C Mixolydian for C7 and F Ionian for the Fmaj7. This works because we are only using modal modulation, so the notes are staying the same but the tonality is changing.

At this simple level, this is mainly academic as it may not change the sound of the music. What it will do however is make you change the way that you are thinking about the harmony. To take this up a notch what we can do, and something that is very common in jazz, is to applying really colourful modulations to the harmony by using this modal thinking.

For example, looking at this example again, V7 chords are often substituted with chords that are very dissonant so that the release of returning the tonic chord of Fmaj7 is all the more effective.


This is a mode that we haven’t covered yet, but essentially what is happening is we are modulating out to F harmonic minor for one chord and then coming back to F major (C Phrygian Dominant) for the Fmaj7 chord at the end. We can do this because we have broken each bar or phrase in to much smaller chunks with a deep focus on the harmonic changes.

A good real life example of modal modulation is in Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, which keeps with the Dorian mode and modulates up a tone. This way the modality of the song stays the same but some harmonic variation is brought in to the piece.

Some other great examples of more modal playing are:

Steve Vai’s “Feather”, which uses the Lydian mode

John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” which makes use of modal modulation similar in theory to the Miles Davis piece above, but with a much more dynamic style

Bjork’s “Army Of Me” for great use of the Locrian mode.

I hope this quick whisk through has acquainted your ear to some of these modes and explained in a bit more detail the relationships between them. I find that having that understanding on a lower level than just the major and minor key keeps options open and lets me have more fun and freedom when playing with harmony.

Scale Construction – Music Theory

Ok, confession – I’m a music theory nerd. I’m a nerd in general, but particularly with music theory. I came from the classical and rock schools first and have sort swerved in to music production and game audio the long way round, so I’m a bit behind with the ol’ compuper music, but theory is one my strengths because of that.


I, like lots of people, unfortunately can’t do that Mozart thing where you hear a finished piece of music in your head before you even start writing; nor have I ever woken up with a new melody in my head ready to leap on the page – which is apparently the case for Jimmy Page with Stairway to Heaven. Unfortunately for me, and I think most of us, it’s a bit of a graft!


The maths behind the music is often my saving grace if I am really struggling to come up with something fresh. And I love that if I am stuck staring at a blank page I can just rely on my theory, do some music-y maths and end up with something…. Anything, just to get me started.


With this in mind I thought I would do a quick run down on scale construction and a short jaunt in to modes for any of you that have come at this from the opposite direction and trying to get to grips with tonality.


So, let’s start with the obvious first. The most popular tonalities are major and minor – these tend to be thought of as the ONLY two tonalities as they are used so often. Major sounds happy, minor sounds sad.


Now here’s the secret, the reason things ‘sound’ major or minor is because of the relationship between the notes within them. Let me try to explain:

Out of all the notes that we have available in the chromatic scale,

C  C#  D  D Eb  E  F F#  G  G#  A  Bb  B

we only want 7 for a tonal scale, either major or minor. How do we choose which seven are the ones we want?


Say we take a D major scale – the notes are:

D  E  F#  G  A  B  C#  D

What about E major?

E  F#  G#  A  B  C#  D#  E

Both of these are major scales, but without hearing them how do we know? Let’s try to do some quick maths with it, to see if we can work it out.

If we look at a piano keyboard (below) and count up the notes between the notes of the D major scale:


we end up with a pattern consisting of semitone and tone leaps.

D Eb  E  F F#  G  G#  A  Bb  B  C#  D

        tone                tone    semitone          tone                   tone                 tone       semitone

D  E  F#  G  A  B  C#  D


and we find the same thing if we try with E major, or in fact any major scale, they all have the same pattern:

F  F#  G  G#  A  Bb  B  C  C#  D  D#  E

      tone               tone        semitone        tone                  tone                 tone    semitone

E  F#  G#  A  B  C#  D#  E


therefore if we take our chromatic scale again and apply the TTSTTTS pattern to a note, you will end up with a major scale. Awesome!


Now for minor, the technique is the same but the pattern is different. A natural minor scale has the scale tone pattern TSTTSTT. So, a D minor scale has:

D Eb  E  F F#  G  G#  A  Bb  B  C  C#  D

     tone      semitone  tone                    tone          semitone       tone            tone

D E  F  G  A  Bb  C  D


And in E minor:

F  F#  G  G#  A  Bb  B  C  C#  D  D#  E

tone     semitone       tone                    tone       semitone     tone                tone

E  F#  G  A  B  C  D  E

Ok so summary so far:



Natural Minor = TSTTSTT


Where it really gets interesting, where my inner nerd really starts to surface … and sometimes where people’s heads start exploding … is when we look in to how these patterns are connected.

Let’s take a look at this from another point of view. So far we have been comparing two major scales together, and two minor scales together. How about we keep the root note the same this time and see what the differences are between major and minor tonalities with the same starting note.

D Major: D E F# G A B C# D

D minor: D E  F  G  A  Bb  C  D

We can see from this, that D major has two sharps (F# and C#), and d minor has one flat (Bb). If we write this out in terms of the degrees of the scale we can say that compared to the major scale, the natural minor scale has a flat 3rd, flat 6th and flat 7th, because we have flattened the F#, the B and the C#. the same happens with E major and e minor; to get from Emajor (E F# G# A B C# D#) to e minor (E F# G A B C D) we have to flatten the 3rd (G), 6th (C), and 7th (D) degrees of the scale. Ok so that’s a great way of knowing how to modulate between a major key and its parallel minor key-  e.g. C major to C minor.


Ok so that wasn’t so bad between just the major and minor, and if you want to stop there, that’s cool – I would say that 90% (if not more) of current music being written every day is written in either major or minor tonality so that is a great base for building your scales and keys. However, I think to understand this technique fully, it is useful to understand what is in the gaps between those two.


Introducing modes. Modes are basically scales, tonalities or however you want to think of them, whose construction also rely on these patterns that we have been discussing – much like major and minor, but woefully underused in mainstream music. Guitarists seem weirdly drawn to modes, more than any other instrumentalist – and that is how I got involved with them. Outside of technical metal and jazz however, these juicy morsels seem to have been left behind. I am not going to go into how modes are related to major and minor keys harmonically in this blog as that could cause our brains to suddenly mutate to the point that we have to go and join the X-men – information overload. But I am going to show you these patterns so that you can construct any of the 7 major modes, start to familiarise yourself with them and how they sound and maybe have a go at introducing them in to your music.


Here is a table of all 7 major modes in C (ps don’t worry about the Greek names!):


Mode Notes (C root note) Degrees compared to major Pattern
Ionian (Major) C  D  E  F  G  A  B Ermm.. it’s the same, obviously TTSTTTS
Dorian C  D  Eb  F  G  A  Bb Flat 3rd and 7th TSTTTST
Phrygian C  Db  Eb  F  G  Ab  Bb Flat 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th STTTSTT
Lydian C  D  E  F#  G  A  B Sharp 4th TTTSTTS
Mixolydian C  D  E  F  G  A  Bb Flat 7th TTSTTST
(natural minor)
C  D  Eb  F  G  Ab  Bb Flat 3rd, 6th and 7th TSTTSTT
Locrian C  Db  Eb  F  Gb  Ab  Bb Flat 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th STTSTTT


The important thing to be aware of if you are new to this is which pattern you are using. Start with any note from the chromatic scale, pick a mode and construct from the root note upwards using that mode’s scale pattern.

Let’s do a few random examples:

F Lydian

F  F#  G  G#  A  Bb  B  C  C#  D  Eb  E  F

tone                 tone                   tone       semitone     tone                 tone       semitone

F  G  A  B  C  D  E  F


A Mixolydian:

Bb  B   C#  D  D#  E  F#  G  G#  A

tone                tone       semitone        tone               tone      semitone       tone

A  B  C#  D  E  F#  G  A


Bb Dorian:

Bb  B  C  Db  D  Eb  E  F  F#  G  Ab  A  Bb

tone      semitone        tone                 tone             tone         semitone       tone

Bb  C  Db  Eb  F  G  Ab  Bb


Please have a go at trying these out, play them on your instrument of choice just to get to know how each different mode has its own flavour; notice the variety of the emotions that you are able to tap in to, other than just the standard ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ of major and minor, be it the Egyptian sound of the Phrygian mode, the wistfulness of the Lydian mode, or the straight up bad-assery that is the Locrian mode.

Try to memorise those patterns so that you are comfortable with each mode on its own and try to learn how each mode relates to the major mode in terms of the degrees of its scale, as laid out in the table above.

I would love to hear how you get on, and any music that you have written using these major modes, so please do get in touch either in the comments below, or on Twitter.

I realise this is just a whistle stop tour, and has probably raised more questions than it has answered, but I wanted to focus first on how these collections are constructed first. In a future blog, I will be delving deeper in to how the modes are related harmonically and how we can move between them smoothly, so that you can be on your way to being a music theory ninja!

Cheers for now,


Understanding Loudness Readings – Peak, RMS, LUFS

I found a really interesting video in my usual internettings this week about semi-recent developments of loudness in audio. The original post is a couple of years old now but I think the information is still relevant and likely still a mystery to many of us, it was certainly news to me.

I am going to pick out the salient points in the video to help us break down the jargon a bit, and I have included the full video at the bottom of the post for any that want to hear it from Ian the Loudness Warlock, directly.

When mixing and mastering there are quite a few ways to measure loudness in the sounds or music that we are writing. In recent times, the main two methods for measuring the peaks and troughs are dBFS (decibels Full-Scale), also known as Peak, which measures the moment peaks of a waveform, with a maximum of digital zero; and RMS (root mean squared) – that means average to us mortals. RMS gives us the average reading of the loudness over a longer period of time.

Another important value is DR, or Dynamic Range – this is the difference between the quietest sound and the loudest sound. I’ll touch on this a bit more later.

Over the last few years a new standardised metering system has surfaced, called LUFS (Loudness Units Full-Scale). To keep it simple, LUFS values will basically be the same reading as RMS values, as they take an average loudness measurement. Also good to know is, if you drop your fader by 1dB, your LU meter will drop about 1LU as well. This makes it easily translatable from one scale to the other.

LUFS is actually smarter than RMS, as it has two timescales that it measures across. The first is the integrated loudness level. This is similar to the RMS measurement, which has a longer timeframe and is slower to react to changes in the loudness – this gives a great reading of the average loudness of a whole track for example. Ian says that any track that has an integrated LUFS reading of -11/12LU is pretty darn good.

The second timescale is the short-term loudness, which as you would imagine has a shorter timeframe that it measures across; it therefore reacts more quickly to changes in loudness. This is useful in practical terms to measure the difference in loudness between two song sections – for example it would show you how much of a difference there is between a second chorus and a middle eight – useful info indeed when mixing. Ian says that short-term LUFS reading of -8/9LU is spot on.

Physiologically, the peak values are not that important to us. Our hearing is not sensitive enough to notice the moment to moment loudness changes enough for it to affect our experience, as long as the peak does not exceed digital zero and cause nasty digital distortion. In fact, those momentary changes in the loudness are usually what cause us to enjoy the music more. The RMS values, and now the LUFS values, particularly the integrated LUFS are much more useful.

Away from mixing and mastering slightly and towards broadcasting.

LUFS have widely been accepted in the US and the UK as the standard broadcasting scale.

-23 LUFS integrated is now the standard in the US for TV, and I have found a white paper published by the BBC from 2011 which shows that they too are committed to that level:

Basically, what this means is that any track which exceeds an integrated LU (remember that means average) reading of -23LU will be decreased in loudness when it is broadcast; and any track that is below that level will be increased, so that integrated LUFS are the same. Crucially, dynamic range (that is the difference between the loudest sound and the quietest sound is kept in tack. For tracks that are overly compressed, and suffer from the fallout of the loudness war, the outcome of this would be that the entire track would be turned down from around about the -7LU mark to that -23LU value. Because of the overcompression, the dynamic range has been lost, and so at -23LU this track would be far more boring. This is great news for genres such as classical music, where the dynamic range is much larger, because listeners will now be able to turn up their speakers, without the worry of the next song blowing their ear drums! See picture below from Loudness Alliance’s white paper from July 2012:

In Summary

  1. RMS and integrated LUFS are pretty much the same in terms of reading values
  2. LUFS give two timeframes that you must be aware of, integrated and short-term.
  3. Peak readings are great for making sure your recordings don’t clip, but don’t give much information about the loudness of a track.
  4. -23LU is the magic number when broadcasting, and this is a great development for clawing back some of that headroom, and dynamic range.