Characteristic Mode Tone

September 24, 2010

All of the diatonic modes (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian) have distinguishing characteristics. Some have one especially distinctive tone. In order to best capture the unique sound of a particular mode in a musical composition, the mode’s fundamental tone (first note of the mode) and characteristically distinctive scale step should be emphasized.

For example, the Lydian Mode may also be heard as a major scale (also known as the Ionian Mode) with the fourth degree raised one-half step.

Characteristic Mode Tone

Therefore, to best achieve C Lydian sound, the fundamental tone of the mode (C) and the raised 4th (F#) should be prominent tones in that musical composition.

Similarly, the Phrygian Mode may be heard as a natural minor scale (also known as the Aeolian Mode) with the second scale degree lowered one-half step.

Characteristic Mode Tone

Therefore, to best achieve G Phrygian sound, the fundamental tone of the mode (G) and the lowered 2nd (Ab) should be prominent tones in that musical composition.

The Phrygian Mode forms the basis of a good deal of Spanish, Hungarian and Jewish music, both classical and popular. As an example from the classical music literature, the following is a G Phrygian Mode excerpt from the Debussy String Quartet in G Minor:

Characteristic Mode Tone

Note that the distinctive characteristics of the Phrygian tetrachord interval arrangement (see below) are the half-step interval between the 1st and 2nd degrees of each tetrachord, and that the lower and upper tetrachords both have the same interval pattern of half-step, whole-step, whole-step.

Characteristic Mode Tone

Further, note that although the triad built on the fundamental mode tone of the Phrygian Mode is minor (G, Bb, D in the G Phrygian Mode)#149;

Characteristic Mode Tone

#149;a great deal of Phrygian music (Spanish Flamenco and certain types of Jewish music, for example) ends in major (G, B, D), as does my piano solo composition, Flamenco Jazz, featured on the next two pages. The work is in G Phrygian Mode and naturally reflects a Spanish influence.

Characteristic Mode Tone

Characteristic Mode Tone

Lee Evans, Ed.D., is professor of Music at NYC’s Pace University. The above article is based on his Hal Leonard publication Modes Their Use In Jazz. His most recent books, published by The FJH Music Company, are the late elementary solo-piano volumes Color Me Jazz, Books 1 2; and the intermediate/late intermediate solo-piano volume Ole! Original Latin American Dance Music. Musical excerpts are from the Hal Leonard Publication, Modes Their Use In Jazz – HL00009043.

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