Modes in “classical,” rock, and jazz

November 5, 2014

Music Theory Bridges

The Modes are, and have been, a huge number of different things to different people. My best understanding of their early history is something like: the Byzantine octoechos system was somehow merged with less-systematic Northern European tonaries (groupings of melodies according to similarity), then the ethnic names applied to ancient Greek modes and “tonoi” were adopted and misinterpreted, to create a system of melodic classification; then at various points from the late 1300s on various people claimed that this system applied to polyphony in different ways. Confusing to say the least.

The modern situation is, fortunately, a bit clearer. Most people agree on what the modal scales are, relating them variously to rotations of a diatonic (major or minor) scale, white note scales on the piano, or patterns of whole and half steps. But how they’re used still varies drastically from genre to genre.

Take early 20th-century French music, for…

View original post 752 more words