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(Copyright 1995 Roger W. Landes. Revised July 1997.

Some Basics of Modal Harmony

Nearly everyone is familiar with the major and minor scales used in western music, but less common is the knowledge
that these scales are but two of an older system of natural modes which dates from antiquity. The natural modes are: Ionian !orian "hrygian Lydian #i$olydian %eolian and Lo&rian These modes are known by Greek names since they were first recorded in Ancient Greece. The names reputedly correspond to different regions or cities where they originated. n !estern music, the distance between two pitches, or frequencies, in ":# proportion is called an o&tave. This is the point at which the frequency, e$pressed in %ert&, or vibrations per second, is doubled. 'or instance, the distance between the common pitch standard A())*h&, and A(++*h&, is an octave. This is also the point at which the names of the notes begin to repeat. The octave is divided into "# equal steps and the distance of each step is called an interval . The difference in frequency between each of these notes is roughly equal and the sequence of these makes up the &hromati& scale. ,-n the piano, the chromatic scale corresponds to every white and black key between two notes which have the same name. -n the guitar and other fretted instruments, the chromatic scale corresponds to each successive fret on one string between two notes of the same name. n each case the number of keys or frets in the octave is "#.. The Chromatic Scale: / /0 1 10 2 ' '0 G G0 A A0 3 ,The ne$t note in this sequence is /, then the cycle repeats.. " # 4 ) 5 6 7 + 8 "* "" "# The note sequence which makes up a scale is like a ladder with each note of the scale corresponding to a rung on the ladder. !ith the chromatic scale the intervals between each of the notes is referred to as a hal' step. Two half steps ,/ to 1. ( a (hole step. !ith the 9ajor and 9inor scales, which span the octave in only seven notes, the intervals between the notes are not equal, that is, the interval between each note is either a half or whole step, and the sequence is different for each of the modes. This intervalli& difference is what gives each scale its own unique character. Intervals of varying distance have different names: n any scale the distance between the first and second notes is called a #nd: between the first and third notes a 4rd: first and fourth a )th: first and fifth a 5th: first and si$th a 6th: first and seventh a 7 th : the first and eighth an o&tave . ;ince onian is the <9ajor< mode, the names of the intervals which reflect its =major> character: the 4rd, 6th, and 7 th, are 9ajor intervals. A 9ajor 4rd is the interval between the " st and 4rd notes of the scale, a distance of # whole steps ,) frets ?? 1 to '0.. A 9ajor 6th is between the " st and 6th notes, and is )@ half steps ,8 frets ?? 1 to 3.. A 9ajor 7th is between the "st and 7th notes, 5@ steps ,"" frets ?? 1 to /0.. n the Aeolian ,or minor. mode the 4rd, 6th, and 7th are =minor> intervals. 9inor intervals are one half step lower than 9ajor intervals, so the 4rd is "@ steps ,4 frets. above the first note of the scale: the 6th is ) steps ,+ frets. above: and the 7th is 5 steps ,"* frets. above. The intervals between the "st A )th and "st A 5th notes of both scales are called perfect intervals, and if lowered "B# step become diminished. The interval between the " st A #nd notes is usually referred to as a 9ajor interval, and if lowered by "B# step becomes minor ,this has no bearing on whether mode is minor or major C the second interval is 9ajor in all four of the modes covered in this paper..

Deriving the Natural Modes from the Major Scale: The other natural modes can each be derived from the 9ajor scale, or onian mode, by beginning a sequence of seven notes on a different note of the onian mode. Dsing 1 as a key center for the onian mode ,12'0GA3/0. we get the 1orian mode by starting on the #nd note, 2, for the sequence ,2'0GA3/01., Ehrygian by starting on the 4rd ,'0GA3/012., Fydian on the )th ,GA3/012'0G., 9i$olydian on the 5th ,A3/012'0G., Aeolian on the 6th ,3/012'0GA., and Focrian on the 7th ,/012'0GA3/.. -f these seven modes only four: onian ,major., 1orian, 9i$olydian, and Aeolian ,minor., are used with any frequency in rish or ;cots traditional music. 3y approaching these four modes ,and learning the chords which are inherent in each. we can increase our choices for harmoni&ing traditional music on any accompaniment instrument. !eGll do this by a technique called <harmoni&ing the scale,< which involves combining the notes of each scale in groups three, called triads. )riads are the basic building blocks of !estern harmony.

Notes in each of the natural modes:


. . H. H. H. H . . onian 12'0GA3/0 1orian 2'0GA3/01 Ehrygian '0GA3/012 Fydian GA3/012'0 9i$olydian A3/012'0G Aeolian 3/012'0GA Focrian /012'0GA3

Harmonizing the modes common in Celtic music:


2ach note of the scale has a corresponding number which is usually e$pressed in Ioman numerals: ?H . n <1< onian they are: 1 , 2 , '0 , G H, A H, 3 H , and /0 H . f we select three notes each a note apart, such as 1, '0, A A, and <stack< them on top of each other, we get a basic three note chord called a <triad.< Applying this concept to each note of the <1< onian mode we get: T I A 1 A 3 /0 '0 G A 1 2 '0 " # 4 ;/AF2 1 3 G ) 2 /0 A 5 '0 1 3 6 G 2 /0 7

ach of these triads has a name:


. . 1 9ajor ?? 1'0A 2 minor ?? 2G3 '0 minor ?? '0A/0 G 9ajor ?? G31 A 9ajor ?? A/02 3 minor ?? 31'0 /0 diminished ?? /02G

. H. H. H. H .

This sequence of 9ajor, minor, and diminished triads never varies for the onian ,9ajor. mode.

!or the "nd mode#


T R I A D B C# G A E F# 1 2 SCALE D B G 3

Dorian# the se$uence of triads is:


E F# C# D A B 4 5 G E C# 6 A F# D 7

These are: . . 2 minor ?? 2G3 '0 minor ?? '0A/0 G 9ajor ?? G31 A 9ajor ?? A/02 3 minor ?? 31'0 /0 dim. ?? /02G 1 9ajor ?? 1'0A

. H. H. H. H .

This sequence of triads never varies for the 1orian mode, and differs from the harmoni&ed 1 onian mode only in that it begins on the #nd note of the onian mode, 2, and the 1 major triad which was the first, or < < chord in onian, becomes <H < in 1orian.

!or the Mi%olydian# or &th mode# the se$uence of triads is:


T R I A D E F# C# D A B 1 2 SCALE G E C# 3 A F# D 4 B G E 5 C# A F# 6 D B G 7

These are: . . A 9ajor ?? A/02 3 minor ?? 31'0 /0 diminished ?? /02G 1 9ajor ?? 1'0A 2 minor ?? 2G3 '0 minor ?? '0A/0 G 9ajor ?? G31

. H. H. H. H .

This sequence of 9ajor, minor, and diminished triads never varies for the 9i$olydian mode, and differs from the onian and 1orian modes in that it begins on the 5th note of the onian mode, and the A 9ajor chord, which was the <H<

!or the 'eolian# or (th mode# the se$uence of triads is:


T R I A D F# G D E B C# 1 2 SCALE A F# D 3 B G E 4 C# A F# 5 D B G 6 E C# A 7

These are: . . 3 minor ?? 31'0 /0 diminished ?? /02G 1 9ajor ?? 1'0A 2 minor ?? 2G3 '0 minor ?? '0A/0 G 9ajor ?? G31 A 9ajor ?? A/02

. H. H. H. H .

Again, this sequence doesnGt vary, and it differs from the onian, 1orian, and 9i$olydian modes in that it begins on the 6th note of the onian scale. t is important to note that since the notes of 2 1orian, A 9i$olydian, and 3 Aeolian are the same as 1 onian, the chords will always be the same but each will have a very different function when applied in each of the four key centers. f we learn the sequence of 9ajor, minor, and diminished triads for these four modes, weGll be able to apply them in any key center. 'or instance, since we know that the < < chord, or triad in 1 onian is 2 minor, then we can find the correct chord in G ?? is A minor, / ?? is 1 minor, A ?? is 3 minor, 2 ?? is '0 minor, and so on. !e can do the same thing with the <H < chord. !e know that in 1 onian it is 3 minor, so in G ?? H is 2 minor, / ?? H is A minor, A ?? H is '0 minor, 2 ?? H is /0 minor.

%ercises:
!rite the scales below and harmoni&e them. ,%int: each group of four modes bears the same relationship to each other as 1 onian, 2 1orian, A 9i$olydian, and 3 Aeolian.. ". G onian JJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ " # 4 ) 5 6 7

#. A 1orian

JJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ " # 4 ) 5 6 7

4. 1 9i$olydian JJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ " # 4 ) 5 6 7

). 2 Aeolian

JJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ " # 4 ) 5 6 7 Ke$t, write the scales below and harmoni&e them:

" / onian

JJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ " # 4 ) 5 6 7

#. 1 1orian

JJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ " # 4 ) 5 6 7

4. G 9i$olydian JJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ " # 4 ) 5 6 7

). A Aeolian

JJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ " # 4 ) 5 6 7

Ke$t:

". A onian

JJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ " # 4 ) 5 6 7

#. 3 1orian

JJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ " # 4 ) 5 6 7

4. 2 9i$olydian JJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ " # 4 ) 5 6 7

). '0 Aeolian

JJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJJ " # 4 ) 5 6 7

)oger *andes is an accomplished player and teacher of the

rish 3ou&ouki. %e regularly appears in concert with singer Connie Dover, accordionist +ohn ,helan, and ace accompanist -an Mc*eod. %e has a solo album of tunes played on his "*? string 3ou&ouki. Lou can read more about Ioger A his musical pursuits online at
http://www.celt c!"# c.c$!/%$&e%'l()*e#

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