Aug 1

Remembering the Modes

by Anton Schwartz

When you learned the modes of the major scale, I bet you were taught them in this order, like I was:

  1. Ionian
  2. Dorian
  3. Phrygian
  4. Lydian
  5. Mixolydian
  6. Aeolian
  7. Locrian

That is the sequence of scales you get when you play a major scale starting on its 1st note, 2nd note, 3rd note, …, 7th note.

This tells us, for instance, that C Major scale is made up of the same notes as D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian, etc. But what if we’re interested in comparing the sounds of the different scales relative to one fixed root? For instance, C Dorian, C Phrygian, C Lydian, etc.? We could think of think of those scales this way:

  1. C Ionian
  2. C Dorian (2nd mode of Bb major)
  3. C Phrygian (3rd mode of Ab major)
  4. C Lydian (4th mode of G major)
  5. C Mixolydian (5th mode of F major)
  6. C Aeolian (6th mode of Eb major)
  7. C Locrian (7th mode of Db major)

But, really, what sense does it make to order them like that?

In my post on Harmonic Brightness & Darkness, I argued that it’s often more useful to think of them this way—from brightest (or “more major”) to darkest (or “more minor”):

  1. Lydian
      ⬇ Flatten the 4th to get…
  2. Ionian
      ⬇ Flatten the 7th to get…
  3. Mixolydian
      ⬇ Flatten the 3rd to get…
  4. Dorian
      ⬇ Flatten the 6th to get…
  5. Aeolian
      ⬇ Flatten the 2nd to get…
  6. Phrygian
      ⬇ Flatten the 5th to get…
  7. Locrian

Starting with Lydian, the brightest mode, we come to each successive scale by flattening the brightest note by a half step.

I won’t repeat the advantages of thinking this way here—feel free to read the original post. Rather, this post is about the more mundane matter of how you can remember the modes in this order. While I was on a flight recently I gave some thought to a good mnemonic. Here’s what I came up with:

Live in my dorm and practice loudly.

Get it?

LIve In My DORm And Practice LOudly
Lydian Ionian Mixolydian Dorian Aeolian Phrygian Locrian
← brighter   . . .   darker →

Here are some others I thought of:

Less is more. Dig, a free lesson.
Laugh if Mingus delivers a punch line.
Life in mid-December: a frozen lake.
Lint in my dryer: a furry lump.

(For Phrygian I sometimes went with “P” words for spelling and sometimes with “F” words for sound—take your pick.)

If you are familiar with the San Francisco Bay Area, you may enjoy this one:

Lunch in Marin; dinner at French Laundry.

What do you think? Got a favorite?

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