The Music Scale Modes

There are a number of music scale modes. These modes are based on the major scale. With the modes, what you basically do is start with a major scale - like C Major - and move the scale up from there. Each mode starts on a different note of the major scale.

For example, to play a dorian scale in C major, you play the key signature of C but start and end on D - the second note of the scale. 

Music Scale Modes

Every music scale mode has a name. Here they are in brief and then I'll explain about each one. The numbers in front show which note of the scale they start on. They are 1) Ionian, 2) Dorian, 3) Phygian,
4) Lydian, 5) Mixolydian, 6) Aeolian, and 7) Locrian.

The music scale modes are scales based on key signatures. We will use the key signature of C as an example on this page. It has no sharps and no flats. What the modes do is play a scale in the key of C (or something else) but start of different notes.


The Ionian scale is the major scale. It's the root scale of a key. C Ionian scale is C major scale. It starts on the first note of the of the major scale and you play it just like the major scale.

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Ionian scale


The dorian mode is a scale that starts and ends on the second note of the major scale. So for example, in the key of C, instead of starting the scale on C, you start on D.

Dorian Scale


The phrygian scale is similar to the dorian scale only it starts a note higher. It starts on the 3rd note of the major scale. In the key of C, this scale starts and end on E.

Phrygian Scale


The lydian scale starts and ends on the 4th note of the major scale. In the key of C, that would be F.



The mixolydian scale starts and ends on the 5th note of the major scale. In C major, that would be G.

Mixolydian scale


The aeolian scale is also known as the natural minor scale. It starts and ends on the 6th note of the major scale. In the key of C, it starts and ends on A. It is also called the a minor scale.

aeolian scale

The locrian scale begins and ends on the 7th (and final) note of the major scale. In C major, that would be B.

Locrian scale

To figure out other specific music scale modes, follow this order:
              1. Figure out what number of the scale the note is (and if it's a                  dorian or mixolydian or some other scale).

              2. Count back to note number 1 - the first note of the                               major scale.

              3. Find out the key signature of the first note of the major                          scale.

              4. Go back and play the scale with the key signature.

Aside from the traditional scale modes, these are the main music scale modes. These scales are often used for improvising in jazz and rock and can be very helpful to learn. You can also find more information on major scales and other traditional musical scales.

Return from Music Scale Modes to Piano Lessons Info Homepage.

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