A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Coursera – FoMT Week 1 / Video 7

FoMT_logoThe 7th and last video for Week 1 of Fundamentals of Music Theory is an extra called “Modes deconstruction“. It runs almost 7 mins long. When the file is opened, the title screen calls it something a little different – “Thinking about the modes and hearing their different ‘sounds’ (a rough illustration…)”.

This one’s a bit different from the others. Moir and Worth are present, seated at a piano in more casual wear, and Moir explains that they’ve been looking through the online forums (something that sets this apart from the Developing Your Musicianship class right off the bat, and in a good way) and found that some people understand the concept of modes, but don’t quite know what they’re supposed to sound like.

He continues by walking us through the notes of C-Ionian and D-Dorian. C-Ionian is the major scale, starting on C. D-Dorian uses the same notes but starts on D. They look like this (the numbers show their scale degrees):

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7
C-Ionian: C D E F G A B
D-Dorian: D E F G A B C

So, its the same notes, but we’re starting from a different place. Some people are confused about why this should sound any different, since its the same set of notes. Moir explains that although the notes are the same, their relationship with each other changes. What he means by this is that their function in the scale is different.

Playing a triad (the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes from the scale) in C-Ionian gives us C-E-G. Playing it in D-Dorian gives us D-F-A, because the 1, 3 and 5 are each one note higher. Naturally, this sounds different. The 7 notes in the scales are the same, but their arrangement, although sequential, isn’t, which yields a distinct sound.

To clarify it with your voice, sing, “Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol” which are the first 5 tones in the famous solfege song from The Sound of Music. Assume this is C-D-E-F-G. Now, sing “Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, Do”. That’s D-E-F-G-A. We’re using the same 5 sounds, but we started on a different one, which displaced all of the rest. Try each a few times, to cement the sound in your head. You’ll see that they’re each distinctive in overall sound.

The “chords” (1-3-5) would be sung “Do, Mi, Sol” and “Re, Fa, Do,” respectively. These also sound nothing alike, even though they come from the same 5 notes. That’s what a mode is. It takes the notes from the scale and starts them from a different point, which changes their sound by virtue of changing their order. Changing the order alters the roles that the individual notes play. Where C was the root in Ionian, D is the root in Dorian. Where G was the 5th in Ionian, A serves that purpose in Dorian. So, they carry their own sound.

Anyway, Moir grabs his sax and Worth joins him on the piano. They play something together that uses the notes from the C-Ionian mode (aka the C major scale). Worth plays using C major triads in a musical manner while Moir uses all of the notes in the C major scale and basically solos in top.

They do something similar in D-Dorian. The effect is completely different. Its slower, darker, and more sultry in its way. They also explain that they used a minor triad – something we haven’t looked at yet – and that this resulted in a minor sound (as opposed to the happier, more upbeat major sound evoked by Ionian).

Next they play in E-Phrygian. Then F-Lydian. Each sounds different from the other, and from the two that came before. Lydian is very distinct, in fact. It sounds more open and mysterious. G-Mixolydian is next. Then A-Aeolian, and finally B-Locrian. Locrian is somewhat unsettling, which is probably on account of the diminished triad that Moir says it contains.

Here’s a link to a previous post with a video from Ryan McClelland of BassMatter that gives examples of ach of the modes of the major scale. It should help give aural clarity to the concepts explored in this post.

Dr. Moir and Dr. Worth play through the modes of the major scale in C

Dr. Moir and Dr. Worth play through the modes of the major scale in C

And, finally, here’s the index for the rest of the Week 1 lessons:


One response

  1. Pingback: Coursera – Fundamentals of Music Theory Week 1 | Ugly Bass Face

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