Musician’s Corner Part VI

I know it has been a few days since the last post. Sometimes life gets busy, but I haven’t forgotten about you. Let’s just say that I was giving you time to absorb everything up to this point.
Today’s scale is A Aeolian. This is a very important scale because this is the scale that opens up our parallel universe of minor keys. The Aeolian scale is known as the relative minor or the parent key. But before we open that can of worms let’s take a look at what it is and where it comes from.

A Aeolian Scale:

Derivation from C major:

Now, a look at the three relationships.

Relationship # 1

The formula for Aeolian:

Relationship #2, scale degree and interval from the root:

The chart showing the derivation of intervals between each scale degree:

Relationship #3, relation to root of the key:


The third of a scale determines the basic major or minor sound, but the other degrees also have an influence over that sound. We have seen flatted thirds before in the Dorian and Phrygian scales, but in those cases there was one chord tone that pulled the ear away from feeling it completely as minor. In Dorian, the major 6th gives a hint of a major feeling. In the case of Phrygian the presence of the flat 2nd pulls the ear in another direction entirely. Even though it has the same 3rd, 6th and 7th as Aeolian, that flat 2nd is enough to change the feeling of the scale.
Aeolian has the requisite 3rd, 6th, and 7th degrees plus the major 2nd degree that yields the natural minor sound our ears are accustomed to hearing. In fact Aeolian is also known as the Natural Minor or Pure Minor scale. When it comes time to take a look at how chords structures are created in minor keys the Aeolian scale is going to be our new parent scale. This is the point where your ability to view the scales as entities in and of themselves simultaneously with their relation to the parent key becomes crucial. Once we start analyzing minor chords we will relate them to their parent minor key and their relative major key. Don’t worry, it will become clearer later on.
So you can see why minor concepts can be more confusing that major concepts. There is only one major scale. When someone tells you to play the major scale you know exactly which notes are intended. But when someone asks you to play a minor scale, there are several choices as well as different names that can get confusing. Just Aeolian can be referred to as Aeolian, relative minor, natural minor, or pure minor. On top of that, there are more types of minor scales that we will cover later.
The next post will cover Locrian mode and will wrap up our discussion of the basic modes. After that we will derive the naturally occurring chords in a major key. Once we have accomplished this we will come back to this Aeolian scale and derive the naturally occurring chords in a minor key. So if you only really grasp one mode that you make it this one!

Read the Chapter VII

Musician’s Corner Part V

By now you should be familiar with the 3 different relationships I am stressing concerning the modes. Let’s jump right into to examining G Mixolydian.

Here is the scale:


Derivation from C major:


Relationship #1


This gives us the formula for G Mixolydian:


Relationship #2, scale degree and interval from the root:


Again, here is the chart showing the derivation of intervals between each scale degree:


Relationship #3, relation to root of the key:


(Click on image to enlarge)

The next discussion will be of A Aeolian. Aeolian mode is going to open up a whole new can of worms. Until then, enjoy Mixolydian.

Read the Chapter VI

Musician’s Corner IV

Today’s Musician’s Corner entry will discuss F Lydian. By this point you should be familiar with the three different relationships that we are discussing. If you are not, please go back and review the prior Musician’s Corner posts.
If you find yourself glancing over these charts like they are pictures, you need to step back and take a breath. Then come back and actually read them. Read them one note at a time like you are reading a sentence. Go slowly and think about all the different relationships that you can find among the notes.
The goal of all of this is to be able to look at (or listen to) a song or set of chord changes and know how to make educated note choices. After we have analyzed all of the modes of the key of C we will move on to a discussion of chords. We will find out where they come from and take a look at their different relationships. Once we have done that we will be able to look at different examples of chord progressions and put them in a context. This context will come directly from our discussion of modes and chords. Please do not gloss over this information because it is the foundation. Without it you will probably get lost later.

F Lydian:



Here is how we derive it from C major (the parent key) and our previous modes:


Relationship #1

Thus, the formula for F Lydian:

1 1 1 ½ 1 1 ½


Relationship #2, scale degree and interval from the root:


1 2 3 #4 5 6 7 8


Again, here is the chart showing the derivation of intervals between each scale degree:


Note ➔Note Number of Steps Interval
F➔G 1 major 2nd
F➔A 1+1=2 major 3nd
F➔B 1+1+1=3 augmented 4th
F➔C 1+1+1+½=3½ perfect 5th
F➔D 1+1+1+½+1=4½ major 6th
F➔E 1+1+1+½+1+1=5½ major 7th
F➔F 1+1+1+½+1+1+½=6 perfect Octave


It is worth noting here that this is the first time that we have encountered a scale with an altered 4th or 5th. These intervals, 4ths and 5ths, do not determine major or minor sounds so we don’t use the terms major or minor to describe them. Instead we use augmented (raised ½ step) or diminished (lowered ½ step). A perfect 4th or 5th is one that has not been altered.

Relationship #3, relation to the root of the key:


Click on the table to get a full view.

(Closer look? Click here)


Read Chapter V

Musician’s Corner Part III


By now you should be starting to be able to conceptualize how these scales fit together. Today’s exercise will be to examine E Phrygian mode. At this point you might be wondering why you need to know all of this stuff. Do people really use this? Well, the truth is that if your ear is perfect then you don’t need to know all of this stuff. There are some musicians out there who understand what I am explaining on an intuitive level and their ear leads them to these same note choices without a full intellectual understanding of what they are doing. These people are very lucky, but they are few and far between. The vast majority of musicians stand to benefit greatly by delving into the intellectual side of music theory. Eventually, I will talk about incorporating ear training exercises, but first I want to finish the discussion of the modes so that they are presented in one large group that can be referenced. Let’s proceed.

Diving right in, here is the E Phrygian scale:


Here it is in relation to C major (the parent key) and D Dorian:


Just like D Dorian is the C major scale starting on D, E Phrygian is the C major scale starting on E. Now we will revisit relationship #1 and find the number of steps between each scale degree.

Relationship #1

This yields the formula for E Phrygian:

½ 1 1 1 ½ 1 1

Relationship #2, scale degree and interval from the root.

1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8

Again, here is the chart showing the derivation of intervals between each scale degree:

Note➙Note Number of Steps Interval
E➙F ½ minor 2nd
E➙G ½+1=1½ minor 3rd
E➙A ½+1+1=2½ perfect 4th
E➙B ½+1+1+1=3½ perfect 5th
E➙C ½+1+1+1+½=4 minor 6th
E➙D ½+1+1+1+½+1=5 minor 7th
E➙E ½+1+1+1+½+1+1=6 perfect Octave

Relationship #3, relation to the root of the key:


Now things begin to really get complex. We have a multitude of ways that we can refer to each note. For example, the note C is the root of the key, the first degree of the C major scale, the 7th degree of D Dorian, and the 6th degree of E Phrygian. Because we know the intervallic distances between each note, we know what kind of 6th or 7th degree that C is in each scale.
This sums up E Phrygian. Next time we will take a look at F Lydian.

Read Chapter IV

Musician’s Corner Part II

In Part I we discussed three different ways to look at the relationships between the notes in the C major scale. Let’s do a quick review. The first way of looking at the relationships assessed the distance between each successive note in the scale. From this we found the formula for the major scale. The second way assigned an index number to each note (scale degree) and then examined the distance between the root of the scale and each note (interval). The third way looked at the relation between each note in the scale and the root of the key that we were in.
These three relationships are the key to understanding what is happening harmonically and melodically in music. It can get a bit confusing, but the better one is able to figure out these three relationships simultaneously, the more successful one will be at navigating harmony/melody. This ability will also keep the musician grounded and confident, which is of the utmost importance for delivering a moving performance.
Let’s get started with Part II. Today we are still going to be looking at the C major scale, but we will look at it from a different perspective. This will be the beginning of the discussion of modes. Much has been written about the modes and most of it is down right confusing. There is lots of information about what they are, but much of what I have read concerning their application is either misleading or taken out of context. Unfortunately, much of music education is presented to students in a rote manner. “Use X scale over Y chord.” Although this type of statement can be based in sound music theory, there is practically never a discussion of WHY to use X scale over Y chord. This was always my question. I wasn’t satisfied with just doing as I was told. I needed to know how my teachers came up with the idea to use X scale over Y chord. What I will give you is a way figure out this answer for yourself, instead of just doing what you are told.
For a good history of the modes read:

This article discusses the evolution of the modes. For our purposes, the most important section of the article is under the heading Modern. This will be our starting point, but I will give a bit of the back-story as well.
In Part I we examined the C major scale. It looked like this:



Today we are going to look at the same scale but start if from a different place, the second degree. If you remember from part one, the second degree of the C major scale is D. Our new scale, D Dorian, will look like this:



Before we examine the three types or relationships, let’s make sure we understand where this comes from and it’s relation to C major. Below is the C major scale juxtaposed with the D Dorian scale.







From this the relationship should be clear. D Dorian is the C major scale, but starting from D and ending on D. It is exactly the same notes, but this will change what our three important relationships look like. Let’s examine those.

Relationship #1, distance between notes (in steps):

From this we get our distance-based formula for Dorian mode:

1 ½ 1 1 1 ½ 1


Relationship #2, scale degree and interval from the root:

1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7 8


Here we see for the first time altered scale degrees. So why would I call the third a flat third and the seventh a flat seventh. Well, to answer this let’s look at the table that shows us the number of steps each note is away from the root.

Note → Note Number of Steps Interval
D→E 1 major 2nd
D→F 1+½=1½ minor 3rd
D→G 1+½+1=2½ perfect 4th
D→A 1+½+1+1=3½ perfect 5th
D→B 1+½+1+1+1=4½ major 6th
D→C 1+½+1+1+1+½=5 minor 7th
D→D 1+½+1+1+1+½+1=6 perfect Octave


So when we look at our original C scale the distance between the first and third scale degrees (C and E) was 2 whole steps. In our new scale, D Dorian, the distance between the first and third scale degrees (D and F) is only 1½ steps. Since we are looking at the distance between the first and third scale degrees the resultant interval is still a type of third, but we must acknowledge that it is slightly smaller than the interval of a third we examined in the C scale. Therefore we will call it a b3rd (flat third). This same logic will apply to all of the scale degrees, hence the b7th (flat seventh).

Relationship #3, relation to root of the key:


Our key in this example is still C major so each degree of the D Dorian scale still has a relationship to it’s parent key. The top D note is shown as 2 and 9 because the scale can be viewed as repeating or continuous. This will become important later when we get into the discussion of chords. For now it is simply important to recognize these two ways of viewing scales.
Ultimately, the musician should be able to conceptualize all three of these things at the same time and see the secondary scale’s relationship to it’s parent key for any given musical passage.

By now, you should have a clear idea of where Dorian mode comes from. From the above tables we can choose any note and know many things about how it relates to other notes. For example, the note F. F is the fourth degree of the C major scale. It is also a perfect 4th above C. F is also the third degree of the D Dorian scale. Since its distance from the root of the scale is 1½ steps, we will call it a minor 3rd, or flat third. We can then say that F is a minor third above D. F is also the fourth degree of the key of C. We can then figure out that the third degree of D Dorian is the fourth degree of the C major scale and the fourth degree of the key of C. This may all seem like a fancy way to say that F=F, but that would be missing the point. We are not naming F in and of itself. We are naming F as it relates to all the other notes that it is involved with.
At this point, many instructional books simply say, “Now just do that with every mode in every key and you will get it.” I know that most students, including myself, do not have the focus to continue all these tables myself. On top of that, when each step of it is presented to me, I am better able to retain it. Stay tuned for the next installment: E Phrygian mode.

Read Chapter III