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The Church Modes were the scales that dominated European music from approximately the 5th century AD to the 16th century. They have strongly influenced composers up to the 17th century and have since been revived in the 20th century by some composers. Throughout that total time period of roughly 1,500 years the plainsong of the Church, which is entirely modal, has continued to accustom the ears of fresh generations to the melodic effect of the modes. Their description as church modes or ecclesiastical modes however is incorrect, since their use was more general.
Authentic and plagal modes
The four authentic modes were adopted in the 5th century. Towards the 7th century under Pope Gregory, the four plagal modes were added.
In the authentic modes, the 5th note, or dominant, was used as the recitative and the 1st, or cadence-note, was used to close a passage. On the white keys of the piano the authentic modes can be found starting on the notes D, E, F, and G. Generally a melody was played or sung in one originally, or another so as to alter its general effect, similar playing the same tune in a major followed by a minor tonality.
The plagal modes were merely the four authentic ones taken in new forms. Each of the four can be found by playing a scale from dominant to dominant on each of the four authentic modes instead of starting and ending on the tonic, or first degree. New reciting notes were chosen for these new forms, which, regarded as the dominant, laid three steps below the original.
|I||Dorian||authentic||D to D||A|
|II||HypoDorian||plagal||A to A||F|
|III||Phrygian||authentic||E to E||C ✻|
|IV||HypoPhrygian||plagal||B to B||A|
|V||Lydian||authentic||F to F||C|
|VI||HypoLydian||plagal||C to C||A|
|VII||Mixolydian||authentic||G to G||D|
|VIII||HypoMixolydian||plagal||D to D||C ✻|
|IX||Æolian (natural minor scale)||authentic||A to A||E|
|X||HypoÆolian||plagal||E to E||C|
|XI||Ionian (major scale)||authentic||C to C||G|
|XII||HypoIonian||plagal||G to G||E|
✻ The dominants of these two scales would have been B, but as this was found unsuitable the note C was used instead.
Visualising basic modes
|Ionian (otherwise known as the "Major scale")
Pattern: (begins on the first degree of the major scale)
\cadenzaOn c d e f g a b </music>
|Dorian (a minor scale with a major 6th)
Pattern: (begins on the second degree of the major scale)
\cadenzaOn d e f g a b c </music>
|Phrygian (a minor scale with a minor second)
Pattern: (begins on the third degree of the major scale)
\cadenzaOn e f g a b c d </music>
|Lydian (a major scale with an augmented fourth)
Pattern: (begins on the fourth degree of the major scale)
\cadenzaOn f g a b c d e </music>
|Mixolydian (a major scale with a lowered seventh)
Pattern: (begins on the fifth degree of the major scale)
\cadenzaOn g' a b c d e f </music>
|Aeolian (otherwise known as the "Natural Minor scale")
Pattern: (begins on the sixth degree of the major scale)
\cadenzaOn a' b c d e f g </music>
|Locrian (a minor scale with a minor second and diminished fifth)
Pattern: (begins on the seventh degree of the major scale)
\cadenzaOn b' c d e f g a </music>