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Modal Jazz and Folk Music

22 July, 2019 - 10:18
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Some jazz and folk music is also considered modal and also uses the Greek/medieval mode names. In this case, the scales used are the same as the medieval church modes, but they do not have a reciting tone and are used much more like modern major and minor scales. Modal European (and American) folk music tends to be older tunes that have been around for hundreds of years. Modal jazz, on the other hand, is fairly new, having developed around 1960.

It is important to remember when discussing these types of music that it does not matter what specific note the modal scale starts on. What matters is the pattern of notes within the scale, and the relationship of the pattern to the tonic/finalis. For example, note that the Dorian "scale" as written above starts on a D but basically has a C major key signature, resulting in the third and seventh notes of the scale being a half step lower than in a D major scale. (A jazz musician would call this flatted or flat thirds and sevenths.) So any scale with a flatted third and seventh can be called a Dorian scale.

Exercise 6.1:

You need to know your major keys and intervals to do this problem. Use the list of "white key" modes in Figure 6.10 to figure out the following information for each of the four modes below. Before looking at the solutions, check your own answers to make sure that the answers you get for step 2 and step 4 are in agreement with each other.

  1. List the flats and sharps you would use if this were a major scale rather than a mode.
  2. In this mode, which scale tones are raised or lowered from the major key?
  3. What is the interval between the mode and the major key with the same key signature?
  4. List the flats or sharps in this key signature.
  5. Write one octave of notes in this mode. You may print out this PDF file if you need staff paper. Check to make sure that your "modal scale" agrees with all the things that you have written about it already.


  1. D major has 2 sharps: F sharp and C sharp.
  2. Looking at Figure 6.10, you can see that the Lydian mode starts on an F. The key of F major would have a B flat, but in the mode this is raised one half step, to B natural. Therefore the fourth degree of the Lydian mode is raised one half step.
  3. F lydian has the same key signature as C major, which is a perfect fourth lower. So all Lydian modes have the same key signature as the major key a perfect fourth below them.
  4. We want D Lydian. The major scale beginning a perfect fourth below D major is A major. A major has three sharps: F sharp, C sharp and G sharp. Adding a G sharp does raise the fourth degree of the scale by one half step, just as predicted in step 2.
Figure 6.13 Example: D Lydian
  1. A Dorian
  2. C Lydian
  3. B flat Mixolydian
  4. D Phrygian