Musical mode

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In modern Western music, mode (from Latin modus, "measure, standard, manner, way") is a concept that involves scale and melody type.

Historically, it had other meanings. In the early medieval period, it meant interval. In the late medieval period, it meant the rhythmic relationship between long and short values (Powers 2001, Introduction). Since the end of the eighteenth century, the term has also applied—in ethnomusicological contexts—to pitch structures in non-European musical cultures, sometimes with doubtful compatibility (Powers 2001, §V,1).

This article addresses the medieval and modern scale and melody-type meaning.

Contents

Modes and scales

A "scale" is an ordered series of intervals that, with the key or tonic (first tone), defines that scale's intervals, or steps. However, "mode" is usually used in the sense of "scale," applied only to the seven specific diatonic scales (using only the seven tones of the scale without chromatic alterations, e.g., using only the white keys on a piano or keyboard) that follow the tonic note. The use of more than one mode makes music polymodal, as with polymodal chromaticism. Modern musicological practice has extended the concept of mode to earlier musical systems, such as those of Ancient Greek music and Jewish cantillation, as well as to non-Western musics (Powers 2001, §I, 3; Winnington-Ingram 1936, 2–3).

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