Memorizing Modes/Sounds Generally

Good morning all!

I’m trying to memorize the seven musical modes: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, etc.

I’ve assigned the different modes characters drawn from my favorite literature and people I actually know, depending on the emotional character of the mode.

But memorizing the name (and other associated information like starting key on the piano, the structure of the mode itself) is the straightforward part.

The important information is aural: the sequence of tones that make up each mode. What they sound like.

But aside from brute force memorization, I’m not sure how to memorize the sequences.

Has anyone out there given this (or something similar) a try?

Thanks, and happy fourth to my fellow citizens of the United States!


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I haven’t tried this, but my approach would be to associate a piece of music with each of the modes. If those selections have words, even better: Those lyrics can be linked directly with your images for the modes themselves. This won’t automatically give you the specific notes of the scale—just a general feeling for the emotions/music each mode creates—but I’d expect it to be relatively easy to add those notes to the previous images. (It might be worth trying to sing your way through each mode, using the names of the notes for lyrics…?)

And kudos to you for doing this! I’m a lifelong musician, but my theory training never touched on modes, which now baffle me.


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I don’t know if this will help, but I used to hum the modes while walking around. It’s easy to sing a major scale. First, I would do a major scale. Then I would hum it again, but keep the first note (e.g., C) silent and go up to D (making dorian). On the next pass I would skip the first two notes (C, D) and go up to E (phrygian). I would repeat until I got back to major/ionian. After a while, I was able to sing the modes independently of the starting major scale.

Another interesting exercise is to play (for example) an A phrygian. Then play an F chord while your mind is in the A phrygian context. Shift your brain between the two ways of hearing the same notes (F ionian and A phrygian). That also helped me.

For anyone learning the intervals, if you know the intervals of a major scale (mnemonic chunking: [2 2 1] 2 [2 2 1]), then you can shift the starting point to get the intervals of the other modes:

Mode Pattern
ionian 2 2 1 2 2 2 1
dorian 2 1 2 2 2 1 2
phrygian 1 2 2 2 1 2 2
lydian 2 2 2 1 2 2 1
mixolydian 2 2 1 2 2 1 2
aeolian 2 1 2 2 1 2 2
locrian 1 2 2 1 2 2 2

(It has been 10 years since I looked at music theory, so if I got something wrong there, let me know. Also, be sure to double-check that on an instrument before memorizing it, in case it’s incorrect. :slight_smile: )

I’m not sure how I would memorize the patterns on a piano, but for guitar, I’d probably memorize the fretboard shapes in small patterns across three strings at a time, maybe something like this (A phrygian):


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