Diatonic modes are much older than major and minor scales. They are used in folk music of various cultures, as well as in ancient musical traditions, such as Hindu and Greek. The names presented bellow are Greek (although they differ somewhat from the original Greek system).
In organ music, modal system is especially favored by the modern French composers (Alain, Durufle, Tournemire, Langlais and others). Messiaen had his own modal system of 7 modes of limited transposition. Today I'm going to focus on 7 diatonic (non chromatic) modes only.
There are 3 ways to learn diatonic modes.
1) By playing 7 white notes starting from each of the white keys:
From C - Ionian (CDEFGAB)
From D - Dorian (DEFGABC)
From E - Frygian (EFGABCD)
From F - Lydian (FGABCDE)
From G - Mixolydian (GABCDEF)
From A - Aeolian (ABCDEFG)
From B - Locrian (BCDEFGA)
2) By raising or lowering appropriate degrees of the natural major or minor scale:
Ionian (same as natural major)
Aeolian (same as natural minor)
Locrian (II- and V-)
NOTE: Lydian mode is the most joyful mode of them and Locrian - the most sorrowful. Locrian is very unstable because the distance from its 1st and 5th scale degrees is diminished 5th instead of perfect 5th as in all the other modes.
3) By adding one tetrachord on top of the other:
Ionian (Major from C and Major from G)
Dorian (Minor from C and Minor from G)
Frygian (Frygian from C and Frygian from G)
Lydian (Lydian from C and Major from G)
Mixolydian (Major from C and Minor from G)
Aeolian (Minor from C and Frygian from G)
Locrian (Frygian C and Lydian from G flat)
Try to play the notes of these 7 modes on your organ. When this becomes easy, practice building theese modes from the same note (Ionian from C, Dorian from C, Frygian from C, Lydian from C etc). This way you can master them from any of the keys you want. To make things easier, start with the white keys first and progress to black keys later.
Once these modes become easy for you, choose a simple meter and play melodies of predetermined length (like 8 measures) in any of these modes. This is a very important exercise in learning modal improvisation.
By the way, do you want to learn my special powerful techniques which help me to master any piece of organ music up to 10 times faster? If so, download my video Organ Practice Guide.
Would you like to say "Thank You" to us? Buy Us Coffee.
Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
Do you have a unique skill or knowledge related to the organ art? Pitch us your story to become a guest on Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast.
Don't have an organ at home?
Download paper manuals and pedals, print them out, cut the white spaces, tape the sheets together and you'll be ready to practice anywhere where is a desk and floor. Make sure you have a higher chair.